Our service learning partner was Ms. Zhang. She is 68 years old and sells flower crowns in Si Fang Jie for a living.
Through this experience, I learned many things about our service learning partner. I learned that Ms. Zhang is not a citizen of Xizhou but comes by public transportation each day from her home, 蝴蝶泉 (Hu Die Quan.) Her full name is Zhang Ling Ling and she is the oldest out of her four other siblings. All four of them work in Xizhou to raise money for their family. Since her middle school years, MS. Zhang always enjoyed making small handicrafts that can be sold for money. This is one of the reasons why she now adopts the carrier of flower crown making every day. Now, she lives with her spouse near Lake Er in Hu Die Quan. Both of her sons are now over thirty years old and has a family of their own. She loves visiting her two grandchildren who teach her new things every day. Lastly, through conversations, I learned that Ms. Zhang is also a part of the Bai ethnic minority group.
Furthermore, I have also learned much more about Xizhou's history through the memories Ms. Zhang shared with us. I learned that the Cultural revolution had major impacts in areas around Xizhou such as Ms. Zhang's home town. During the 1950s many reactionists such as Ms. Zhang's teachers approached her family to find shelter. Like the rest of the people in China at that time, none had the courage to help these people. Soon, they were chased away. Ms. Zhang was only seven at that time. Reflecting back now, she finds that she was really cruel for not doing anything to help them.
Through Ms. Zhang's descriptions about the past, I now understand many results of it in China. For example, I understand why nobody in China speaks about their opinions of government even when talking to their closest friends. It is because Chinese all learned from past mistakes and are afraid to make the same ones again. I also understand why the old grandmas and grandpas in Xizhou aren't as tall as us now. It is because of how harsh the conditions were in China at that time during the Great Leap Forward when only a small amount of food was provided to each village. Through this experience, I have not only learned about the past and present living conditions of China but also about our service learning partner, Ms. Zhang.
When the time has come, my service learning group and I walked Ms. Zhang into the dining area of Linden Commons. "Be careful," we insisted her as Ms. Zhang stepped onto the staircase that leads to the garden nurtured by Mrs. Linden. As soon as we walked into the garden, I could tell from her eyes that she loved this place. She loved the flowers in the garden and could almost name them all due to her years of experience in making flower crowns. After giving her a simple tour around the place, we guided her to her seat at the front of the room as we backed up and allowed her to communicate with other elders invited from the community. All the time I have noticed she was smiling. Smiling a lot more than when we first saw her at Si Fang Jie.
Soon, Mr. T along with his translator Mrs. B walked to the front of the room. They introduced us students and explained the short version of how microcampus came to be. Then, they left the stage all for us. Group by group, we were invited to introduce ourselves in both languages and then share our video with the audience. Our group was put as the last ones. The first group went onto the stage and followed by the second and the third. Finally, it was our turn to display our learning to the group and show Ms. Zhang our interpretation of her life story. Each of us introduced ourselves the first time in our full names to Ms. Zhang. Then, we took a seat and watched in particular Ms. Zhang watching herself speaking in the video. The video started with Ms. Zhang explaining to us how lucky it is for us to be born in this generation. Many people in the audience formed a smile, but Ms. Zhang didn't move a single bit. Then, the audience all stifled a laugh at the part that explains Ms. Zhang's grandchildren mocking her. But still, Ms. Zhang only just watched with complete focus. Second, by second, the video finally ended. Just as I started to feel unaccomplished, I caught a glimpse of a tear on Ms. Zhang's face.
Later, Ms. Zhang explained to us that she was just so shocked about our work. She never thought of her own story in a way which can become part of Chinese history. And through the video that linked her life together, she now is more confident about her own thought of the government at that time that before she met us. At last, she told us that she doesn't regret the experience and thanked us for the fun time we shared that afternoon.
For future students who will also be involved in the Service learning project, here are some tips I have that can make your experience easier. First, when you are finding your Service Learning partner, do not approach him/her in groups more than three students. This could make the elders scared and not as wanting to communicate. Second, build strong connections of at least two visits before introducing the Service Learning project. This way, the elders would feel more respected rather than "used" for completing an assignment. Lastly, respect the community's mindset of being more conservative than modern mindsets. After sharing your video with elders, assure them that the video would be kept safe and private. Do not post these videos on public spaces. By doing these things, it will improve one's chance of finding an appropriate Service Learning partner and make the partner feel protected. The Service Learning project is a great chance for one to learn about the untold truth of history through second-hand experiences.