Saturday, June 2, 2007

Doin' it for the Kids

Yesterday was International Children's Day and to do my bit, I volunteered some time to participate in T-Shirt Day.

It's organized by Beijing's Magic Hospital, a non-profit organization that tries to bring fun and laughter to children who have been neglected or seriously ill. This is the second annual T-Shirt Day, where bright red backpacks are filled with white T-shirts, coloured markers, colouring pencils, paper, two milk boxes and hand wipes.

This year Magic Hospital organized volunteers to go to 12 locations in and around the city. They included Beida Hospital, where kids have serious depression or psychological problems, Wisdom Spring, a place for runaway children, and a place for kids whose parents are either executed or imprisoned.

I was assigned to go to Guang Ai Migrant School in Hou Shayu, Shanyi District. It's a poor area, but just outside the village reside wealthy expats who live in homes with garages and drivers.

When we got there, two little girls immediately greeted us and took us by the hand. They led us to the rest of the kids in the schoolyard, busily cleaning small tables and chairs.

Teacher Shi used a megaphone to bark orders at the kids to get in line. They immediately scurried into place, with the youngest in the front, the eldest at the back. Some had taken part in T-Shirt Day before, so they knew the drill. Others were anxious to see what happened next.

We handed out the backpacks to the students according to their T-shirt size (S, M, L). They immediately bowed and said thank you. Then we had to encourage them to sit down and write their names on their backpacks and then start drawing on their T-shirts.

The whole exercise is to get them to express themselves through art, and also give them a sense of property, with these new items.

It turns out the school gets funding from a Christian organization, so many of the kids drew giant hearts or crosses and wrote "I love Jesus and Jesus loves me". Others drew flowers, butterflies or rainbows.

I went around table to table checking up on the kids and praising their drawings. They were having fun and too busy drawing to make conversation.

After they were done, the teacher ordered them to put the T-shirts on top of their scruffy clothes and we took pictures of them.

We had planned to play with them for an hour and a half, but there was some miscommunication and the kids had to rush off to have a treat -- lunch at McDonald's.

Another teacher surnamed Li gave some of us a tour of the two-storey school. The ground floor had many small and narrow classrooms that barely fit in two rows of desks. There was an understocked library too.

Upstairs were the dorms, boys on one side, girls on the other. Each room has four bunk beds placed next to each other, but houses 10 children, as two small ones fit in one bed.

Li explained the school opened four years ago and the children range from four to 17 years-old. They try to give th students a basic education and hopefully by the time they reach 17 or 18 they can find a basic job.

Most of these kids are called "left behind" kids, children whose parents have left home to find jobs far away. Others are slightly retarded or are orphans.

So today was just a small way for us to let them know they're not forgotten.

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