The two China programs I’ve done have both included community service. In Yangshuo we visited an elementary school for an afternoon to wash and repaint the walls in the kindergarten classroom. We split the kids up so some would be working on the classroom while some did holiday-themed activities with the kindergarten students.
While my group of kids was working with the kindergartners I sat in the back of the classroom (it was their science room) and observed. At first I was merely enjoying watching the struggle of 13 year olds trying to manage 5 year olds. But then I noticed that in this room with its dirty white plaster walls and bare bone decorations/supplies there was a smart board. And it hit me- this is actually where students come to learn. Countless children will pass through these walls. In the US I’m not sure we would’ve even been allowed in the building with the amount of dust/mold that was on the walls.
We complain a lot in the States about dreary classrooms, low quality lighting, no windows, difficult temperature control… The list goes on. But we have it pretty great. Yeah, there’s dust in the corner behind the door, but at least it doesn’t turn our walls brown. Yeah our books have misprints and we’re prescribed what series to use, but we have textbooks. Shiny textbooks. We can have new posters up every year (and they don’t just have to be of Karl Marx and the like).
Sadness filled me as I sat and thought about the differences between our schools and this small village school in China. I wonder what the school there would look like if the principal and teachers could have their every wish granted. How would it be different? How would it be the same?