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Writing to Help

January, 2015
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studentcharityprofile-naomiI am Naomi, a Year 13 student at Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, Century Park Campus. I have always been driven to help and look out for others. And I have been involved in many charitable activities throughout my 12 years at YCIS. Charity and helping others has never really been different for me.

I’ve always been inspired by my English teacher at YCIS, who is from South Africa. She sometimes shares stories about her home country in class. As she described life in Africa, it sparked my interest in writing non-fiction stories, and she even inspired and encouraged me to visit and volunteer at a girls’ school in Tanzania. If I would help someone in my school, why shouldn’t I help a child in Africa?

As part of the World Classroom program at YCIS, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Tanzania in March 2012. The people on the trip included students and teachers from several schools in the Yew Chung Foundation, including those from Hong Kong, Beijing and Chongqing.

Our school arranges trips to different parts of the world, and with a choice of India or Tanzania, I chose Tanzania, due to my fascination with African culture from a young age, as well as my dream of visiting and helping out underdeveloped African communities. These trips incorporate both education outside of the classroom, community service, and a meaningful experience in a new culture.

Our program included two safaris, where we saw wild animals in their natural habitats – still one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. We also did a lot of community service, including visiting a number of local schools, playing sports with the children, and donating to their school. Visiting a local Masai village was incredible, as we got to see how the villagers lived in mud huts and kept their traditions and culture.  

One experience that I will never forget is when we were driving through a huge grassland area, where there were maybe one or two villages, out in the middle of nowhere. We had just had lunch by a lake and were driving back to the city. Our jeep’s driver saw a little boy running towards our car, waving at us, so he stopped the car. The little boy shyly smiled at us and the driver looked back and said, “He wants some food.” We went through our lunch packs from earlier and each gave a few things we had not eaten and handed it to him. The boy smiled from ear to ear, and it was such a magical moment. He said thank you and ran off to his village. I truly learned the meaning of love, and it amazed me that to him, some food meant more than we can ever imagine.

Although I had heard about the Tanzanian culture before I went there, I would have never imagined that the trip would have impacted me in the way that it did. It was such a visual representation of poverty and the underdeveloped side of our world. Seeing the truth behind what people say about starving children and undeveloped towns, seeing the faces of the children when they see us, and witnessing true gratitude and happiness when we helped local communities, was a true eye-opener for me. I knew that Tanzania would be an amazing country, but my experience went far beyond that, proving that you must visit a place to truly understand its beauty.

Originally, I wrote the book as part of a project at YCIS, as my Year 10 ‘Personal Project.’ This is where you are given one school year to complete a project of your choice, with the goal of showing a finished product at the end. I decided to write a book because I love reading and writing, and this was something that I had always dreamed of doing, and this project gave me the motivation to finally do this. After coming back from Tanzania, I knew that I wanted to help the children I met at a girls’ school there. This was perfect timing, so I decided that I would combine these two projects into one, and sell my book, raising money to help this school. 

My book is a fiction novel, written around the theme of ‘Man the Inventor,’ as this was the theme I chose from the list given to us. It is about a girl, Lisa, who goes on a quest to find her friend, Liam, after he has disappeared. Lisa goes back in time, to periods such as Ancient Egypt and Ancient China, and must find a key invention of each time period in order to move onto the next. It is a crossover between a time travel fantasy book and a historical novel. I decided that as part of the project I would send the book to be printed, so this meant that I had to design the covers and include several of my own illustrations. I advertised my book to my school, community, and family, and sold my books for charity.

In total, I managed to raise a total of 3,300RMB, of which I am very proud. I really appreciated everyone that bought a book from me and helped me support the Emusoi Girls’ School in Tanzania.

studentcharity-naomiandadamThis summer, I went to Oxford for a summer program called Oxford Tradition, and my major class was journalism. Our task was to produce a finished class magazine in the four weeks that we were there, and distribute it to the 400 students taking part in the whole program. We were each given the chance to write a few articles, and I decided to have my main article be about homelessness in Oxford. Oxford, as you might know, is a very prestigious and high-end city, which is why the surprisingly high number of homeless people there shocked me. I wanted to find out the reason behind this, and to give some of these people a voice.

Initially, I was meant to write a news article on homelessness in general. However, after interviewing Adam, I knew that I would write a feature story only on him. Adam is a 32-year-old man. He moved to Oxford when he was 18, hoping to find a place to live and work, but ended up moving from hostel to hostel with no permanent home. He is a very hopeful and positive person to talk to, and I truly admire him for who he is. He is very caring and would do anything to help others. 

I bonded with Adam in an indescribable way, and I wanted to give him a voice to share his thoughts and experiences with others, giving people an insight into to what being homeless is like. I wanted to help him and I wanted to bring awareness to this important issue.

I started off by giving him some change whenever I passed by him, but soon our friendship developed into something more. I would buy him some lunch or a drink, buy him daily essentials at the drugstore or the bookstore, and I bought him a birthday present, and went canoeing with him on the river, and to the cinema with him. I did this because I wanted him to not worry about money for once and to just have fun. I tried to make sure he enjoyed himself as much as he could, and that he could do things he normally would not be able to do on his own. 

It’s difficult to express how much this whole journey with Adam has meant to me. It was something that I knew I had to do and something of which I will always be proud. Through watching him every day and experiencing the way people view him, I got to see what being homeless is really like, and it really touched me. I was surprised by how hopeful he was, despite his circumstances, and most importantly, I was happy to be able to help him. I learned a very valuable lesson, and will never see homeless people in the same way as before. He, too, benefitted from those few weeks, as he was able to make a new friend and gain some support. Adam is now working at a homeless center and can help other people in his position.

I hope to graduate from a UK university with a degree in journalism, and either do a Master’s Degree or go straight to working for a respected news agency, such as the BBC, or to work for a company such as National Geographic. I want to be a full-time journalist working with underdeveloped communities and countries, spreading messages about important global issues and giving the unheard a voice.

Everyone has his or her strengths; mine just happened to be writing. Use your strengths to express your voice and show who you are – make a difference in your own way.

 

By Naomi Schanen

 

 

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