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As Beautiful as a Magnolia Flower

September, 2016
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0j7a2621e589afe69cac-2John Cucinello, Director of Community and Service at Western International School of Shanghai (WISS), was proudly announced as one of the 50 winners of the Magnolia Award by the Shanghai Municipal Government on 7 September. Cucinello is now one of just 1,059 foreign citizens in Shanghai ever awarded with this great honor in the past 27 years for their great contributions to the city’s development.

Cucinello joined WISS eight years ago and has been involved in various service projects that help the lives of others ever since. He is always trying to help and support others in everything he does and he has been an inspiration to WISS students, teachers and the community at large.

LittleStar was proud to witness him receiving this honorary award and deeply touched by the great love and deeds he fearlessly gives to other. Below are some of his thoughts and reflections on the award and his career.

0j7a2180e589afe69cac-2“Standing on the stage, I was thinking about all of the people who have brought me forward. All of the people whose sacrifices and love allowed me to live a life of privilege and great comfort. The awards encourage me to push through the doubt…to push through the fear and stay on course. This award empowers people to believe in something that has nothing to do with pleasure and everything to do with joy.

Chinese people’s commitment to survival and to the family inspires me every day. It also reminds me of my father and mother and the community I grew up in back in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Brooklyn, New York. I watched my mother and father work hard every day for the food that would be on the table the next morning. Survival was always in the balance. We had no margins and almost no room for days off. But they believed in the industry of their own hands and every little bit of prosperity that came their way. They blessed and gave thanks for it and it multiplied.  They were never angry and always thankful… So I have a deep and loving respect for all the people that I see and pass on the streets daily.

What I have done is let everyone know that it is safe to commit. WISS students, teachers, parents and staff are actively engaged in the local, national and international community that I don’t know the half of it but I will talk about what I do know.

The Saturday Free English Academy began 8 years ago.

When I first arrived in China in August of 2008 I connected with the local children of the people farming the land behind the school. From that initial contact the program has grown. We now teach over 100 students on 20 Saturdays over the course of the school year. Our students must attend teacher-training courses that are delivered by WISS parents who are professionally trained. Parents from the local community help us administer the program. The collaboration with the local community is as intimate as any family. We trust each other, we forgive each other and we are equal partners in search of a meaningful life. I’m not one to blow my own horn but I challenge anyone to find a community that gives as fearlessly as the WISS community. I have students that have been teaching on Saturday mornings for five years. You don’t have to ask them. It is their job and it is who they are. They do not even allow you to thank them. We have students in First, Second and Third Grade and all the way to Grade 12 who are trained teachers. They care for their students… The hallways at WISS are filled with the spiritual impressions of all that giving. And I have had the pleasure of being in the middle of it for 8 years. How rich am I!

The Sunday Dance Program was started six years ago by three Grade 6 girls.

It runs on Sunday for an hour in the school dance studio. We try to keep it to around 15 students. They are very young, mostly girls, and this space is sanctuary for them. The mothers from the local community accompany the kids and I only check in with them at the beginning and say goodbye when they leave. In between it is giggles and joy and lots of courage…

This is the second year for the Sunday football program run by WISS footballers.

Last year was amazing as WISS students played with children and parents and competed with only the love of the game as the focus. Our students have learned how to compete and how to let the light shine on the young people and their parents.

Nationally, WISS supports the Couleurs de Chine, a French NGO that supports the education of minority children in the Guizhou and Guangxi mountain border region.

We support them in a myriad of ways…fundraising, visiting the region and helping to develop markets for the hand made paper of the Yao people, donating money so that they could renovate a traditional home and so that they could grow their eco tourist business of the people CDC supports. We provide reading glasses and other material needs, but mostly we have travelled back to the field workers in the tiny village of Danian 20 times with students and parents to stand in fellowship with the people administering the programs on the ground… The field workers of CDC are heroic and the people in the region are like family.

Internationally, WISS has been supporting the Cambodia Project for seven years.

wiss-john-photo-1Seven years ago we initiated our international trips. On that trip there was one day of service in which we planted 20 banana tress and 20 mango trees for two different families. But so much has happened since. The WISS community bought a piece of land for a small NGO run by a man who was a child soldier all those years ago. On the land we have built a small dental clinic and a school… Over the years, we have built seven houses; we have provided 1,200 USD monthly to assist the running of the small school we support; we have planted 400 mango trees and 400 banana trees and constructed and seeded 12 fenced garden beds; we have provided 20 wells and two small bridges. We purchased land for the construction of a community center, and built a caretaker home and a dental clinic and school on the land with sustainable practices. We worked with Water for Cambodia to provide filtration units for 100 families. And we are developing a waste management and recycling program in the community… There is so much more.

These are the kinds of things that bring our students to the razor’s edge of awareness, put them in motion and help them to discover and grow their capacities and their compassion. Our young people never fear not having. They give knowing that abundance remains. It’s a science, not a philosophy. If you want to live in a generosity garden you must seed generosity and always you will be taken care of.

I don’t name names. I would need a month to talk about all the beautiful people that I will never forget. The WISS community knows where we have been. We will continue to grow our capacity and be equal partners with local families in helping to create joy and opportunities. All I can do is promise to continue to address the needs of the community no matter where life leads me and I know that everyone that has passed through this school will do the same. I take great comfort in that. This award belongs to all of them…

My advice to students is to never fear not having. Never fear scarcity and you will always be surrounded by abundance. Don’t ask anyone permission to live your life. You just follow your heart and there you are.

Now is my ninth year at WISS. Memories are the artifacts of a life well lived, and my eight years in Shanghai are enough to justify a life well lived.”




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