Adventures in Volunteering

Meng Fei Shen, Staff Writer

Vacation, ice cream, shopping, the beach, and sunshine…these are probably the common phrases you think of during summer.

Well, how about foreign trips, volunteering, and lengthy flights? My summer of 2012 has been the most amazing experience of these three combinations. Already flabbergasted when my mom purchased my expensive ticket to China, I was even more elated when she told me that I have been granted the opportunity to volunteer at an orphanage in my hometown, Nanjing.

Upon the third day of my arrival to China, I took a dreadful 60 minute ride on the city bus to an orphanage. But when I stepped into the compact, rainbow-painted building, a huge comfort came to me, and I continued walking in. A worker there took me to the room of children I was in charge of, class B-4, a large but quiet group of kids disseminated throughout the small study room. They stared at me in unison with blank looks as if I was a piece of paper, I tried smiling back at them but they remained expressionless. I had planned to happily introduce myself, but they intimidated me with the unfriendly little faces. Later on, I attempted to strike conversations with individual kids and managed some success. I first met a child named Xiang and the workers around told me that an American family was planning to adopt him. They also informed me that after knowing about it, Xiang cared little for school, which was why his grades were plummeting. In the following days, I began tutoring him on third grade English and simple math. Another child, named Kong, audaciously requested for my tutoring in English. Kong had some speech clarity problems, which often deprived him of self-esteem. However, unlike the other orphans, he was very diligent with his academics and never missed an assignment that I gave him. I later found out Kong’s parents kicked him out of the house when he was six because they thought he looked too “ugly”; for several years after, he lived in the streets and found food in garbage cans to survive. This was also why Kong gripped on to every academic opportunity he came across, for his original parents had neglected to pay for his education.

After a few weeks of volunteering at this orphanage, the kids and I began to have more interactions. As their summer homework finished, my tutoring job also came an end. For the remaining days of my service, I taught the kids how to play some iPhone games and Monopoly. In hopes of expanding their knowledge and views, I shared with them the American traditions like Thanksgiving and Valentines’ Day. Most of them listened meticulously and curiously while a few others dazed off.

To be honest, the orphanage was nothing I had expected. Kids have brand-new study rooms and desks for nightly homework. Whenever the kids wanted anything, they simply needed to request for it and a myriad of sponsors would donate these necessities. In some aspects, they received more than typical kids who live with their families. Initially, I had also thought that these orphans would have autism from the lack of attention, but in contrary to that, they are quite amiable and fun once they know you.            

Throughout this volunteering opportunity, my biggest acquisition was realizing that I have too much compared to these kids. I have parents who care about me and would tell me bedtime stories as a child, I have my mom who would take me out shopping and tell me which clothes I looked best in, and a father who would teach me how to ride a bike for the first time. These are all things the orphans do not have, and crave for. A surge of happiness and nostalgia always come to me as I shuffle over the memories I had playing with these kids, mentoring them, and teaching them English. For those who are reading, I would like to share one last thing with you, and that’s the Japanese proverb, “Vision without action is a daydream.” This summer has been the most treasurable experience ever, and I would never have had it without pursuing for the opportunity.