Eight-day trip that changed young lives
Updated: 2013-12-22 09:32
Spending time in the countryside was a "life-changing" experience for Andrea Liu. Photo provided to China Daily
Chinese-American teenager Andrea Liu never expected that an eight-day trip to China to sponsor impoverished students would change her attitude and outlook on life, and win her some good friends.
Last June, she and her father Steve Liu visited Zhaojue county in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture to offer financial aid to local schools and students. The county is the biggest ethnic Yi hub in Sichuan province.
"Yi people don't have Dior shades or a Louis Vuitton purse, but they have their family and I think that's more than enough. They don't have very many things, so they learn to appreciate life more than someone like me," says the 15-year-old sophomore from San Jose, California.
"Going to Zhaojue was definitely a new experience for me, because I had never seen anything like that before. In Shanghai, you don't see much poverty," Andrea says.
The weather in the mountainous area is both cold and humid. There are floods in summer. It can be dangerous because students have to walk for hours on the zigzagging road to school and there may be avalanches. Andrea and her father donated tens of thousands of yuan to the schools in need of repair and items, such as desks and textbooks.
She spent a lot of time talking to the locals and students of her age in several villages.
When she visited the family of one student she sponsored, they slaughtered a pig to make a meal for her and her father in honor of their arrival. She knew the pig was a part of their limited income.
"I felt very touched. They are very warm-hearted people who were willing to sacrifice their own hard work for the sake of others," she says.
The most impressive thing to her is that even though the local families have financial and mental burdens, they won't give up and will find ways to support their families.
"As for the students, I have never seen anyone work so hard. The school day lasts about 14 hours," she says.
According to Andrea, education is so important for them. If you get a good education, you are able to get a better job and support your family better, she says.
Andrea's father, Steve Liu, who works in an IT company in Shanghai, says he was surprised that his daughter adapted to the local environment so well and made some good friends.
At first, she found it difficult to get used to the shabby toilet without any flushing water about 200 meters away from the dormitory. Her father asked her to stay in a hotel with him, but she insisted on being with the girls in a dormitory. They stayed up late to talk about what their lives were like and wanted to know more about each other.
Like the local girls, she washed herself using a bucket of water and a towel.
"I really got to know what it was like to live there," she says.
Andrea's visit provided a big change for the students' view of life and themselves. The teacher told Andrea that after her visit, the students she sponsored had more motivation to do well in school.
"They want to get good grades to get good education, because they know that there is hope for them somewhere in the world. They think they are capable people that can do things," she says.
Andrea left Zhaojue in July but started a blog to record her experience in Zhaojue and to broadcast stories about foreign people in poverty.
She has also been raising money for students in Zhaojue and keeps in touch with the students by letters. She is looking forward to her next visit in 2014.