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Volunteering with ‘Xinxing Aid for Street Kids’

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Joanne Chan at the entrance of Baoji City Centre for Aid and Protection of Minors [not to be confused with the NGL "Xinxing Aid for Street Kids"...

Joanna Chan at the entrance of Baoji City Centre for Aid and Protection of Minors and also for the NGO “Baojing Xinxing Aid for Street Kids“.

In November 2011, the New Zealand China Friendship Society (NZCFS) published a story about the need for a doctor/psychologist who desperately wanted to help traumatised children in an orphanage near Xi’an. 

The NZCFS was fortunate in finding psychologist graduate, Joanna Chan, who last year volunteered to assist the children during her gap year.  Joanna wanted some work experience and also hankered for an overseas adventure and she explains below what she found at the orphanage and how she was able to help.

Joanna Chan’s report:

“When one door closes, another door opens.” – Alexander Graham Bell

In 2015, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to volunteer with Baoji Xinxing Aid for Street Kids – 宝鸡新星流浪儿童援助中心.  This is a non-profit organisation that makes a positive difference to many young lives.   As an organisation, Xinxing aims to create a better tomorrow for children in difficult circumstances by providing support, new opportunities, early-stage interventions, and outreach aid to those in need.

Over my 5-week stay with Xinxing, I was involved with the Baoji Xinxing and Weinan Xinxing summer camps for underprivileged children, and children with incarcerated parents.  Through these experiences I was able to catch a glimpse of the amazing work that Xinxing provides.  The Xinxing summer camps gave children the opportunity to experience things they wouldn’t have had the chance to experience, whilst also teaching children to how to respect others and how to communicate in positive ways.

Baoji Xinxing Summer Camp:

Weinan Xinxing Summer Camp:

I was also given the opportunity to spend time with the long-term residents living at the Baoji Xinxing Centre.  These residents were children with mild cognitive disabilities (e.g. autism), physical disabilities (e.g. cerebral palsy), or children with difficult family circumstances.  Spending time with these children highlighted the differences and similarities between Eastern and Western perspectives about children with impairment, and provided insight to how Xinxing aims to bridge the gap between cultures to help improve the children’s lives.

It was inspiring to see so much love, patience, understanding and care from the staff towards the children.  My only regret was my inability to understand and speak Chinese as I felt it greatly limited my experience at Xinxing.  Through observation and simple explanations, I was only able to understand the surface layer of what Xinxing is about, rather than gaining a deep and rich understanding of Xinxing.  The same could be said in terms of interacting and building deeper friendships and connections with the staff and the children.  The language barrier made it difficult to have lengthy conversations as many comments would be lost in translation!  Despite this limitation, I learnt and found ways to communicate with everyone.  Body language and translation apps were effective methods of communication, especially for those who did not speak English.  It was less difficult to interact with the children as I was able to spend time playing with and interacting with children via activities requiring minimal speaking (e.g. swimming, playing guitar, playing games, taking photos, reading, and teaching English).  However, despite the language barrier, everyone at Xinxing was warm and welcoming, making me feel at home away from home.  The work environment was an enjoyable place to be, due to the smiling faces and positive energy of the staff, especially as everyone seemed to enjoy the work they do!

Language barrier? No problem!

As a psychology graduate, this experience with Xinxing gave me a practical understanding of what I learnt at university. I gained a deeper insight into how the socio-emotional skills of children can be developed and enhanced at a young age, for a more resilient and positive mind-set for the future. This was complemented by a visit from a Chinese psychologist who taught the children a valuable lesson about gratitude. She quoted examples of individuals who have overcome their own personal problems to make the most of their opportunities.  It is hoped that learning to appreciate their advantages in life would give the orphans a more positive attitude and help to overcome their hardships.  

I also came to better understand Chinese culture and world views, through living like a local in China and exploring the cities I was in, surrounded by a foreign language, differing perspectives, and a different way of life.

Being the foodie that I am, I did come across a variety of different food. Whilst in Hanzhong visiting the Xinxing Centre there, I learnt that offal was a popular dish. Upon a friend’s recommendation, I did try a pig’s brain, cooked via hotpot.  It was definitely a notable experience, although I must say that pig’s brain is an acquired taste!

Whilst in Weinan, I was honoured to taste home-made mian pi, with noodles made from scratch! The way my friend’s mum rolled out the dough, and cut up the noodles just blew my mind!

Xinxing is definitely an organisation I would love to volunteer with again – and for a longer period of time!  I would definitely recommend others to do the same! Even if you don’t speak a word of Mandarin (like me), you will pick it up along the way, and the staff at Xinxing are more than happy to teach you! In just one week, I picked up a number of basic Chinese phrases, such as zao shang hao (good morning), bukeqi (you’re welcome), san zu yi pi (group three, single line), xie xie (thank you), wo bu zhi dao (I don’t know), bu ming bai (I don’t understand), ming bai (I understand), wo ai ni (I love you), mei li (beautiful), zhe shi shen me? (what is this?), mei we (delicious)and mian pi to name a few!

Joanna Chan, 2016_ Helen and I with our summer camp group IMG_0716 - Copy (2)
Helen (Feng Jinjin) and I with our summer camp group

Many thanks to my Mum, Dave Bromwich (National President NZCFS) and Mr. Du Chengfei who made this volunteer opportunity possible.  Thanks also to Helen (Feng Jinjin) at the Baoji centre, and Sophia (Cao Xiaoyan) at the Weinan centre who took the time to translate for me, and for acting as mentors! I also appreciate how warm and welcoming the Xinxing team has been. You have made me feel at home! So thanks Zhang Xue, Songrui, Wang Weijie, Lv Yuan Chao, Huang Ke, Zhang Ting, Chen Jiao Mei, Tan Xiaoyu, Liu Minghui, Wang Pan, Deng Shiqiang, Du Yu Tong, Du Laoshi, Ren Qian, Lei Lina, Cao Huiyun, and the rest of the team!

You are all beautiful people with beautiful souls. Keep doing the work you are doing; you are making such a positive difference to many lives!  I look forward to visiting again!  

 Joanna Chan

Notes:

Relationship between the Baoji City Centre for Aid and Protection of

Minors and Xinxing Aid for Street Kids:

Joanna says that, due to the language barrier/limitations of translation, her understanding of the relationship between the two organisations is quite vague, but she hopes the following explanation of the relationship between the Baoji City Centre for Aid and Protection of Minors and Xinxing Aid for Street Kids, is adequate!

“From my understanding, Xinxing Aid for Street Kids was founded in 2008 and it was the first NGO to provide comprehensive support to children in need (e.g. providing counsellors, rehabilitation therapists, educational support, and the like, as opposed to just covering the basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing). So back then, about 8 years ago, Xinxing was 100% self-funded. 

The government recognised the positive impact Xinxing was making, so signed an agreement to contribute to 50% of costs to Xinxing – e.g. resources and materials such as buildings and funding. In turn, Xinxing was partnered with governmental organisations, such as the Baoji City Centre for Aid and Protection of Minors

The Baoji City Protection of Minors is a relief shelter for children in need, so when street children are found on the street, Baoji City Protection of Minors is contacted to provide food and shelter.  Xinxing are then contacted for further assistance and support.

Xinxing Aid for Street Kids was originally set up by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and it was the first Chinese NGO to provide comprehensive support for children in need: counsellors; rehabilitation therapists; educational support; and the like, as opposed to just covering their basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing.

Around 2008, MSF wished to withdraw support from this initiative and sent an Australian representative to facilitate their withdrawal. When the representative saw the value of the service offered there, she got some support from the Australian Chamber of Commerce for several years, until Xinxing was able to be self-supporting. Since then, Xinxing has been successful in receiving donations from within China, and increasingly from Government.

The Government recognised the positive impact Xinxing was making and so signed an agreement to contribute to Xinxing to 50% of its costs – e.g. resources and materials such as buildings and funding. In turn, Xinxing was partnered with governmental organisations, such as the Baoji City Centre for Aid and Protection of Minors

The Baoji City Protection of Minors is a relief shelter for children in need, so when street children are found on the street, Baoji City Protection of Minors is contacted to provide food and shelter.  Xinxing is then contacted for further assistance and support.

Xinxing takes in children from 6 years old to the age of 18, providing the children meet the criteria for long term stay:

Not being able to reconcile the differences between the child and family that caused the child to run away in the first place, or children not having family members able to take care of them due to parents being incarcerated, or have passed away.

Or parents not having the means to provide children with an enriching environment for the children to grow up in, so agree for their kids to live at Xinxing during the school terms. For example, one child was living at Weinan Xinxing (see below) because his father had been incarcerated for ending the life of his mother. Another instance was an orphan with sick grandparents who were unable to look after the child.

There are 3 Xinxing centres, with each having a different focus:  

The Baoji Xinxing centre is the ‘contact and organisation centre’, where it all originated from. They provide outreach work to rural communities, and also provide long-term care to residents. These residents are children with mild cognitive disabilities, physical disabilities, or children with difficult family circumstances. Baoji Xinxing provides children with daily care, educational support, rehabilitation services, social outings (such as visiting Dreamworld), and events where children can interact with members of the public.

The Hanzhong centre acts as a short-term shelter for street kids. This is a newly established centre with facilities to support children: bed and rooms: such as activity rooms (music, art, reading, games), counselling, and physical rehabilitation.  

The Weinan centre provides long-term support and care for children with incarcerated parents, and short-term care for adults and children living on the streets. They also provide outreach work to rural communities.

I mentioned that Xinxing provides short-term support to street kids as Xinxing aims to help children reconnect with their families, and supports them to resolve issues. However, in the event that children cannot live with their families, after evaluating the situation and having criteria met, the children live at Xinxing.

Overcoming language difficulties:

Joanna used two mobile phone apps to overcome translation difficulties:

Baidu Translator app
Baidu Translator app

“I used the ‘Baidu‘ app as a translator. It was great because the app could verbally translate your phrases for you. ‘WeChat‘ was also fantastic as it has a translate function for sending messages. Although not 100% accurate, I was able to translate messages from Chinese, and vice versa.  It was very useful in Weinan as only one person could speak English while I was there!  Being surrounded by a completely foreign language was great fun and educational too!”

NZCFS President Dave Bromwich is very grateful for Joanna’s commitment and passion during the time she spent with Xinxing. Following Dave Bromwich’s encouragement and recommendation, Director Du agreed to have Joanna for 6 weeks, with living expenses covered. Xinxing welcomes volunteers, usually for a minimum stay of 3 months.

Dave thinks Joanna’s visit to Xinxing has been an positive influence on broadening her perspective about life in China.

Despite being Chinese, Joanna did not have much knowledge about life in China as both her parents moved to New Zealand from Hong Kong in the late 1980s. Following her experience in China, Joanna is interested in learning Mandarin and would like to visit China again, after finishing her studies.

Joanna is presently back at Otago University completing her Psychology Honours year, with the goal of entering a Clinical Psychology program in 2017.

NZCFS will follow up on Joanna’s visit to determine the opportunities for further volunteers at Xinxing, and their needs that NZ volunteers may be able to meet.

To visit the Facebook page of Xinxing Aid for Kids in Crisis, click here.