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The streets of Kunming, China are crooked and filled with potholes, and the ‘school’ was more of an abandoned building than a learning facility for children of full-time workers. Yet the children that sat on the dusty floor of my classroom were still so bright. I went with my church to this school the summer following my junior year to teach classes to rural Kunming children. While we did teach subjects ranging from English to Games, the school’s actual purpose was to provide these children with an adult role model. So curious, so innocent, and so sincere: you couldn’t help but love them.
In the morning all the volunteers would show up, fresh and full of energy. Our days were full: handing out name tags, hauling snacks, teaching class, washing hands, and giving out piggy-back rides. By the time afternoon rolled around and we cheerfully waved goodbye to our children, most of us were ready to collapse. And yet, after school our team would get together and have to design a new game or song to match the theme of next day. My skill set focused on the artsy things: making the picture for pin-the-nose-on-the-face, writing in the piano notes to a song about Thanksgiving or Honesty (we had different themes each day). These children had a special talent for making you feel appreciated – to them, my drawings were amazing, even if they were out of proportion and my piano playing beautiful, even if it was off key.
On my dreaded last day, one of my girls – Yu Han, age six – handed me a bracelet, bowing deeply, and then scuttled away. I was profoundly touched and wore it all day (this gift was coming from a family that made $16.67 a week). The gifts didn’t stop. Throughout the day, kids would pop up offering me their affection – a heart shaped note, a Chinese doughnut for breakfast, the last stick of gum – in a barrage of confusing yet sweet gestures. And it was at the very end, when I was surrounded by thirty something kids, all of us with wet cheeks and hoarse throats, that I realized: when you put love and effort into children, you receive twenty-fold in return.
People rush to move away from childhood and into adulthood. But spending time with these kids, who were born into a hard-knock life, yet still managed to retain an insatiable curiosity for the world, brought out the “kid-like” qualities in me. Their effect appeared in the little things, such as actually getting excited for class, and putting all my effort into a ‘busywork’ project. As I begin to assume my place as an adult, I’m determined to hold on to qualities like pure caring and concern – things that become rarer and rarer among adults. And most of all, I’m going to follow the example of my kids and go above and beyond the expected efforts – with sincerity and a smile.
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