Our Service Learning Partner is Mrs. Yang (Yang Ru Ying), who is 83 years old. Mrs. Yang is the owner of a small hand-made shoe-pad stand. She is native to XiZhou, and has lived through many difficult time periods here. She now has six children - three daughters and three sons - and all of them are currently working in KunMing.
From our series of interviews, we gained a lot of information about Mrs. Yang - some of them simple facts, some of them incredibly interesting. Some of the things she was willing to share with us were very personal and touching - her only dream and aspiration growing up was to raise her children well and have them live lives far happier than her own. Because she lived through a time where almost everyone in the community starved every day, she was determined not to have her children go through a time so harsh. We also learned that she could not read or write. After we had talked to her a while, she seemed very welcoming and willing to be our Service Learning partner. It was only until after showing her the Service Learning sheets we had to show our partners did we realize that she never went to school, therefore could not read or write. Another interesting fact we learned from talking with her was that her father was a general, which made her life slightly better than that of many others in the community. Nevertheless, surviving was still difficult for her and her family.
We also learned some things about Chinese history, including facts about how things were before and after the Liberation. According to Mrs. Yang, before the Liberation, everyone was starving, and there was a large wealth gap between the rich and poor, even though those that were wealthier were having trouble supporting themselves. After the Liberation, however, everyone stopped starving because land was distributed. Landowners were forced to distribute their land and give away much of it to the unwealthy families. While this heavily benefited the poor, the originally wealthy turned poor immediately.
From the three times we went to see Mrs. Yang, we also learned a little about Chinese 20th century history. Very little children her age received any education at all, because back in that time, teachers were discriminated against. If as a general's daughter, she did not receive any education, the likeliness of anyone else receiving an education is close to zero. We did not learn as much about Chinese history, as we focused mainly on her life and how events in the past had an impact on her life.
When we finally had the opportunity to present our Service Learning videos before our partner Mrs. Yang, we sat in the front and watched her behavior during the video. Because of old age, Mrs. Yang cannot hear really well, hence did not hear the introduction Mr. T gave before we started the video. However, as soon as we started, she perked up and suddenly said, "Hey, that's me!" in Chinese. I had watched her a little before, during other videos, and noted that she had not been paying as much attention. Right as her video started rolling in, I noticed how she sat up more and her eyes blinked a few times to make sure that it actually was her on the screen.
Throughout the video, she laughed a few times, and chatted with a few of her friends that were also Service Learning partners. I could not really understand what she was saying, because they were speaking Bai dialect, but she and her friends seemed to genuinely enjoy the video. They were all smiling and laughing together. It seemed somewhat like a reunion of some sort. Looking at her smile, I could not help but smile too.
Here are a few recommendations for future Microcampus students working on the Service Learning Project:
1. Get started early! Do not procrastinate and wait until the last minute. (We learned the hard way).
2. Find many, many different partners so you always have backup. You never know if something will happen.
3. Film as much as possible, and make sure you get through a lot of the questions listed.
4. Make sure that your partner is comfortable talking about the past, and make sure that they can still remember the past.
5. Make connections, and remember to do so starting from the beginning! Do not be afraid to interact with locals; a lot of them are willing to share their ideas.
6. Avoid those that just want to sell you things. They will not talk unless you buy something.
Otherwise, enjoy the Service Learning Project!