Overseas Chinese students pose for a picture with students at a primary school in Mashan County, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in this file photo taken in 2014. [Photo Courtesy of Ofund]
If it was not for the support and encouragement from five overseas Chinese students who were studying in the U.K. 10 years ago, Luorong Kangzhu might have given up the idea of attending college and instead started to farm like most of her peers in the rural Ganzi County of Sichuan Province.
"I received financial aid from Ofund throughout the four years of my university life, and now I am working as a public servant with the local government," said Luorong. "I am more than grateful for their support." Luorong is now offering help and resources to aid more needy students like her in the area.
"Ofund," short for Overseas Chinese Students Children's Fund, is a nonprofit organization that was started by Luo Haiyue while he was studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) back in 2007.
A trip to the rural area in China inspired the then sophomore from Shenzhen to start an organization that links overseas Chinese students with needy children in remote Chinese villages.
Since then, Luo has organized annual events in which overseas Chinese students visit village schools in underdeveloped areas in China as volunteer teachers. Huang Juanjuan, also a graduate of LSE and now the fund's secretary general, joined Ofund the same year.
Huang talked with the Shenzhen Daily this week about how the organization developed from focusing on financial aid and discipline-based teaching to quality education and career planning for the needy students in the remote villages.
The origins of the organization were not as smooth as the founders had expected. Funds were mainly raised at small family-based events. Thanks to the recognition of the Shenzhen Project Care, a decade-long initiative to care for vulnerable groups with support from multiple government departments in Shenzhen, Ofund was granted the qualification to conduct public fundraising in 2011.
"In the first five years, we focused on collecting funds to give financial aid to the impoverished children and organize overseas students to join short-term volunteer teaching events at the schools," said Huang. However, members of Ofund gradually realized that money and content teaching were not the ultimate needs of the students.
"Many parents of the students in the rural villages think it is useless for their children to go to school, and some students believe in that as well, because they can hardly see any option for life when they finish school and university. Information about the world outside the mountains is limited," Huang told the Shenzhen Daily.
After reflection, Ofund decided to incorporate programs that can help students learn about different life paths rather than just being farmers and factory workers. "Starting in 2014, we began to deliver project-based programs for the village students, with a special focus on career planning," said Huang.
For instance, the overseas students studying in Western countries would help develop projects to teach village students what entrepreneurs, journalists or city planners do in their jobs. "For the journalist program, we show the students how to write articles, report a story and create their own campus newspaper," said the secretary general.
Through project-based learning, Ofund is attempting to show the students that life is full of opportunities and education is crucial for all.
Over the past decade, 2,345 needy students received subsidies to continue their studies, and more than 900 overseas Chinese students participated in the volunteer teaching events.
Liu Yueliang is a graduate from University College London. She joined the short-term volunteer teaching program for three consecutive years while studying for her bachelor's degree in psychology. "The first time I was invited by the children to visit their homes, I was shocked to see how shabby their homes were," said Liu.
"Many students studying abroad are from well-off families that can afford the expensive tuition and living costs overseas, and the disparity between overseas students and the village students is so vast," said Liu. After her undergraduate program, Liu furthered her studies in educational psychology and is now working in Shanghai at an institution that cultivates children's soft power.
"We believed that Ofund could serve as a bridge to connect these two different groups of students, and the overseas students could offer greater help to society once they graduate and enter the work field with the mindset of helping voluntary groups," said Huang.
(Source: Shenzhen Daily)