For the second consecutive summer, Jonathan Ip ’20 traveled from his home in Hong Kong to the Gansu province in Mainland China to spend time working with students at a local elementary school. With support from a Robert Keyes Poole ’50 Grant, Jonathan traveled with the Changing Young Lives Foundation (CYLF), a Hong Kong-based organization originally founded in the 1950s as a branch of Save the Children UK, and dedicated to helping underprivileged youth in Hong Kong and the Mainland acquire the knowledge and skills they need to realize their full potential. They offer programs at their own sites, through local outreach, and through Mainland service programs, like the one that took Jonathan to a remote village in the Gansu province.
“This is a small village on the side of a mountain that is filled with children who have come to be known as ‘left behinds,’” explains Jonathan. “It is very sad to see children as young as three essentially caring for themselves, and traveling to and from school each day alone on extremely treacherous mountain roads.”
Government reports indicate that there are millions of minors who are “left behind” in China—children living in rural communities whose parents have migrated to cities to find work, or who are residing with a parent who cannot claim guardianship. Left-behind children face a wide-range of serious issues, from overall health, nutrition, and well-being to basic education and socio-emotional development.
Jonathan joined the CYLF School Social Worker Project for Left-behind Children hoping to bring hope and change to the community. The program offers on-site social work and counseling services to local students. It also provides resources to improve the recreational facilities in the schools and build extra-curricular activity programs. In the past two years, the project has benefited 12 schools in the one district, alone, and impacted more than 1,500 students.
“Both this summer and last I was involved with recreational activities,” says Jonathan. “This year I was in charge of the basketball program. CYLF provides both art and athletic resources for the schools—things like art supplies, basketballs, and basketball hoops. These are things that are new to the children. You can see by their faces that they were just so full of joy—so happy to have these opportunities and these new experiences. It was very touching and very rewarding.”
This year Jonathan also spent time with Spring Blossom Scholarship students in Lanzhou, Gansu’s capital city. Scholarship recipients are most often young girls from the Dongxiang ethnic minority in rural Gansu; most would otherwise marry at a very young age and leave school before completing their primary education. In 2017, CLYF began a scholarship program to subsidize their education.
“It is often very hard for these students to go on to middle or high school in their province,” says Jonathan. “It was very meaningful for us to meet them and spend time with them. We taught them easy English dialogue. For most, it was their first experience with English, and it was very difficult for them—especially the “th” sound. To see them master some of the words and sounds at the end of our time together was really touching. It was very emotional leaving them, but I have become pen pals with one of the girls.”
Jonathan hopes to return to Gansu next summer, to spend time with the scholarship students in Lanzhou, and to continue his work in the local schools.
“It has been a very overwhelming experience for me,” Jonathan says. “Even though we spoke different languages, we clearly understood each other’s emotions. The children’s faces reflected so much joy. I know they felt encouraged and cared for.”
Jonathan’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.
Learn more about CYLF at changingyounglives.org.hk