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Heroes: Service Learning in Guizhou Mountain Area

Guizhou Province is in the southwest of China, a very beautiful but underdeveloped area. The mountains in Guizhou breed rich and varied culture of minorities, however, isolating people from the outside world, trapping them in poverty. Many young people left the mountains and work in big cities in order to make enough money to support their families. As a result, young children are left behind with their grandparents. Most of the kids only see their parents once a year on Chinese New Year. They start working in the fields at the age when kids in cities are still reading stories in parents’ arms. Due to limited education resources, most of the kids don’t have access to English curriculum which greatly lowers the possibility of getting into colleges.
 Miao Minority Village in Guizhou

The students, staff and volunteers at CEA study abroad program in Shanghai have been privileged to participate in a three-day service learning project in the Guizhou mountain area. We visited local elementary and high schools, gave English lessons to hundreds of kids, and more importantly, brought attention, love, and hope to those left behind kids.
 University of Arizona Students Preparing Curriculum

Though we studied in the CEA Intensive Chinese program for 5 weeks, using Chinese to teach was still a big challenge. We had multiple training sessions to learn the local minority culture, prepare the syllabi and teaching materials with partners, and rehearse group activities.

The principles of the Guizhou schools told us that for most of the kids, this would be their first time seeing or personally meeting foreigners, and they were extremely excited and had been practicing their English for weeks.

Pinhua High School

June is the rainy season in Guizhou. No surprise we had a heavy rain the morning of our first day as we visited Pinhua High School in a village and has 300 students, half of them are minorities. All the students live at the school with no TV, no phone, or any kind of entertainment. They work hard with one hope: to one day go to college and turn their life around as well as their families.

Our bus arrived in the village and we saw students wearing school uniforms, they had obviously been waiting for us in the rain for a long time. They sang the minority song while giving us homemade wine, showing us the warmest welcome and highest respect in their culture.

 Pinhua students were welcoming us in the rain.

We were led into the diner that was small, simple and carefully decorated. Pinhua students crowded in the diner and everyone had a beautiful smile on their face. Girls gave a welcome dance and we danced the "Cupid Shuffle" in return. This was the best welcome ceremony we had.
 Cupid Shuffle

In the morning, we gave students the English lesson we had been preparing for a long time. At first, they were a bit shy and nervous and had no confidence in their English. We told them our Chinese wasn’t prefect either! We used both languages to explain the lesson and encouraged them to speak. Soon they started to open their mouths, in the same time, opened their hearts.
 The Lesson Begins

We ate lunch with our new friends in the school diner. The food was simple but we enjoyed eating with them.

That afternoon, we had another special arrangement. We worked with our new friends on two team building projects. The rain came back but no one was bothered. We used our Chinese, not realizing our proficiency. There was no communication barrier at all; we understood each other. We cheered and laughed, failed and succeed.

 Team Building; Friendship making

For many students living in Guizhou mountain area, getting into the college may only be a dream. It is not because they don’t study hard, but because the insufficient education resources and heavy family burden impes their development. Most of them may have to leave hometown and work in big cities for survival like their parents, but one lesson we consistently taught is that they matter to us and they should never give up on themselves.

Time flies! We had to go. One student started, and others followed. All the students were singing “Friendship forever” in the exercise court and tears filled in their eyes.

 Goodbyes are buttersweet

The first day was a perfect start. We went back to hotel to prepare second day’s English class and activities.

Huaxi Middle School & Jiading Elementary School

On the second day, we visited two schools: Huaxi Middle School and Jiading Elementary School. The English class for Huaxi students was also a great one. Students were very polite and valued the opportunity very much. They were particularly excited when they found we could understand their English, many students said they gained confidence in studying English after the lesson. They want to be like us, people who can see the world and help others.

 Practicing each other's language

Huaxi students gathered at the gate, seeing us off as we left for our next stop: Jiading Elementary School.

We hadn’t recovered from having to say goodbye to the Hauxi students all too soon, we wanted to get to the next school to lift our spirits. Jianding Elementary School, located in a Miao minority village deep in the mountain, is a long journey, made longer by flooded roads. We insisted on the two hour detour it would take us to get there, we couldn’t fail the kids who were looking forward to meeting us. We arrived at Miao village where 400 kids were waiting.

 Arriving in Miao

Almost all the kids in Jiading are left behind. Despite not having a father’s protection nor a mother’s hugs, they were strong, mature and polite. We went into each classroom to appreciate the performance they prepared for us and play games with them. Their happy faces were the best reward.
 Teaching the fun way
 Students of life

Miao Cave

After the visit, the school principle took us to a natural cave where Miao people save their ancestors’ coffins. It’s very unique minority custom. The cave was on top of the mountain. The trail was extremely slippery due to the rain. We enjoyed the beautiful view and the fun of "climbing" the trail.


We would never found this secret cave or have learned the culture and history behind this thousand-year-old custom. The coffins lay at the mouth of the cave. You would think it would compare to the creepiness of Kunta Hora outside Prague or the Catacombs of Paris, but the atmosphere was not of fear, but was peaceful and pure.

We were eager to explore the massive, pitch black cave. We heard the sound of underground river and saw the beautiful flashing stalactites.

Then we “slid” down the mountain, we found ourselves covered in mud. A day well spent.

We ended our service learning trip visiting local historic sites and learn more about the culture and history. We went to Huangguoshu Great Fall, the largest water fall in China. We also visited some local student's homes in the ancient town of Qingyan.

 Visiting student's homes

The three-day service learning project was perfectly concluded with notes written to us by our new friends at Guizhou. On colorful paper, we read these words on our way back to Shanghai, deeply touched.

“We live in two different worlds. Thank you for visiting mine and making me not feel lonely.”

“This is the best day in my life. I don’t think I will be able to see you agian, but I will remember you forever.”

“Thank you for teaching us English. I wish one day, my English can be as good as your Chinese.”

“Thank you for being my hero today!”

 Saying Goodbye

The Guizhou students thanked us, but they may not know how thankful we are for them and this experience. The past three days helped us see the world with a brand new perspective, and learn who we are and what we can do for humanity. We learned the best lesson in the mountains. We want to thank them for being our heroes.

Yan Liang is the CEA Shanghai Program Director. She enjoys hosting students in Shanghai and outer regions of China, expanding horizons.

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