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It’s Time to Spread the Joy

December, 2009
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Christmas is a time of joy. Whether it is for religious reasons or not, the infectious spirit of Christmas has permeated modern society and spread all around the world.

natasha-1sMany of us international students will be heading back to our home countries this winter for the sole purpose of celebrating Christmas with our families. However, perhaps the most meaningful part of Christmas is more than simply experiencing happiness, but in sharing this joy with those in need. It is the spirit of sharing the joy and happiness of the festive season with those less fortunate that really makes Christmas a magical time of the year.

Even though China’s population is not Christian by majority, the commercial aspects of Christmas have definitely made a mark in this country as elaborately decorated Christmas trees and nostalgic Christmas songs have become ubiquitous, especially in large cities. Many Chinese children can identify Santa, understand the basic customs and traditions of Christmas and will receive expensive presents during the holiday season. However, there are thousands more that are not as fortunate.

My school, Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (YCIS), is heavily involved in the Giving Tree Program which was started by the Community Center Shanghai in 2003 and provides migrant children with a chance to experience the magical joy of Christmas. The process of this charity project is simple, yet the results are incredible. Red and white Giving Tree bags are distributed to donors, namely schools and residential communities, which in turn pass the bags out to individuals to fill with gender and age appropriate gifts. The personal nature of this project has made it one of the most important charity activities in our school and an annual tradition.

On the 15th of December this year, as with every other year, approximately 60 students from our school journeyed to the You Miao Migrant School to deliver the bags to hundreds of eager children aged 6-12. Despite the near freezing temperatures made worse by rain, the enthusiasm from the students and teachers from both YCIS and You Miao was palpable. All the blackboards in the classrooms of the school were decorated beautifully with slogans and drawings welcoming us to the school. When receiving the gifts, the glittering excitement in the eyes of the children was clear as they shyly mumbled “thank you” in English, while some even gave our students letters or cards of appreciation.

All the students from YCIS involved with the event were deeply impacted. Atta Lee, a sophomore at YCIS said “It was an amazing experience to share the joy of Christmas with these migrant children who rarely receive any presents at all.”

Besides the Giving Tree, there are numerous other charity opportunities around Shanghai. It can be extremely difficult for international school students in Shanghai to find worthwhile charity groups or projects that they are welcomed to participate in. While it is easier to fundraise for charities, it is so much harder to earn enough trust to work on practical projects such as helping out at an elderly home or teaching basketball to migrant school children. This is because many organizations in Shanghai are run locally, possibly causing language barriers. Furthermore, most do not trust teenagers and reserve volunteer positions for adults. This perception of teenagers as irresponsible and inexperienced can be very frustrating and is something I faced and continue to face in all my charity endeavors. It is important to treat this obstacle as a challenge. Once you have a record of successful charity activities, it becomes easier to convince adults that you are up to the job.

natasha-2sThe first charity group I was involved with was Heart to Heart. In my opinion, this is one of the most teenage-friendly charities around Shanghai. Heart to Heart raises funds for impoverished children who have congenital heart defects and provides them with the surgery they need. At the age of 15, I was already able to visit the playroom at the hospital to interact with these children. Other service opportunities I have been involved with include selling “Heart Bears” at various bazaars throughout the city and sojourning to Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province with several other volunteers to visit previous patients and donate books to remote village schools. What makes Heart to Heart so special is not only the level of personal interaction one gets to experience with Chinese children, but also the flexibility of the volunteer activities. None of the activities are mandatory and sign-ups to visit the playroom at the hospital depend on your own schedule. Basically, if you are not free on certain weeks, there will be other volunteers to take your place.

Shotaro Takei, a sophomore at YCIS, occasionally volunteers at the hospital. “Many teenage guys do not get as involved in volunteer work as teenage girls do, but giving back is not only meaningful but a lot of fun.”

While most international schools offer amazing service opportunities in faraway parts of China and even around the world, giving back becomes more meaningful when it is a sustained commitment. I say this from personal experience. In my sophomore year, my friend and I began our own program teaching English every Saturday at the You Miao Migrant School. Witnessing the children I teach take such a keen interest in learning English and constantly improving throughout the year was definitely one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences I have had.

So as we all head off to our holiday destinations, remember that Christmas is so much more than building snowmen or drinking eggnog or eagerly waiting to open brightly colored gifts under the tree - it truly is a time of giving and sharing joy.

 

By Natasha Weaser

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