How I Taught My Chinese Students about Philanthropy

Teaching My Chinese Students about Philanthropy

pink pangea foreign correspondent After watching the film Pay it Forward, I introduced the concept of Philanthropy to my Chinese students. I showed them videos from the “Make a Wish Foundation” and “Saint Baldrick’s Association.” I also gave them some insight on simple ways to “pay it forward.” All of this information accumulated to introduce their English class midterm assignment.

For their midterms, I required my students to design and implement their own original philanthropy project. In groups of 2-4 the students must design and implement an original philanthropy project. The project must improve the community physically, emotionally, or mentally. The students must introduce the inspiration and process of implementing their project. They also had to include pictures and/or videos to supplement their presentation. Finally, they had to reflect on the project and the impact it had on those whom the group helped as well as the group members, themselves. All of this information was to be presented to the class in the form of a PPT presentation. I will be honest, I was skeptical of the students – would they take the task to heart? or would they simply choose the quickest, simplest means of addressing the assignment? I ended up receiving a little of both.

I will be honest, I was skeptical of the students – would they take the task to heart? or would they simply choose the quickest, simplest means of addressing the assignment?

One of the target groups for the students to help was the workers on our campus. These staff members are largely ignored by the faculty and students alike – even though everyone universally recognizes the difficulty of the worker’s jobs. Some students volunteered to do the work for a custodian for a day. Others decided to pay it forward by showing the workers how much they were appreciated. One group collected well-wishes and thank yous from students and created a collage for the workers. They gave the collage to the workers to keep in their office as a reminder of the gratitude the students feel for them.

Teaching My Chinese Students about Philanthropy
A project by some of Katie’s students

Another way the students reached out was by visiting the workers in their on-campus homes. Apparently, the workers’ housing is not as munificent as the housing that I receive as a teacher in China. The students sat and visited with the workers throughout the weeks afforded to them and, in doing so, made some connections with security guards, dorm mothers, cleaning ladies, and grounds keepers.

All of the video feedback was in Chinese, but I managed to pick out words like “warm” and “happy.”

The effort to improve the environment on the Chinese university campus also extended to the students. One group recognized the importance of positive self image and created a program to encourage girls to smile at their reflection in the mirror. According to the group, many Chinese girls don’t like the way they look. The group believed in the power of smiles and positive reinforcement and thus began their campaign. They posted reminders on the mirrors in their dormitories encouraging girls to take a moment and smile.

Another group of students decided to spread love through a “free hugs” campaign. They encouraged friends, co-workers, and those in relationships to show their affection to each other. Hugs are not common in China but this group was able to convince the people they worked with to participate. They got feedback from their participants – which they shared with the class during their presentation. All of the video feedback was in Chinese, but I managed to pick out words like “warm” and “happy.”

Last, but not least, my favorite student welfare activity was a “free jokes” campaign. This group of students went all over campus and told jokes to workers and students alike. They filmed themselves telling the jokes and the reactions of laughter from their participants. Again, the jokes were in Chinese so I couldn’t understand them. The laughter, however, is universally understood.

The third type of project took students off campus and into the surrounding community. Some students picked up trash in public areas but one group went above and beyond this act. The two girls in this particular group spent the afternoon talking with a street cleaning lady and assisting her in her duties. Not only did they help her with her job, but they even gave her a massage!

In China, people are conditioned by society to be skeptical of seemingly altruistic intentions.

Another group went to West Lake and picked up trash. They got a lot of attention for doing so – especially since it is a high traffic tourist area. According to them, the police came and questioned them; asking about their project and which school they attended. (I know it sounds draconian but I believe–based on the way the students were telling it–that the police were genuinely impressed and not critical.) This group reported that the highlight of their project was when a man littered by throwing a bottle on the ground. He saw the students pick it up and put it in the recycling container. The students said the man paused and then approached them, apologizing for his lack of consideration.

It’s very important for me to see the students taking this lesson to heart. In China, people are conditioned by society to be skeptical of seemingly altruistic intentions. There are stories about scam artists who abuse and take advantage of those people with kindhearted intentions. I was thrilled to see that my Chinese students were able to make connections with the world around them and show others how they can do the same.

About Katie Sill

Katie SillKatie Sill is a graduate student from Dallas, Texas living and working in Hangzhou, China. In addition to teaching English at Hangzhou Dianzi University, Katie is conducting original research pertaining to women’s roles within Chinese culture.

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