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December 28, 2011

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'Tis the season for generosity

INTERNATIONAL schools in Shanghai have set up various charity programs to let their students learn about helping others. Often these activities encourage students to get involved in everything from creating and planning to organizing and execution. Fei Lai reports.

Volunteering is an incredibly rewarding experience for young people. International schools in Shanghai have various programs so students can help others while learning about different cultures.

On December 9, the Grade 11 members of Interact from Shanghai Community International School had the opportunity to partake in The Giving Tree's giving ceremony.

SCIS collected more than 200 Giving Tree bags this year stuffed with warm coats, hats, gloves, school supplies, toothbrushes, toothpaste and toys.

Interact members began their efforts by promoting The Giving Tree and it's a worthy cause to each Advisory class in the Upper School. Students and families listened and gave generously - many families contributed multiple bags.

When all were gathered, the Interact students, led by Ms Velamuri, worked long hours after school over many days to ensure each bag was properly filled and stocked with missing items to ensure each recipient child had an equally exhilarating experience.

The Friday before final exam week, 15 Interact students gave up their precious review time and made the 45-minute journey to Yuanhang Migrant School to meet a very excited group of primary students.

SCIS students helped by working with the children to unload two trucks worth of bags, sorting them according to grade levels and delivering them to the classrooms.

This was followed by a short ceremony of appreciation including a thank-you speech from Yuanhang Migrant School's principal and student emcee, three dance performances and a great big "Xie Xie" (thank you) from the entire student body. SCIS responded by expressing its best wishes in a short speech by student organizers Marcus Ingvarsson and Alex Yin.

As a grand finale, all Interact students assisted in teaching the children of Yuanhang Migrant School an English lesson with the song "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes." As the ceremony ended, Yuanhang students ran off to open their gift bags.

The Interact students split into teams working in different classrooms to hand out The Giving Tree gift bags to the Yuanhang students. The atmosphere in the room was beyond joyous as students hugged their bag like a pot of gold.

When all students received their gift bags, pandemonium erupted as children began tearing into their new possessions.

Regardless of whether it was a coat, a glue stick or a toy, students prized every item. A sea of smiles stretched across each classroom.

As the SCIS students headed back to their heated school, with its warm environment and incredible amenities, each knew they had participated in something special.

At Concordia, students have the Yunnan Education Project (YEP), started by three Concordia students in 2002, following 10 students' school service trips to Yunnan Province.

The project's original goal was to help pay for schooling for ethnic children up to Grade 6. It has been expanded to additional provinces in China, providing school buildings, school libraries, school materials, English language instruction, village water systems, leadership and health education, and now high school scholarships.

Karin Semler, director of student life, said that YEP's mission is to provide education and human care services in impoverished communities while fostering social responsibility within the Concordia student body.

"YEP aims to actively involve students in all aspects of social service including raising funds, promoting awareness of local issues and committing to be active and compassionate citizens of the world," Semler said.

Concordia also sponsors a co-curricular YEP Club for students from Grade 2 to Grade 12. These students have raised awareness for high school scholarships in rural China. Locally, students will be involved with teaching English to Concordia's guard staff.

Yew Chung International School's "Seeds of Hope" program has its roots in the original SEED (Sichuan Earthquake Educational Development) project that grew out of the devastating earthquake that rocked Sichuan Province in 2008. The original SEED sprouted into the "Seeds of Hope" charity drive.

With love and charity part of the school motto, YCIS seeks out opportunities to transform lives. "Seeds of Hope" is a partnership with the China Youth Development Foundation.

With the support and assistance of local government organizations, the funds generated by all YCIS schools' charity projects will be used to build Hope Schools - one primary school annually in every province/city where there is a YCIS campus (Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao and Chongqing).

Leo Lazo, character education coordinator and counselor at YCIS Shanghai's Pudong Campus, said the primary purpose of the program is to bring education and hope to children.

"Those that take part in the charity program are mostly YCIS staff, students and their families," Lazo said. "We have also had several corporations make contributions to the program."

Every YCIS campus is in charge of fund-raising for the "Seeds of Hope" program throughout the school year. Some activities include free dress day where the students and staff can wear what they like for a minimum donation.

Some schools have Charity Week, where different activities are planned every day of that week. The most exciting part of this model is when students come up with the ideas and then develop and organize the activities. One such activity is a school carnival where students purchase tokens to play or buy items at the carnival and play various games.

"Each student has a hidden potential that is waiting to be cultivated and used for the benefit of the future society. A place that cares for and cherishes its human talent has the power to provide for prosperity and fulfillment," Lazo said.

"Likewise, the children we nourish today are the leaders of tomorrow. By creating 'sister' school relationships between these Hope Schools and YCIS' schools across China, there is long-term opportunity for ongoing cultural exchanges, educational trips and charity projects that will benefit YCIS students for many years to come."

The Giving Tree charity is also an activity the SSIS community looks forward to every November. The program aims to give migrant children personalized gifts such as warm clothes, shoes, stationery and toys.

Genine Loo, coordinator for Social Studies (Junior School) of SSIS, said: "Many international students live in little bubbles. They live in nice apartments, have ayis, and sometimes drivers ... Taking part in such events helps them understand that not just China, but Shanghai, is more diverse than they can imagine and there are people who may live in the next street who have a vastly different life."


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