Rural Chinese Children, Schools Prosper With Help From Bay Area Volunteers

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President Steve Ting and one of the students Shin Shin Educational Foundation is helping. Photo courtesy of the foundation.

“A group effort will bring prosperity,” goes the old Chinese saying. In the case of the Shin Shin Educational Foundation, a group effort by volunteers in the San Francisco Bay Area is bringing educational prosperity to rural Chinese school children in the form of sturdy buildings, books, access to computers, and better-trained teachers.

It started in 1997 with a trip back to China for some elders who had settled in the U.S. Noting that schools in their home villages were in poor condition, they returned to their new country, determined to raise money to build new schools for the children of those villages.

Over the past 16 years that small group of elders has grown to hundreds of volunteers, and the Bay Area-based Shin Shin Educational Foundation (“Shin Shin” means “prosperity” in Mandarin) now helps more than 120,000 elementary school children and educators in 333 schools throughout rural provinces.

Fundraising efforts have brought in more than $10 million to fund school construction, renovations, and improvements—including providing furniture, musical instruments, and sports equipment. The funding also provides access to technology, and training for educators.

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Photo courtesy of the Shin Shin Educational Foundation.

Recently the volunteer-run group achieved an enormous feat: it gained permission from the Chinese government to open an office in Beijing—not an easy task for many foreign non-governmental organizations.

“Most people don’t even get approval, so we’re really, really proud,” said Steve Ting, Shin Shin’s president for the last three years, and a volunteer with the group for 12.

Ting retired from the high tech world at age 55 to dedicate himself to improving education in the Silicon Valley and in China. In addition to volunteering with Shin Shin, he volunteers with the Cupertino Educational Endowment Foundation, the YMCA, the Cupertino Historical Society, and the Cupertino Rotary Club, for which he served as president one year.

Improving the Lives of Future World Citizens

“The one thing we want to do is bring some of the experience of education in America to (rural) China,” said Ting of Shin Shin. Focusing on elementary school children, the group wants to make a difference in the lives of children who, “will continue onward and become more capable citizens.”

In a country of 1.3 billion people, schools away from the main cities tend to be underfunded, and have limited access to technology, Ting said. And while China has the second largest economy behind the U.S., the per capita income places it in 90th place, according to the International Money Fund. Shin Shin aids schools in areas where the per capita income is $2 U.S. a day or less.

In addition to funding challenges, rural schools tend to be stuck in centuries-old traditions that do not serve modern students well, Ting said.

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Teachers in China participate in a Shin Shin training program. Photo courtesy of Shin Shin Educational Foundation.

For example, the Confucian style of teaching requires that the teacher is someone never to be challenged; students are not allowed to ask questions. Today’s children Ting said, are independent, creative, and innovative thinkers, and teachers need to be collaborators in the learning process. This is especially true in light of today’s technologies, he said.

Shin Shin works to expose rural teachers to new ideas and methods through training workshops each summer, and even video conferences that link teachers from the Bay Area to teachers in China. Last year teachers from Meyerholz Elementary in the Cupertino Union School District shared teaching methods with Chinese teachers, Ting said.

Personal Contact Creates Tight Bonds

While some organizations might raise money and send it on its way to a foreign country, Shin Shin volunteers go to great lengths to not only put the money to work, but also to create close ties with the schools they are benefiting. Ting and about 30 other volunteers travel to China annually to check on the progress of the schools the foundation gives money to, as well as to conduct training workshops for teachers. Schools they are not able to visit personally are contacted by phone or email at least once a year.

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Steve Ting poses with a group of school boys at one of the schools helped by Shin Shin. Photo courtesy of the Shin Shin Educational Foundation.

“We don’t just go there and leave, we actually keep going back,” he said. “That kind of sustained effort is quite unique.”

Ting travels to China every year on behalf of Shin Shin; last year he visited 30 schools himself in 7 provinces. In addition to visiting schools throughout the country, volunteers act as “teaching assistants” in teacher training workshops held each summer by Shin Shin. The group is currently recruiting volunteers—especially those with an educational background—for a trip in July.

For the children, teachers, and principals helped by Shin Shin, the personal visits make perhaps the biggest impact, Ting said. He recalled on one visit how the children at a school held on to him and cried at the end of his visit. “‘Don’t leave, Grandpa!'” they said, according to Ting. The principal told him, “’For everything you did, we thank you very much. But the highest impact that you did is coming to visit these kids.'”

Meetings for new volunteers, prospective volunteers, or anyone interested in learning more about Shin Shin, are held 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon, the second Saturday of every month, at 1237 E. Arques Ave., in Sunnyvale. See the group’s website to find out more about volunteering or donating.
For more information about Shin Shin’s specific programs, see the “What We Do” page on its website.