in Chongqing, China
Every August, Jan Michael Uy travels with a volunteer group, Project Yellow Lantern, to Central China to spend two weeks teaching English to local orphans. All of the kids have lost either one or both parents. Many of them live with a grandparent, leaving them responsible for becoming the family breadwinner at an early age.
Jan Michael Uy (D.B.A., Management Candidate)
"The main setback facing orphans in Chongqing*, China, today is continued education," explains Uy. "Fewer than 5 percent graduate from high school."
Uy and fellow volunteers make a point to not only educate the kids, but also encourage them to understand how education can help provide a better life.
"During my first visit to China I met an orphan named Su-Chou," recalls Uy. "He would wake up every morning an hour before his classmates, not because he was worried about passing his exams, but because he had to bring home enough money so that his family could eat."
According to Uy, kids like Su-Chou feel additional pressure to serve their families. China’s One Child Policy also means that each individual child is the face of the family, which creates even more stress. For example, students who do not receive top honors in their classes are often considered a disgrace to their families.
"Instead of sharing with me about going out on adventures and asking me what it is like to live in America, Su-Chou talked to me about possibly taking his own life," reveals Uy. "At the time, he considered himself a failure to his family."
Despite these challenges, there is a happy ending to Su-Chou's story. With the help of the volunteers, he went on to become one of the first orphans in the village to be accepted into one of the top 10 universities in China.
"Su-Chou and other kids like him are kind, sweet and humble. They deserve the best just like anybody else in the world," notes Uy. "They look to us volunteers as friends, as people they can trust and share stories with. We give them hope."
“Su-Chou and other kids like him are kind, sweet and humble. They deserve the best just like anybody else in the world. They look to us volunteers as friends, as people they can trust and share stories with. We give them hope.”
While the two weeks in August each year are invaluable, Uy and the other volunteers struggle when it comes time to return home as all communication with the Chinese students disappears.
"The kids do not have access to a computer or the Internet," explains Uy. "They do not have mailboxes for us to mail them letters. It's a challenge for them to continue to learn on their own."
As a solution, the group has partnered with Microsoft (where Uy works as a Microsoft Account Executive), through their Shape the Future program, to help bring in technology resources needed to provide education opportunities throughout the year. Through this partnership, their goal is to build a technology center at the heart of Chongquing and invite students to attend each evening after work so they can learn virtually through Microsoft's online learning resources.
For Uy, it's the perfect opportunity to live out his master's thesis: “Improving Student Learning in Third World Communities through the Applications of Transformational Leadership and Technology.”
"I know the greatest gift we can provide is simply our presence and being there for them," reveals Uy, "but we want to take it a step further. We want to provide education, help these kids graduate, and ultimately, help them find meaning in their lives."
"When it comes to helping others, I believe the words of philosopher Norman MacEwan who said, 'Happiness is not so much in having as giving. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,'" he continues. "Through this project, we hope to build a better future for these students."