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September 5, 2009

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Student snaps raise money for pupils

HOBBIES are common among teenagers. However, for Forrest Zhao, a 12th-grader from Shanghai American School, his hobby has led him to help out his fellow students.

Having studied photography for four years at Beijing Photography Correspondence Institute Shanghai Station, the art form is not only where his interest lies, but also a means to help him support peers in need.

On August 29, Zhao launched a photo exhibition titled "Sharing the Arts and Feeling the Love" at Shanghai Xingye Middle School. More than 50 works selected from his recently published photo book "A Visual Journey" were displayed at the free three-day exhibition.

The display was part of Zhao's community service project begun in July. He plans to raise money by selling his photography books to pay the tuition fees for five outstanding students of poor families from Shanghai Xingye Middle School.

"The idea occurred to me when I spent two weeks in March traveling from Shanghai to the Philippines for Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit Christian housing organization, where I built simple and affordable housing for people in need there," Zhao says.

"I thought to myself that I can start my own journey of volunteering and charity with the hobby of photography."

At the opening, Zhao donated 100 photo books to Shanghai Xingye Middle School, 200 books to Fuxingdi Town School, a remote school in Liaoning Province, and 360 books to Shanghai Changlin Primary School supported by Project Hope to inspire more young people.

Jin Wei, principal of Shanghai Xingye Middle School, says that it is unusual for a high school student to have such a mission to help the underprivileged.

"Zhao's parents give him a lot of support," Jin says. "I hope more local parents can learn from them, injecting a more humanitarian approach to kids' study."

Zhao, who was born in Dalian, Liaoning Province, and moved to Canada with the family when he was only four years old, has grown up under a Western education system. However, his interest in China persists.

Having lived in Shanghai for more than five years, he takes every vacation chance to see the China's natural wonders and photograph as many as he can.

Among hobbies such as basketball, ice hockey, table tennis, painting and piano, photography is his favorite. His particular forte is portraying natural wonders such as animals at Shanghai Zoo, sunrise and sunset in Hainan Province and the bridges and rivers at Zhujiajiao.

"It's cultural sharing. I enjoy squeezing time out from study to pick up photography skills. It's a way for me to learn more about China and the world,'' Zhao says.

Currently, he has raised 6,000 yuan (US$878.19) toward the project. He hopes to raise enough money to pay tuition for the five students by the time when he starts university study in the United States next year.

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