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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.)

teacher in thick jacket and scarf


tight quarters

computer screen - the actual computer is built into the teacher's desk, kinda like an arcade video game

Giving Tree bags being organized for distribution

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!

the excitement was deafening!

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.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Robin Bess
    December 14, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    What a great experience for both you and your kids! I was just thinking about “giving” this morning and was wondering what opportunities there are around here for my kids to be able to “give back” directly. We have adopted families in the past and I think it makes them think of others who don’t have much…and how exciting things like clothing and school supplies are to them. I really want them to “see” how many people live so they can be more appreciative of what they have and not “want” so much. It’s a real eye opener for sure.

    I enjoy your posts about your life in China…I like to see the differences in our country and others and how things work.

    Happy Holidays



    • Lisa
      December 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm

      Thanks Robin. I was so happy that Emily was able to “see” how giving affected others. We always participated in giving programs but never got to see the children their gifts. This was really special. Happy Holidays!

  2. Dalia Vela
    December 14, 2011 at 11:20 pm


    Maybe our kids don’t realize just yet, how lucky and bless they are. For my kids though,China was the most incredible experience they could ever live. Unfortunately we are back in the States and every little thing got forgotten, maybe we didn’t spend enough time there or maybe we will need to experience a more dependable way of living like in South America or India.

    Wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas.
    Take care

    Dalia Vela.

  3. December 14, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    wow – lisa what a wonderful thing for you and for emily. made me cry a bit this am – as our families are so fortunate and there are so many people in need across this big world. girls participating in a school supply drive for school’s in cambodia right now – last month it was toothbrushes and wash cloths – hoping they continue to get an understanding of these needs and integrate giving into their adult lives too.

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