“On Saturday the 19th of October Miriam and I got up at 5.45am. At 6.00am we took the bus to Beijing. The reason for this was that we had volunteered through ImmerQi to help a foster home with their corn harvest.
This trip to China was/is the adventure of my life – so far – and I wanted to make the most of it, getting as much ‘adventure’ as I possibly could, so when Rona wrote to us Beijingers and invited us to join, I thought ‘Why not?, This event sounds exciting and, incredibly enough, I actually miss hard physical labour.’
So we gave up the idea of a Saturday morning lie-in and instead spent two hours cramped in the subway with half of Beijing’s population. We had no idea what we were heading into, who else was coming or where exactly we going to.
But – we’d been promised a good lunch and in our western-food-craving heads that was as good a reason as any to tag along!
We arrived at the office – or Beijing Headquarters, if you like – of ImmerQi. Here we met Rona and one other participant, Galina, who we knew from the Inner Mongolia trip. The rest were all new smiling faces. So we got in the bus and drove to the foster home – that is to say, all the way back to Fangshan District where we had just come from!
We had no idea what to expect from a Chinese foster home. I mean, you hear so many mixed things about China… But then again, I had thought Chinese schools would be more like military training stations or robot factories and here I’d been proven quite wrong. Anything was possible.
But as the familiar city center turned into familiar city outskirts which again turned into familiar countryside, Kirsty from the volunteer department told us about this foster home explaining why it was founded and about the children. They were raised according to western standards, with western ideas, values and perspectives.
In my head adopting a blind child must be quite a handful, which must be why they taught these children English and raised them like westerners – to make adoption to another country smoother.
We arrived at the foster home and were greeted by a parking lot full of corn and some children sitting on the stairs in front of a long, low building. It was a unique experience, being around these little children who couldn’t see. Kirsty had been here many times before and she gave us a tour of the foster home. We saw the cosy little classrooms, the canteen and their little houses. They were raised in small family units, which I thought was a very heartening and sweet thing. Much better than the 50-girls-dorm I always get in my head when I think of foster homes.
The children were also taught how to care for themselves as blind people – how to put on their own clothes and do all those small things that people who can see tend to take for granted. That was almost the best part, I thought – helping the children to help themselves. All the children came from places all over China, and I could way too easily imagine what life as a blind person in a Chinese foster home must be like.
The foster home was almost completely self-sustainable and grew most of their food themselves, which of course explained our reason for being there. Most of the harvest, as far as I understood it, was done by volunteers like us.
We went down to the field where other teams of volunteers were already working. There was still a quarter of the cornstalks standing and most of the volunteers were taking of the peel and putting the corn in big sacks, which could then be taken up to the parking lot for drying and sorting.
We threw our bags in a pile and quickly got to work – seven women around a big pile of corn. The guys started harvesting the still standing stalks. It was a perfect day – warm, sunny and totally smog free.
Some of the corn had been lying there for a while and was semi-rotten, while others had maggots in them. We were relieved to hear that they fed those to the animals. Oh, well. Never having been on the squeamish side, I eagerly dug in and soon found a soothingly mechanical rhythm.
We stripped corn for two hours, I think, every once in a while moving on to a new pile. It was nice and we didn’t mind the work, though we were rather relieved when the gloves arrived and we didn’t have to directly touch all the yucky stuff.
Then we ate lunch. It was way better than I had imagined. When we were told there would be sandwiches, we were thrilled at the idea of actual bread and maybe even salad, but this was much better. Not only did we get actual, crunchy bread – we also got ham and cheese and pasta salad and butter and fruit and cookies!
It. Was. Awesome!
After having gorged ourselves until we couldn’t possibly eat anymore – someone madly suggested a dodgeball tournament. I felt pleasantly full and a little sluggish, but oh well, what the heck!
We played for two hours, and it turned out to be more fun than I expected. I didn’t win, though – but Miriam got a fancy medal, so I felt that we had in some way redeemed ourselves.
Around 3 or 4 o’clock we said goodbye to the children and drove home. This time Miriam and I were dropped off in Liangxiang – anything else would have been silly.
This day had been very gratifying. Here I felt like I was really helping – instead of that exasperated ‘what on earth am I doing here?!’-feeling I sometimes get with particularly challenging classes.
I mean, even though you know that technically China is a developing country, most of the time you can’t see it unless you really look hard, and back home people never mention China as a place where volunteering is needed. I guess there’s more media focus on Africa and the other Asian countries.
China? They have so much money – they don’t need help! People said that to me, when I told them I wanted to go to China.
Well, I’m here and I see the people back home being proven wrong everyday and on this day especially.
Ann Bjerregaard, Teach and Travel China 2013 Intern.