I was assigned to the team traveling to Laojunshan located in the Lijiang mountain range. The team lead is Gou Jing, she works in the education department at the panda base. There are 3 volunteers on each team as well. I have Omega, Scarlett, and Joy on my team. I think I really lucked out; I have enjoyed spending time with everyone. The volunteers applied for this volunteer program, altogether 12 were chosen to represent the panda base and help teach conservation education to various cities surrounding nature reserves. The camps are meant for children of the Yi minority. I am not completely sure how the children are chosen. There are 4 teams in total doing summer camps. Each team will do 2, 3 day, summer camps, so in all, there will be 8 camps.
The first summer camp was at the Xiao Long (little dragon) primary school. We had 24 kids enrolled in the program; sadly a few of them did not finish all of the days. Let me tell you about these kids, they were absolutely adorable! There was so much personality and creativity in one room. They engaged in the activities and from what I have heard from the team members, they have learned so much. For example, on day one of camp several team members saw younger boys capturing spiders and one of the boys killed a spider. On day three of camp, a boy caught a dragonfly inside the classroom and walked it outside and set it free. He told Gou Jing that he wanted the dragonfly to fly free.
The children were very sweet. They wrote notes to all of us, and some of them drew pictures for us to keep. There was one girl that was fascinated with English, she wanted me to write her a note because one day she will be able to understand it (She is the girl that drew a beautiful tiger and landscape for me).
I taught some English vocabulary; animals and colors. It was fun to watch how excited the children were to learn, and how incredibly fast they picked up on things. It was amazing! Children are so smart. I am consistently surprised by their knowledge and desire to learn. The kids at the xiao long primary school have to wake up very early to make breakfast, get ready, and walk a long way to school. They attend school and then make the long trek home.
One of my favorite things about this camp was watching the kids, Omega, and Joy play table tennis. It was so funny and adorable! The kids also wanted all of us to sign their panda notebooks. They each walked around to different team members and asked for our names and phone numbers.
During the camp I often thought about the dedication to learning that these children have even at such a young age. I remember faking sick in elementary school because I did not want to go, and I always got a ride to and from school. It made me analyze my privilege. In this area of China it is not unusual for a student to stop attending school after the 6th grade. In the area I was raised, that was unheard of. Granted I had friends that did not graduate high school, but they earned their diplomas in other ways. I can’t imagine my life without school. I am a perpetual student, I love school and I thrive on learning. I feel very blessed that I grew up in a family that pushed education. My parents are very supportive and have always pushed me to achieve my goals. It has only been in recent years that I began to realize that this is not the norm in every family. I am grateful it was the norm in my family. I wonder what life would have been like for me if I had to wake up early, get myself ready and walk miles to get to school everyday. Would I have excelled? Would I have quit? These children who fight to earn an education inspire me. They make me want to be a better person, and they also help me to realize that Social Work is the right field for me. I especially love international work. I think it is amazing when you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture. These children taught me more than I could ever teach them.