Our first experience working with children in an area that has a nature reserve has caused a roller coaster of emotions to erupt. When we first arrived in Laojunshan, we were greeted with open arms and warm smiles by some leaders of this town which is known for not only being one of the oldest towns in Sichuan Province, but also it houses a nature reserve. This particular nature reserve’s known for a specific type of bird, hence the partnership between the Panda base and this town.
Kristen and my roles over the past three days was to teach English and animal names to 8-13 year olds who signed up for a summer camp in the town. This is the first time the Panda Base has implemented a summer camp in this town, so one could imagine how many pictures were taken of the children playing games dealing with awareness of the Earth and its animals.
Our first full day at the summer camp was filled with excitement. Children and the adults would pop their heads into the classroom, only to discover 29 children pretending to be various kinds of animals and learning how to dance the Hokie Pokie. Our feelings of euphoria died down the second day when we learned more about the town; during a mini-day hike intended to search for birds, Kristen and I were horrified at the amount of trash in and around the river running through town.
Plastic wrappers were found wrapped around the bottom of bamboo shoots, growing tall and proud out of the fruitful soil. The six Chinese university students volunteering to teach children were also incredibly touched by what we were all seeing, while trying to keep our energies high for the children. It was a difficult day to experience for Kristen and I (especially) because we want to be extremely careful with how we share our thoughts because we acknowledge the privileges that we have in Colorado–we can get into our cars and within 30 minutes be in beautiful nature, adorned by cleanliness and the respect of the Earth by humans. The trash that is abundant in this area is due to a lack of available trash collection and recycling facilities. Even if a service were established and appropriate receptacles were set up, it does not necessarily mean that much change would occur within the people. By the end of the day, we all felt defeated by this blunt truth: if humans are not taught the consequences of our ways and show little desire to take new ideas by putting them into effect, then there will never be change.
Hope for such change rose again by the end of our third and final day of the summer camp. All of the Chinese volunteers as well as Kristen and I have a grand amount of love and respect for children. The little ones we worked alongside these past few days instilled more hope that their future may be filled with a bit less trash and more awareness of how species become endangered. The finale of the three-day summer camp culminated in some songs, a play, and a final large-circle rendition of the Hokie Pokie–all of this was performed outside with community members watching and hopefully learning. The children looked genuinely happy and then quite sad after we ended the finale and began saying our good-byes. Hearts were changed and that is the true nature of breaking through the walls of plastic and Styrofoam, lining the banks of the river. It will be interesting to see how our time at the second summer camp in Mabian (2.5 hours away) will turn out!