The Students and I
By: Alfred Boey
Time flies, before we know it, our son has graduated from UWO and is now in the process of starting his own business. For many youth of his age in Guangxi, China, especially the girls, being able to go to high school is really a challenge. The village farmers would say “Why waste money to send a daughter to school? Money would have been put to a better use in raising pigs!” Money is usually the biggest obstacle.
Since 2004, Betty my better half and I have been volunteering to help the poor underprivileged students in rural China – by raising fund and caring for them. I have lost count of the number of trips I made to Guangxi. I have also put in a lot time communicating with the students through emails or QQ (China MSN) to provide counseling and support. I have known many students who are attending university since they were in junior high school.
These young people from rural China are not spoiled by the materialistic luxuries like a lot of kids who grew up in the western world. They have the simple appreciation of every small gesture/deed that we do for them. The youth do not have an easy life, but they treasure the opportunity to learn; they love and respect their parents – knowing the reality that without their parents’ hard work and the CRRS support, they would not be where they are today. (I am envious of the students’ parents because like many parents who live in the western world, we all receive very little or no appreciation from our own children.)
Very often, young people from the western world take all good things for granted. Life is easy – they all enjoy the modern technologies and luxuries provided by their parents – living in well-furnished home and driving around in nice cars, to name a few. The young students in China grew up in remote mountainous villages where there is little basic comfort. Their home has no electricity, no clean water, no proper facilities to moderate extreme coldness and severe winds in winters and unbearable heat and heavy rainstorms in summers. They have to walk for hours if not days to attend school. During most of the school breaks, they have to return home to help out their parents in the fields. While attending university, they have to work part time (some as sales people at supermarkets and others as tutors for grade school children) to make ends meet.
The adverse conditions do not dampen their enthusiasm; these young people embrace life with the most amazing attitude: taking advantage of every opportunity to improve themselves by asking questions about daily life issues and by requesting for help and suggestions for both academic and possible future career path. They are eager to learn English and all new technologies and they love to pick our brains for our experience and expertise. Very often, Betty and I are surprised by their eagerness in expressing themselves and their trust in telling us their hope and fears.
Over the years, my greatest satisfaction comes from the letters or emails from the students. Many were published in the Gala program books; others are posted on our website. The other day, I receive this message from a student thanking me for reminding her on how to be a ‘honourable citizen’ – a status can only be obtained by the character of a person – that no matter how much wealth one has accumulated, without an honourable character, one’s life is meaningless. Another student wrote to tell that she has learned how to appreciate her parents from my messages of encouragement that she now has a chance to attend university so she does not have to stay in the farm.
I am extremely proud of the first class of university students sponsored by CRRS. Most of them came from families who are illiterates. Many are the first in their families (1st generation) to be able to learn to read and write. As I, representing the CRRS, have the opportunity to care for them by writing on a regular basis, I feel their joys and their pains. It is amazing to find that a few words of encourage become the appropriate message to help them solve their problems at school or at home. A lot of students express their gratitude and tell me they have never felt the caring and love until they got to know the uncles and aunties of CRRS team who came from Canada – a faraway, unknown place. Through our contacts, we have shown them the unconditional and devoted love. Throughout the years, they always wonder why we come all the way from the other side of the world to see and to assist them – some strangers from the poor mountainous regions.
Their messages to me are like some unexpected gifts which often bring tears to my eyes. I feel happy and privileged that I can walk the difficult path with them and I can mentor and care for them.
Some friends of mine comment that these lucky kids have CRRS in their lives. It might well be true, but the greatest reward is on us where we could be meaningful mentors who guide the young people and be part of their growing up.