The Giving Tree
Tuesday in Shanghai, I joined a number of volunteers to help The Giving Tree organization pass out bags of goodies to migrant children. A bit of background: Shanghai has a fast growing and large population of migrant workers. Most of them travel from poor, rural regions of China to economically prospering cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, to work very low paying jobs (domestic help, service, construction, etc.) They have very similar issues with migrant workers in the states. I am still learning much about the social welfare system in Shanghai but from what I understand, it used to be that children of migrant workers did not have dependable access to education. Some children could integrate into regular Shanghai schools. But others were academically behind their city peers. Recently, the Shanghai government committed to providing free education to all school-aged children of migrant workers living in Shanghai.
The infrastructure of the schools is still being set up but basically, they are established in run-down buildings with little or no heat. At the school I visited, the children wore jackets under their uniforms and even the teachers had on thick jackets and scarves. I counted at least 54-60 students per class. Classrooms had no floor space for circle time, no book shelves filled with books or games and barely enough room for one person to slide down the aisle in between the rows of desks. The school also has no playground – no field to run around, no basketball court, not even enough concrete space to just play. I think about Emily’s and Lily’s past and current schools where smart boards are the norm. This school still uses chalkboards. But it is also one of the lucky schools as it has a computer in each classroom which is hooked up to a large, flat screen tv. The teachers all have microphones to project their voices – a necessary tool in a classroom with so many children (no teacher’s aides, by the way.)
Each year, The Giving Tree delivers thousands of bags to migrant school children. The bags are first filled by individuals guided by specific information about each recipient child. For example, 400 empty bags were delivered to our elementary school. Each family signed out one or more bags to fill with a pair of shoes, a jacket, new school supplies and an age-appropriate toy. The bags were then delivered to a nearby migrant school by our 5th graders, including Emily. She was able to spend time in a 1st grade class and see the huge delight in the children. (I think it was quite impactful as her wish list for the holidays was reduced to only three specific items.)
My visit was to a different migrant school. What an experience! The glee in the children’s faces and voices! The toys were enormous hits with all the children. But equally exciting were school supplies – basic pencils, pens, erasers and notebooks caused the children to shout across the room and wave them in the air! The jackets and shoes were necessities as most of these migrant families can’t afford them for their growing children. Most impressive observation – the students had to sit quietly until every child recieved his or her bag. Not a one tried to sneakily open the bag. Their discipline and patience was amazing!
Having been involved with many giving programs over the years, I was naturally eager to find where I can contribute here in Shanghai. Poor is poor no matter where and giving is always a joy.