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Me to We: An Experience of a Lifetime

May, 2018
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On 16 March, a total of 16 SUIS (Shanghai United International School) students and I set off to Guilin, Guangxi Province in Southern China. In Guilin, we met with representatives from the ME to We Association and engaged in charity work.

dscf0639At first, I did not know what to expect from the trip. I was feeling anxious and excited at the same time. I knew the next seven days my life would change completely, but I just didn’t know how. Without this trip, I feel like I would have never visited Guilin or anywhere like that in China. I would have never truly experienced the rural parts of China, and that I would certainly regret. Throughout the trip, countless memorable things happened, but some activities will stay with me for the rest of my life, for which I’m genuinely grateful.

For those who are wondering, what is “Me to We?” Me to We is a social enterprise with a goal “To empower people to transform local and global communities by shifting from “me” thinking to “we.” The group was started by two brothers in Canada, where after building a school in Ecuador, they decided to start their own organisation. They envisioned for their organisation to spread awareness of rural areas in the world and to help unprivileged people. I feel like these goals were definitely achieved during the trip, and I feel like it did so much more than that.

dscf0566On the first day, we arrived in Guilin, where we stayed for the first three days. Its beauty amazed me, and during those days we mostly did leisure activities like rock climbing. It wasn’t until the 3rd day when we started to do charitable work, and that is when the trip honestly started to take off for me.

On the third day of the trip, we moved from Guilin to a much smaller town called Taochun, which is around a 3-hour drive from Guilin. Once we got there and we checked in to the hotel, we headed off to an orange farm. It was to my surprise that oranges originated around the area of Taochun, and we were going to visit an orange farm not only to learn about the farming techniques and technology, but also to try farming as well.

Once we got to the orange farm, we were introduced to the owner of the farm, who gave us tools for farming. When I first saw the tools he gave us, I was quite shocked, as it was just hoes and sickles. There was no type of mechanical technology used on the farm. The media represents farming as using modern technology such as tractors and other sorts of mechanical technology, but when Mr. Lien told us about how only a tiny part of farmers had this type of technology, it was fascinating.

dscf0704The rest of the day was extremely tiring, with the blazing hot sun above us and every single student exhausted at the end. When we were told that we only worked around 3 hours, there was a unified gasp from everyone – the thought of how farmers did this every day just for us to get food on our table was truly appalling. Through this experience it gave me a new perspective towards food. To go through only a small portion of what farmers do every day created so much empathy for them, and now I feel that now every time I sit down at a table, I feel much more grateful for the food that is in front of me.

The following day we went to teach at a local school in Taochun. Before arriving, Mr. Lien warned us about the adverse conditions of the school, so we already had an idea of what to anticipate once we arrived. Mr. Lien also talked about how the children there are quite naughty, and how a lot the children’s’ parents were off in big cities working while the kids stayed here with their grandparents. He also believed that there is a correlation between the two and that the children are naughty because they lack love and affection. We went there not only to teach the kids, but also to renovate the school.

Even though our teachers warned us about how badly behaved the kids were, I did not expect it to be so frequent. When teaching, no students took my teammates or me seriously. They would not listen to our instructions and would talk amongst each other when we were teaching; it was even challenging to finish a complete sentence before being interrupted. This eventually irritated my teammates and I, and we decided to be stricter. We did this by giving students a warning, and if we gave them three warnings, they would need to stand up for 5 minutes. This did work to some degree, but none of us enjoyed doing this to the students. We all felt we were being too harsh on them, but it seemed like it was the only way to make them focus.

img_0271We did continue to teach them the next day, and I feel we improved drastically compared to the first day. I really had fun, and I feel like through this experience it also made me realise how lucky I am. To see what these kids and their school are like, and how they might never have the same opportunities I will have, crushed me. Mr. Lien even said that the majority of these kids wouldn’t even have the money to go to college. This made me come to a realisation of how there are so many other kids out there who are in very similar situations. This made me even more grateful for the privileges and opportunities I have.

After teaching at the school, we went to visit the Yao minority ethnic group. There are a total of 56 ethnic groups in China (including the Han group), and the 55 minority groups only make up 10% of China’s population. The Yao minority have a population of around 3 million worldwide. This is not a lot when compared to China’s population of around 1.4 billion people. For the next two days, we would learn about the Yao minority’s culture and day-to-day lives. When we arrived, we saw three people dressed in Yao minority traditional clothing, and from there they greeted us and showed us their local language and martial arts.

img_0268We also were shown some of their traditional cuisine, such as a special type of tea called youcha, and their special language “nushu” which women used to communicate dating back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Throughout the two days it was really amazing to learn about their culture, but when reflecting, their day-to-day lives were very much the same as our day-to-day lives. They all lived like us, and the only difference would be how their pace of life is so much slower than ours. The majority of people in China seem to portray ethnic minorities as people who have outdated technology and live completely different lives to us. This could not be further from the truth, as all the people I met used modern technology just like us.

On the last night, there was a giant goodbye ceremony that the Yao hosted in their town hall. We had a huge feast and played many games together. It was at that moment that I came to realise that the trip was nearing an end. I thought about how fast it actually went by, I thought about the experiences that I went through, and I thought about what I learned on the trip. All I can say is that the trip was truly an experience of a lifetime. I learnt about so many things that I wouldn’t learn anywhere else, I created so many fond memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and above all, this trip made me grateful. It made me grateful for what I have.

 

By Anthony Yates,

Year 9 student at Shanghai United International School

 

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