Sylvie Qiu

As the busiest city in China, Beijing draws millions of workers from other poorer provinces. The population of Beijing reached 40 million in 2016 and 30 million of them are workers who struggle to afford housing, food, and especially education for their children. The children of the workers are not taken care of and most of them cannot go to school for an education like every other kid in China.

Fortunately, there is a school, called “Little Swan,” established in 2010 in Huai Rou, where classrooms were built inside shipping containers so that they can move easily when they have to. (There are policies in Beijing limiting the population of workers from other provinces.)

I came up with an idea to build a dance studio in one of the containers so that the kids and the teachers could dance inside instead of freezing in the winter and exposed under the burning sun in the summer. Before I first went there as a math and English volunteer teacher, I was prepared to help the kids with lessons and I felt bad for them. But after the first day of school, I totally changed my mind. They were so happy to have lessons and I never saw such bright smiles. I was the one that was encouraged by their warm hearts. When I returned to the Abbey, I received pictures of the kids having dancing class outside in the 200 ft field on a 40-degree cold winter afternoon when everyone was wearing heavy winter coat and fluffy boots. I came up with an idea to build a dance studio in one of the containers so that the kids and the teachers could dance inside instead of freezing in the winter and exposed under the burning sun in the summer. After contacting the manager of the school, I decided to build a dance studio in one of the shipping containers for the children and the teachers.

To my surprise, a few more people decided to donate to the school for a dance studio after hearing about my proposal, and so construction began in May with even better equipment. The dance studio was already built and in use before my time there from 6/18 – 7/6, when two more volunteer dance teachers joined the program. We had discussed our lessons, and which dance piece to teach so that we could keep the consistency of the program when we shifted teachers.

On the first day, one of the volunteers was there to help me. There were a lot more kids than I had expected, and they were a lot louder too. I worried that no one would listen to me or even dance with our instructions. However, immediately when the class started, they stopped talking and paid attention to us leading the warm-up.

There were a lot more kids than I had expected, and they were a lot louder too.And then the other volunteer asked them to do the dance they had learned last week. Not surprisingly, they were dancing and running around aimlessly during change of formation. Although hardly anyone remembered the dance, everyone was trying hard. The concentration in their eyes touched me, and the only thing you could do was to run through the dance from the top patiently.

When we finally moved on, I noticed one boy was doing the wrong move. As I walked over, I heard the other boys around me saying that he just could not do the right move. I immediately told them to stop being mean to each other and taught the boy individually. He was doing the wrong thing because he was too shy to follow me, but soon after I encouraged him, he slowly danced correctly with my instruction. The moment he realized he did exactly the same dance move as other kids, he echoed my smile. I never felt like such an achievement before.

We usually had two classes a day with kids from different grades. Going over the same dance piece was a bit boring at first, but when I got to know the kids better, I enjoyed every second with them.

I forgot about feeling exhausted and cherished this experience more than I had expected. All my concerns about the kids not listening to me faded away, because every kid was so attentive and hard-working. When one chubby-cheeked kid with sweat dripping down his forehead tried to make sure he did the right thing, I forgot about feeling exhausted and cherished this experience more than I had expected. His face filled with joy proved that I made the right decision of building a dance studio.

I did not have the chance to see the final performance, but seeing them enjoy dancing was already an accomplishment. I am really grateful to Mr. Haney and Portsmouth Abbey for giving me this wonderful opportunity to spend three weeks with the kids. My Haney Fellowship certainly has changed my perspective of life, and I learned to appreciate every bit of my life. I already forgot all of the struggles I encountered, but only cherish the memory of three meaningful weeks that will stay deep in my mind and my heart eternally.