I finished my second week of volunteering. For full disclosure, the program at school calls it an internship and according to my mom, apparently my dad has been bragging about me doing an "internship" as well. But I always tell people I'm volunteering, because essentially that is what I'm doing. I'm very thankful to Rice for providing me the means to be on this trip, and I'm proud of the opportunity to spend time with the children and helping the center, so I don't feel the need to call it something it really isn't.
In many ways this post will be almost a response, an echo, to my friend Laurel's struggles over the week. She is teaching children music at Bolivia this summer, please check out her blog here. Laurel struggled with her purpose and contribution to the children she is working with in Bolivia. Her Spanish is good, but not as good as she had hoped, and the inconsistency at which students show up is disheartening. I really admire that at the end, she learned to measure success by how much she had learned/changed rather than how much she changed the children. I guess I have quite some experience working with young people and not knowing how much impact I'm making on them, which can make us feel uneasy. In trying to work with local high school seniors with applying to colleges and talking about college life, I've had a lot of struggles with consistency of students showing up and punctuality of the students. Most of the time they're already applying to community colleges and require very little help. They also don't really feel the need to answer to emails/texts, so it's hard to make a connection with them. At KIPP Impact in February, my group and I were only there for a week, and we did not offer much directly to the KIPPsters' education.
But often, that is the nature of volunteering and community service. I'm a student first and foremost, and there's no reason to believe that my short term stay will definitely make an indelible mark on anyone I work with. It would be great to impact the people I work with and meet, but I've come to learn that it is even more important to focus on my work's impact on me. Every time I talk about the alternative spring break trip to KIPP Impact, I always tell my group members and other people that we're not trying to make some tangible impact like saving kids' lives. Rather, we just do what we can and let ourselves learn and change, because that is something we have control over.
With that said, at the beginning of this week I was feeling fidgety because I had gotten used to the center's schedule and comfortable with mostly observing the daily routine and just entertaining the children by teaching them English and hanging out and just loving them with what I have. I knew it was time to step it up, and I started brainstorming. Well, the children in my class are 12 years old now, maybe I should supplement their curriculum with some funky 'pop science' to expand their minds and get them to do it hands-on! Ideas are running through my head in this phase. Then on Thursday, a volunteer there named Michael asked me to do a favor - revise his English translation of the center's Chinese website. Fascinated, I said of course! And he was right, I was so obsessed with spending so much time with the children, but I could do more than that. If I really wanted to do something for them, my contribution to a comprehensible and moving website would really help the center connect itself with the greater international non-profit community and ultimately, garner more help for the children. Apparently the center can only handle maybe 1/10 of the families who call them and ask to send their children to live there. They're always looking for more grants and funding that will last them another while, and with the low pay, it is hard to build institutional capacity. A lot of the teachers and physical therapists there are young people who have only started working there relatively recently. Turnover rates are high, which is especially bad for children who need more consistency. It's not easy to get to know every child, let alone their physical skills and how to best help them as well. Despite this, I do see that many of the teachers and therapists are genuine and love the children and provide the patience and help that they need.
Translation work started on Friday and it went slowly but surely. Reading and hearing about the founder of CereCare (the center) and the amazing work she's done and continues to do is very inspiring. In a nutshell, Ms. Lieu has CP herself and has dedicated to the cause of helping other disabled peoples, especially children with CP. Basically, the hope is to expand services for CP people of all ages, and especially rehabilitation for CP children so that they can eventually live on their own and be integrated into the greater society. It reminds me of the human capabilities I learned all about this past school year. In class we often talked about the approach and its limitations and caveats. For example, is it a problem that the approach and its corollaries presume physically and mentally functional individuals? How does it work for those who aren't like that, i.e. the children that I work with?
On a side note, some of the children who live at this center are orphans. It breaks my heart to hear their stories. One boy was tricked and abandoned by his mother when he was young because of his condition. He cried for months when it happened and he was sent to the center. Now he's in school during the day, albeit a school very far away and inadequate for his education because it's for the mentally disabled, which he isn't. To complicate matters, a few individuals who had visited the center a few years ago and had met him are working to get him into the pool for adoption in China. He seemed eager to talk to them and let them get him walking, talking, and playing on video. I wonder if he wants to be adopted. The women were saying that they would have to advocate very hard for him because he is a boy and he is 12 years old now, very soon he would be too old for adoption. Not to mention that his daily life is more complicated than other children's. It made me think about if adoption is really the best thing for him. What if the new parents leave him again or don't love him like the way he deserves to be loved? Could he handle that? What if he finds out no one is willing to adopt him to begin with?