Jiang Zilong, who comes from Suzhou in Anhui province, is a bio-chemistry major in class 112, and serves as a commissioner in a volunteer organization. During the winter vacation of 2013, Jiang volunteered to teach in Shaoai, Guizhou province, a remote and mountainous area of China. To do this, he gave up the opportunity to spend New Year’s with his family, but instead enjoyed a very special and joyous celebration with the local children of Shaoai, a small village thousands of miles from his home.
Shaoai was originally called Miaoai. In the ancient Miao dialect, it was also referred to as ‘dliangb niel’. Shaoai is located 600 meters above sea level in the southeast part of Miao, Guizhou. More specifically, it is in Dong Autonomous County, south of Jingping Hekou, on the east bank of the Wuxia River. Once, during the Qing Dynasty period, a scholar who visited there considered “Miaotuo” to be an inelegant name, especially after climbing high above the village to view the beams of sunlight streaming through the clouds. Under a thin cloud of mist, the village looked peaceful and harmonious, and the scholar could not help but blurt out, “Brilliant are the glories unfolded by the bright sun rising in east, When the clouds fade away, the Miao village mysteriously reappears! Typical ‘Shaoai’!” After that, the local people changed the name of their village to what it is today – Shaoai.
Today happens to be Chinese Volunteers’ Day, the annual celebration dedicated to the life of Lei Feng, the selfless soldier renowned for his work in helping people in need. We are writing this story about the experiences of Jiang Zilong in order to inspire young people to engage in volunteer service to promote public welfare. As the Song of the Chinese Youth Volunteer goes, “Extend your hand; we have always been friends. Let doves return to the sky and my greetings ring through the air. We are the young volunteers, a dedicated and warm family; we are the young volunteers who love to help others. Youth is a fire that never goes out; we live our lives with no regrets because we are the eternal volunteers!”
Jiang Zilong’s Observations
It was, perhaps, rather impulsive of me to choose not to go home during the winter holiday. But after final exams were over, I hopped on a train to travel 1600 kilometers to a strange and exotic place. Little did I know that the days to follow would become one of my life’s most challenging and thrilling experiences. As I neared my destination, the train tracks narrowed, the grade became steeper, and the terrain seemed increasingly dangerous. I hid my fear, but I also didn’t look out of the window. An inner voice cautioned, “Do you really have a strong reason for coming here?”
However, when I arrived in Shaoai, my impatience and anxiety vanished. It was a beautiful and peaceful village, nestled between green hills with streams of clear water. Birds said through the blue sky and tall trees in the nearby forest cast long shadows in the late afternoon. The scene was unforgettable!
Mr. Long, a Teacher
Mr. Long, a local doctor, has contributed his entire life to the preservation of Miao culture. He is active, humorous, and keen to continue furthering his education. In his eyes, I could sense his determination and sense of dedication. His message to me was that he expects volunteer teachers to learn about the Miao culture and to teach what they learn to others.
There are no multimedia classrooms; there is no library, no art studio, and no athletic gym. There is no Internet and no computer network. But the children are hungry to learn. During the winter holiday, students come to class voluntarily. Children that are too young to attend school just stay at home and cry in the arms of their parents. To register for school, some children have to walk several miles. They are simply elated that we have arrived in their village…
My Work – The Greatest Happiness
I soon realized that I had already become these children’s teacher. Whenever they intoned in unison the words, “Mr. Jiang, let’s play games together!” it was the sweetest melody imaginable. They helped me understand why more and more college students are coming to the remote areas of our country to support education. These places need us, and the children want so much to learn about the vast, unknown world on the other side of the mountains. They are “needy”, but in a way that embodies innocence and strength. What I hope to teach them is that although their current situation may not change anytime soon, they should never lose their ambition to achieve their dreams. In a few years they will be experienced adults, and one day they may return to their village with the blueprints and know-how to make improvements.
I first started teaching at the Shaoai primary school. I was responsible for first-grade math, PE, music, handicrafts, and so on. On the first day, I was very nervous as I stepped into the classroom to face dozens of pairs of staring eyes. I proceeded to present my lesson at such a rapid pace that most of the students could not digest what I was saying.
During class, some students preferred to stand up instead of sit. Some chatted with each other, some ate snacks, and some misbehaved. Upon reflection, I realized that I would have to treat things more seriously, and use some of the same disciplinary tactics that my college drillmasters had once used on me. If they didn’t listen to me during class, I would ask them to leave the classroom and go to the playground. This method proved to be quite successful in restoring order. Some of my teammates visited my classes on occasion and offered other useful suggestions. Eventually, I was able to keep things under control and to master basic teaching skills. I was happy to have progressed so quickly from knowing almost nothing about teaching to knowing enough to do a fairly good job. I also appreciated the children’s cooperation, as well as my teammate’s support.
One day, I overslept and missed the start of my class. My students marched over to my dormitory and shouted loudly, “Brother Xiaolong, it’s time to get up! Rise and shine! Shame on you!” Hearing their shrill voices and seeing their young faces made me sigh and think to myself, “Is it not the privilege of a teacher to be lifted by the great expectations of his students?”
My Teammates – The Team of Two-Fifths
The members of the Two-Fifths volunteer teams come from all over the country. On my team, there were 15 members. Some of them had already graduated, some had had some work experience, and a few were still college freshmen. During our month in Shaoai, we talked about everything and shared our joys as well as our hardships. The team was a warm source of brotherhood, sisterhood, and happiness, and yet I was often taken aback and touched by the serious attitude with which my teammates approached their teaching assignments. They and I firmly believed that volunteer work is one of the most important things one can do!
Teammate Hong Mei once said, “You must choose your memories carefully because they will always be with you.” Teammate Ya Hui advised, “No matter what, you should remember every little detail of this time in Shaoai with your students and your Two-Fifths teammates, as it is an important part of your life journey.”
When the day finally came to say ‘Farewell!’ at the Huaihua railway station, tears filled my eyes. I didn’t want those days to be over. I truly will miss the lovely children, the amazing blue skies, and even the hardships.
I was just an ordinary volunteer – just another ‘leaf on the tree’. But in doing my part with abandon, I was able to deeply experience the joy of giving and to exert a small influence on the development of the Miao culture’s younger generation.