China/Japan 2008

One of our crew members wrote a story for Scout Magazine and it gives a great insight to the first project we had. In the winter of 2007, parts of central China were hit hard with snowstorms and their outdated water irrigation and fresh water supply systems were severely damaged. With help of Hong Kong Scouts, a joint venture was formed to help these villagers. Our visit alone was able to raise enough awareness from the local government and private donors to make a positive change to their lives.

By Linda Mei, Program Alumni

Creating a Better World, One Village at a Time

Scouts Canada’s new theme, “Creating a better world,” is a vision that truly suits the spirit and principles of Scouting. Everyone defines a better world in different ways, but in the end, we all benefit when we contribute in a positive way. As part of their international trip in the summer of 2008, the 180th Pacific Coast Scout Group participated in a humanitarian project in Guizhou (贵州省), one of the poorest provinces in China. Working together with Hong Kong Venturers and Rovers of the Chai Wan district, 13 Rovers and 5 mentors carried out the motto of service in a way that epitomized the spirit of Scouting.

Project Background

The project itself involves fund raising and encouraging the local government of Duyun city (都勻市) to help the small Baimang village (擺忙鄉) gain access to clean drinking water via a sophisticated system of water pipes. The source of drinkable water is located high up in the mountainous areas, so that previously, the villagers were required to travel long distances in order to obtain clean water suitable for consumption. As Guizhou has rocky and mountainous terrains, any form of construction is difficult.

The village itself has a population of around 300, and its members all belong to ethnic minority groups. As the largest ethnic group, the Hans make up the majority of the Chinese population; the members of the village are of the Miao tribe. The villagers also live in a state of poverty and hardship, similar to what one reads about in books and sees on television programs.

Even though most of us have an idea of what such conditions entail, it was one of those situations that a person must experience first hand to even begin to understand the challenging lifestyle. From the way they dress to the wooden huts they call home, these villagers live with the barest of necessities. What furniture and household items they possess have been worn out at least decades ago. On the walls, you can observe small photographs of ancestors, stained to a caramel colour from age, as well as certificates of distinguished achievement at school.

“You must be very proud of your grandchildren,” I said to an old grandfather in Mandarin while sitting on one of the mismatched plastic chairs. Flies buzzed around my face as I concentrated on the certificates, and even from where I was sitting, I could tell that the paper is of good quality. The certificates were probably the only thing of good quality.

Old grandfather smiled shyly in response, gently nodding once.

It began to drizzle outside, and so we were invited into another house to sit and relax to wait for the rain to pass. Household members who were sitting on wooden benches and stools quickly stood up to offer us their seats, while others quickly rounded up more mismatched plastic chairs to accommodate us.

Samples of Work

To allow us to feel truly engaged to the project and the locals, we got to sample a small portion of the villagers’ workload. We helped shovel the dirt off the road path and back into the trench that held the water pipes so that they wouldn’t be exposed to the elements. Being Canadians, the hot weather probably affected us more than the locals because while we were all sweating and feeling dehydrated from the heat and workload, the locals toiled nonchalantly in long sleeve shirts. It appeared that the villagers underestimated our efforts and efficiency, since we finished the day’s worth of work within a quarter of an hour. We managed to convince them to let us help more, and thus began to work on the next day’s labour. Although the intense heat and sunshine made clearing a large mound of jagged rocks and dirt more difficult, we were fueled by the thought of helping the villagers build another water reservoir. The next day, we helped the villagers remove mud, rocks and decomposed plant debris from their drainage ditch. We all felt as if we could have contributed more, but the villagers refused to let us work anymore, not because they considered our attempts feeble, but because they wanted to protect us from such hardship.

The Celebration Ceremony

We had already seen a stone memorial plaque made in our honour when we first visited the village, but what the villagers planned for us exceeded all our expectations. Today would be the day everyone celebrates the completion of the water project, with an official ceremony in the morning followed by a feast for lunch. We had been told that the villagers slaughtered a pig for us – an event that only occurs during the biggest festival of the year, Chinese New Year. Apparently, they also spent two days preparing for the feast to properly honour us and the project’s completion, and to ensure that we would have enough to eat.

As we stepped out of the tour bus, a faint rhythmic pounding of drums could be heard, and as we approached the path up to the village, we saw before us a welcoming committee made up of school children. The children were divided into two lines, lining the sides of the pathway. The first few at the front of the line waved bright coloured flags, followed by the drummers and other percussionists. Behind them were younger girls in simple white and pink dresses, and the young girls waved little pompoms while chanting, “Welcome, welcome, a very warm welcome” in sync with the beating of the drums. I waved and greeted a few of the villagers who also awaited our arrival at the sides of the pathway. They smiled shyly but with genuine happiness. I smiled back in response.

I wore sunglasses so no one could see the tears that built up at the corners of my eyes, and I’m certain that every single Rover and mentor in the Crew felt the same way.

Different people made speeches during the short and very simple ceremony. That was followed by dancing, singing and martial arts performances put on by the village children. It was clear that they had been practicing a long time for this. Also, we took turns opening the tap to release the flow of clean water, taking pictures for our own personal memories of this empowering experience. The feast itself also didn’t disappoint. It was the most elaborate feast we had the privilege of enjoying in China, filled with tradition and local flavours.

Our departure was just as emotional as our arrival. The little girls in their cute dresses lined the sides of the pathway yet again, waving their pompoms, repeating, “Goodbye, goodbye, have a smooth journey.” A few of us sauntered down with the Canadian flag and the Rover flag, while the rest of us ran to the sides to distribute pens, notepads and candy. As I handed a pen with maple leaf designs to a little girl, she asked me, “Big Sister, may I please give you a hug?”

I smiled, “Of course.”

She broke formation and hugged me, giving me a happy kiss on my cheek, and before long, other little girls ran over to give me a kiss. From the corner of my eyes amidst the sea of happy little girls, I saw the other Rovers get bombarded with excited hugs and kisses, laughter and contentment evident on their faces.

Old grandfather walked down the pathway with us, and I smiled warmly at him.

“We’re all one family,” he said to me.

I was humbled. “Yes, very much so,” I replied, feeling slightly choked and overwhelmed from the myriad of emotions. “We’re all very happy that we can come here and help contribute to something so significant. Everyone’s hospitality and generosity really touched us.”

“We are very grateful to the Scouts,” he acknowledged. “I’m sad that I can’t communicate better with words to show my gratitude for everything the Scouts did for us. Whenever we drink water in the village, we’ll remember the Scouts. Our children will learn about what the Scouts did for us, and this memory will be in our hearts forever.”

Members involved: John Chow (contingent leader and mentor), Peter Ng (deputy contingent leader and mentor), Iqbal Lalany (deputy contingent leader and mentor), Eric Yim (deputy contingent leader and mentor), Raymond Leung (Canadian/China coordinator for the water project) Eric Chiu, Eric Cheung, Irvin Ho, Paul Leung, Kevin Li, Lester Lo, Brandon Ma, Cindy Mei, Linda Mei, Lilian Sin, Cherry Wong, Sophia Yip, Kenald Yu


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