"Why can't we ever see the sunlight?"
"Because the sun is blocked by the mountains as soon as it rises. When it climbs over a mountain, it gets blocked by another." This conversation between school children and their teacher in the Dejiang Country, Tongren City, Guizhou Province in southwest China, a remote and desolate place in the depth of the mist-wreathed mountains. What gets blocked is not only the sun, but also children's vision toward the world beyond the mountains.
In 2004, the Guizhou Committee of Communist Youth League of China initiated a social welfare campaign named Spring Light Initiative, aiming to provide better educational service to children in the mountains.
At Shaanxi Normal University, Yu Shifeng, a Class '16 undergrad of School of Tourism and Environmental Studies, formed an SNNU Spring Light Volunteer Teaching Team with 13 SNNU students and one Tianjin University student. On January 25, 2015, they arrived at Yanghe Elementary School at Xinxi Village, Changbao Town of Dejiang County, and began their 15-day volunteer teaching.
In September 2012, Yu Shifeng, a young girl from Zunyi City of Guizhou Province became a tuition-free teacher education student at Shaanxi Normal University. As a future teacher and student of the teacher education program, she aspired to participate in a volunteer teaching program ever since she enrolled in the university.
After learning about the Spring Light Initiative, Yu Shifeng joined the initiative and became a volunteer teacher for the first time in the summer of 2013.
After two tours of volunteer teaching, Yu Shifeng thought to herself, " I am in a teacher training university so why can't I organize a volunteer teaching team myself?" It was almost winter vacation in 2015, Yu and her schoolmates put up a bulletin board to advertise their volunteer project and hopingly awaited applications. Meanwhile, she reached out to the Dejiang County Educational Bureau and decided to teach at Yanghe Elementary School. After interviewing, teaching materials preparation, purchasing railway tickets, a 14-member SNNU Spring Light Volunteer teaching Team was organized and ready to go in December 2014. They met at Zunyi City on January 23 and reached Yanghe Elementary School in the evening of January 25, 2015, after long rides in buses and minivans.
From that night on, Shaanxi Normal University was connected with these mountains.
Team members came from many places in China. Li Yangyang of Class 2017 was from Helongjiang province and Guo Xiaowen of Class 2018 was from Inner Mongolia. Their hometowns were the most distant from Yanghe Elementary School. When they introduced themselves to the students there, they did not know anything about these places. In the mind of the students, the only place they knew outside the mountains was Beijing, the capital of China.
Not only did these students know little about geographic knowledge, but they also had weak foundations in other subjects. Their Chinese and English skills were extremely different, with many students lagging behind.
Jiang Meng of Class 2016 from School of Tourism and Environmental Studies taught English to the sixth graders. When she tried to have them practice conversation, she discovered some of them could not even read the 26 letters of English alphabet. In Chinese class, Guo Xiaowen found they could recognize and write Chinese characters, but were unfamiliar with Pinyin, the Chinese phonetic symbols, for they never learned it systematically. When it came to Physical Education class, Yang Changxing of Class 2017 from School of Physical Education simply could not carry out his well-designed instruction plan as there was no sports equipment on the dusty playground and the students understanding of PE class was playing randomly.
Despite their poor basis, the students were full of longing and expectation for knowledge. The fourteen volunteer teachers began teaching curricular knowledge and life skills. Chinese teachers began with Pinyin and the studious students did let them down. English teachers started from ABC, teaching each letter of alphabet one by one, and said good night in English to students every night. Yang Changxing did not give up either. He had the students do some warming-up exercises and gave each of them a jumping rope he brought from Xi'an. In addition to teaching textbooks, the young teachers taught the students handicrafts, singing and dancing after class. Li yangyang was keen to notice that her female students knew little about adolescent hygiene, so she gathered them for such a class. In these fifteen days, they wasted no time in teaching every bit of knowledge to their eager students.
To this day, this volunteer teaching tour is still an unforgettable experience of them. As the rooster crowed at a little past six o'clock in the morning, they began a day's work till the summary meeting at 12:00 late at night. Team photographer and security officer Ji Wenju, a graduate student of International Business School and, wrote in his diary, "I came here to be a volunteer teacher before I turn 30. This time, I realized my wish. I am also moved by the girls in the team. They were not finicky or weak at all. Even when some of them were ill, they would still come to teach class." The team visited the students homes and discovered many of them were left-behind children, whose parents had left their hometown to work as migrant workers in big cities. Assistant team captain Yang Ying, a Class 2017 undergrad from Department of Basic Courses in Humanities and Social Sciences, said, "Going to school might be the only way for these children to change their destinies." This reaffirmed her decision to become a good teacher. Class 2017 undergrad Zhong Yan of Basic Courses Department in Science and Engineering said that, "A teacher should be the one to sow the seed of love. Teaching children requires not only effort, but also affection. I will study harder when I return to SNNU and better prepare myself to be a good teacher." Fourteen volunteers and fifteen days. The work done is perhaps too little to change the lagged-behind education in the mountains. However, as long as a little more work is done, there will be a little more hope.
People in the mountains need the warmth of knowledge. Therefore, Spring Light Initiative will not end.
Next summer, the bulletin board of the team will be put up again on the SNNU campus and more students will go into the mountains to paint the spring light.
Zhong Yan is teaching a history class
Members of the SNNU Spring Light Volunteer Teaching Team
On their way to home visiting during weekend
Students hold their certificates of award of speech contest
Yang Changxing is playing games with students in a PE class
Distributing food during lunch
Guo Xiaowen and Yang Changxing are sorting luggage in the dorm
Guo Xiaowen is tutoring a student at night
A letter of suggestion - appreciation to the teacher written by a student
Ji Wenju and Meng Kecun with their students
Text by Zhang Ying, Jin Ximing, Yuan Yingxue
Photo by Ji Wenju