“I think the most truly important thing is the human connection with the students in Baiwan”
Katherine Chiu, teacher in charge of the Baiwan Charity, explains why she has dedicated 20 years to supporting the community
In 1998, an Island School teacher reached out to Sunbeam Children’s Foundation who were doing charity work in Baiwan.
Baiwan is an area of rural China where finding work and making enough money to support a family are difficult. Young adults and parents leave the area, moving to the cities to find work, their children are looked after by grandparents or they look after themselves. As a result of this connection, the first Baiwan Quest Week was organised, marking the birth of the Baiwan Charity. Katherine Chiu, the Maths teacher now in charge of the Baiwan Charity at Island School, said that her initial involvement in the trip was not originally planned. “They needed a member of staff who spoke Chinese,” she explains. At the time, there were few Chinese speakers in Island School, and so by default she attended the trip. It was a decision for the best and what followed was twenty years of life changing commitment. Island School students teach English to Baiwan children during Quest Week in November each year. During a second trip in June toys and clothes are donated.
On her commitment to Baiwan, Katherine says, “It is a big part of my life.” Throughout the many years she has been involved with the charity, she has cultivated a large network of connections and friendships. “I was actually invited to the wedding of a girl from Baiwan,” she explains. She adds that the friends she has made in Baiwan often express their gratitude for the work of the charity and the participating students. She says, “They all say how much they appreciate the work that Island School has done and the opportunities they have been given as a result of the Baiwan Charity.”
Although the charity’s primary goal is to support the children in Baiwan, Katherine asserts that Island School students volunteering are also positively influenced. “I sometimes wonder whether it is the Baiwan students learning from Island School students, or if it is us learning from them!” she laughs. “There are a mutual benefits – in many ways.”
The students on the trip often show great dedication. In fact, Katherine says that the Baiwan Committee, a student-run group formed many years ago to support the Baiwan Charity, was actually the idea of a student. The student in question, Christina “organised so many things herself – all the events, even the Baiwan Prom, where junior students paid money to go to a party.” Katherine also mentioned Jennifer, another student committed to the Baiwan Charity, who has been to Baiwan over 15 times, visiting the area even after graduating from Island School during her semester breaks.
Katherine mentions some of the issues she has dealt with on her many trips, “In terms of hardware, such as infrastructure, housing and resources, the situation in Baiwan is improving,” she says, “however, it is getting worse in terms of staffing because of remoteness. The school is losing teachers – they would rather work at schools closer to the city.”
Katherine mentions that in the past, there was a moment when she considered pausing Baiwan Charity’s work. Other groups in China expressed interest in supporting Baiwan as well, so Katherine felt that the charity’s action might be unnecessary or ineffective in comparison. However, it turned out that these groups were mainly interested in business opportunities rather than helping the people in Baiwan so Katherine decided to continue the charity’s work.
In the future, Katherine would like to incorporate more ideas from outside of Island School into the lessons. The students visiting Baiwan take their teaching of English seriously with four planning sessions and two teaching practices. For instance, she is keen for Island School students on the annual Quest Week trip to propose different and interesting ideas to truly stimulate the minds of the Baiwan students. In addition she would like to bring other Hong Kong families to the area. For Katherine, the most important part of the work in Baiwan is interacting with the children themselves. “Raising money and resources is important, but what I think is truly the most important thing is the human connection with the students in Baiwan.”
By Julia Mulrooney, Communications and Information Officer