Over the summer, Michelle Lian ’20 spent two weeks in rural Longxi, Gansu, China teaching young women and girls English and mathematics through Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC), an organization working to empower women in rural regions of Western China to escape the cycle of poverty through education. Since their founding in 2005, EGRC has given 842 girls from the most impoverished regions of China the gift of education, many through high school, and even more through college; the girls have achieved a graduation rate of over 99%. There are currently 145 EGRC girls studying at the university level; 366 are university graduates.
“I was instantly drawn towards the cause and mission of the EGRC organization,” says Michelle. “I firmly believe in the importance of the equal opportunity of education, and understand how great an impact schooling can make on girls as individuals and a collective group in society.”
Despite having been involved with efforts to address issues of gender inequality in China, Michelle was surprised to learn how deep and prevalent those issues were in rural Western China, where tradition values and reserves educational opportunities for sons, while girls are relegated to caretaking roles.
“We got a chance to teach the girls in an area where the conservative society struggled with issues of sexism and education inequality,” Michelle explains. “During my stay I really learned to appreciate education as a privilege and to not take it for granted, because these girls are so eager to learn but they have limited opportunities.”
“We bonded,” says Michelle, “and shared our different experiences and backgrounds. For me, the most memorable part of this trip was all the insightful conversations and touching stories that the girls shared with us. It was shocking and heartbreaking to learn that these girls have gone through so many hardships and were forced to become mature and care for younger siblings at such a young age.”
Michelle met young women whose families have been in hiding for many years, because they violated the one-child policy in hopes of having a son. She met women who told of abuses and abandonment in their families, and of unjust treatment, simply because of their gender.
“When we first met each other, I could not possibly imagine that these girls had lived through such experiences; everyone was very cheerful and positive. I think it is extremely special and admirable that they can hold such a positive attitude and keep up with their rigorous school work in an environment like this. These stories were extremely touching and heartbreaking to hear, but at the same time, they motivate me to contribute more towards the goal of gender equality. I am truly honored and thankful for this opportunity to get to know these wonderful girls that I now call my friends.”
Michelle's travel was funded in part by a Robert Keyes Poole '50 Fellowship.Established in memory of Robert Keyes Poole '50, Taft master from 1956 to 1962, Poole Fellowships are awarded each year to enable Taft students to engage in travel or in projects consistent with Mr. Poole's lifetime interest in wildlife and the environment.