Charity Giving – a humbling experience

Published 15 August 2016

In 1989, the famous Project Hope was created by China Youth Development Foundation (CYDF).  CYDF collaborate with China Government youth arm to manage the project and Deng XiaoPing penned down the name in Chinese calligraphy style “希望”, it came after 1988 which China allowed the creation of private charity organizations for specific purpose (China regulates all NGOs and requires registration). China government had so much to do on its proverbial plate that it looks to private individuals and corporations to help fund the building of schools in rural areas in China. China has come a long way and in 2005 the government announced the scheme of education subsidy (“两免一补”) whereby each school going children from poor family (9 years – 6 years of primary school and 3 years of lower secondary school) are not required to pay for text book, school fees and receive an allowance to cover for any school hostel costs. This has lessened the need for Project Hope and CYDF has turned to the software aspect of the schools.

There were controversies with Project Hope, both with CYDF and also the way the money that was supposed to go to build schools were handled by local officials or local officials raising education fund on its own in the name of Project Hope. Nevertheless, it is the only official channel in China to give to education to benefit the poorer regions’ children.

Even after the 2005 measures by the Chinese government to free the financial burden of school going families in rural area, the vastness of China and the reach and speed of getting central and local government help to cover all the rural areas still have a big gap to fill.

Furthermore, some of the local counties are so poor given that most of the adults are working in the richer provinces and thus are not paying local taxes. The families themselves are not in good situations given that the remained behind family members cannot work the farm fully and sometimes children have to help out doing farm and household work that they cannot go to school.

My Experience with Sponsoring a Guanxi boy of 9 years of age

There are many smaller charity organizations and I found one through wechat, and scrutinized their actual set-up. They run charity car boot sale monthly and managed to get a sponsor to let them have a free permanent space to sell members donated goods. They specifically look for a poor mountainous region in Guanxi province to sponsor about 200 primary and lower secondary pupils with the criteria of i) orphan or single parent only, ii) household income below a certain level, and iii) above average results. These children are from 7 to 8 schools in the region and walking to visit the schools, the children in their home with their guardian took the better part of a 11-14 days visit and the charity organization full-time employees (I believe there are two) and sponsors who wants to visit the children they sponsor goes along. The sponsor donate half year worth of money, which is about USD 250, which is disperse to the children’s guardian personal during the half yearly visit, of which one of the visit date is not pre-announced.

I sponsored a then 9 year old child (let’s call him X) for a year and a half. Another sponsor has since took over from mid 2016 from the second half of primary 4 level education need of X.

 

Misconceptions of Sponsors/city folks

The about 200+ sponsors have a wechat group that talks about the charity, the sponsored children, and the school situation. We, the city-born sponsors, given our growing up in cities, are not familiar with the situation in the Guanxi rural area. We have proposed following ideas and ways of helping the children:

  1. Give the school computers
  2. Give the children ipad with 3G data SIM
  3. Give the children phone
  4. Write the children often, like once a week or once a fortnight
  5. Give them books

The ideas were shot down or heavily modified:

  1. Give the school computers – there is no electricity in the school. There is no qualified teacher to teach using computer even if there are electricity.
  2. Give the children ipad with 3G data SIM – there is no cell tower in and around the villages / schools, no electricity in most village homes to charge ipad
  3. Give the children phone – there is no cell tower in and around the villages / schools, no electricity in most village homes to charge ipad
  4. Write the children often, like once a week or once a fortnight. See comment after number 5.
  5. Give them books

The schools are in rural areas, some of them on hills and such and are far from post office. There are no postman in those small nearby towns that has a post office. People in those places go to the post office, no one deliver mail. The post office calls to the village head who passed along the message to the school principal to go into town (which can be a 5-10km walk in non-paved rocky pathway) to collect the mail. Imagine the workload we place on the poor principal who one school principal has worked 20+ years in poor village school from his youth to his 50s has to do to help collect sponsors’ letters. The charity organization moderated the request number 4 and 5 to bring whatever they and hired helpers can carry to each school. They managed to have a winter jacket and a school bag for every of the 200 children. Photos taken of the sponsored children when presented with the items and money together with their guardian.

In early 2015, a family of three older girls and a young boy, of age 7-14 who live with their grandma whereby the father has died in a road accident and the mother is working in GuangDong and hardly has money to travel back to the village for three years, where the eldest is thinking of stopping her lower secondary two studies to go into nearby county town to work and support her siblings to work. When the charity organizer used wechat to ask the sponsor group to sponsor the eldest girl and obliged, the girl is so happy. The girl has graduated this summer and we don’t know yet if she continues onto higher secondary but I believe her sponsors have decided to help her if she wanted to continue her study.

What the above taught me is give what is needed, and give them the help to get them along. The charity organization’s strict criteria of above average results of the children spurs the children to focus on their studies with dual aim of shifting their mind from their current situation while also wanting the children to know that sponsorship that they get is a form of reward for their results, which promotes a good circle of motivate-hardwork-results-motivate.

The Selfless Givers

There are a generations of past and present group of selfless givers and volunteers. They are the principal and teachers in those rural area.

One example is a quiet German, and he said he is just one of the many people from China and other countries that can help. Eckart Löwe went beyond teaching the subjects, he leads as an example and listening to the virtual orphan going about in their daily lives and many of them have grown to be nice adults.

There are other groups that help education in other poorer part of the world, I am not endorsing any but you should investigate further whether they are transparent and meet your expectations. One such well known group is Room to Read.

There are other ways technology can help, one is the solar-powered reading light which is good for the situation given that electricity is hard to come by for the rural villages. Another problem area is clean water which portable water filtration system will help. Last but not least, hopefully mobile data reaches such places and solar powered notepads will help the rural area school children connect to the world of knowledge.

 

Reference (some of these links are in Chinese):

  1. http://edu.people.com.cn/n/2015/1128/c1006-27867112.html
  2. Eckart Löwe – http://english.cri.cn/4406/2010/03/19/1981s557832.htm
  1. http://www.eco-business.com/news/a-light-of-hope-for-chinas-rural-children/

 

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Charity Giving – a humbling experience

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