City volunteers inspire rural children's art dream

Bell Bai
Shanghai Yishan Foundation's art education program is reaching out to students in remote rural areas with schools in Yunnan Province hugely benefiting.
Bell Bai
City volunteers inspire rural childrens art dream

Fifth-grade students at Yuhua Primary School in Dali show their artistic creations after an online art lesson.

Do left-behind children in remote villages enjoy art? What kind of company do they need when growing up? 

Recently, Sylvia, a Shanghai volunteer teacher, gave an online art lesson to fifth-grade Bai minority students at Yuhua Primary School in Jianchuan County, Yunnan Province. Students listened intently and drew adorable self-portraits during the two-hour lesson.

The charity event was all part of Shanghai Yishan Foundation’s art education program being piloted in rural areas.

Sylvia first asked more than 30 children in the class a simple question: “Have you ever thought about who you are and what you want to be in the future?”

Then, she showed self-portraits of three famous artists — Vincent van Gogh, Maurice Chagall and Frida Kahlo — all of whom came from different cultural backgrounds and explored themselves in various ways before expressing their inner self in their paintings. 

Sylvia told the children to try to use different colors, elements and backgrounds to express their own personalities and ideas. Her profound but simple words of encouragement made students feel like they had “treasures” within to be discovered.

City volunteers inspire rural childrens art dream

Sylvia gives a remote art lesson to students at Yuhua Primary School in Dali, Yunnan Province.

Ethan Rong, a sixth-grader from Shanghai Huili School, was on hand as a teaching assistant. 

He helped students choose color pencils, crayons and markers, start their first mind map, and list their own ideal selves. Students were then encouraged to use their imagination to draw themselves: a bunny with traditional Bai-style headwear, a bee with colorful wings, or a big smiling sunflower. At the class, students were enchanted with the beauty of art and expressed a desire to have lessons like this in the future.

In addition to the online art class, volunteers from the Shanghai Yishan Foundation also visited Sishili School and Haixing School affiliated to Longmen Central Primary School. At Haixing School, which is at an elevation of more than 2,000 meters, Rong and local children played games such as chicken vs eagle, Bingo chess, treasure hunting, as well as reading picture books under the trees and enjoying a fun time together.

City volunteers inspire rural childrens art dream

Ethan Rong at work as a teaching assistant

City volunteers inspire rural childrens art dream

Ethan Rong plays with local children during a class break.

Haixing School has only eight students. The classroom was initially a small mud hut that needed to withstand gales and torrential rain. 

The school’s only teacher is 56-year-old Yang Jinyuan. At the age of 15, he took over his father's class and began teaching at the school. During his 41 years at the forefront of rural education in this small village of just 52 households, most of the villagers were his students at some point. Seventeen of his students have gone on to university.

When Rong asked Yang why he had stayed in his position for more than 40 years, Yang said: “If I didn’t, what would happen to these kids?” 

Closing in on retirement, Yang's decades-long life revolves around teaching in the classroom or under shady trees, sharpening pencils and preparing boiled eggs for his students. Most importantly, he knows from the bottom of his heart that what he’s doing can light up the future and provide hope in this small rural village.

Volunteers at Haixing School were deeply moved by Yang’s story. Xu Daming, director of the Shanghai foundation, noted that village students need assistance from devoted teachers like Yang. And Yang’s commitment and dedication to rural education may inspire others to pick up the torch and carry on what he has started. 

Rong said Yang’s commitment to his students had a profound impact on him.

City volunteers inspire rural childrens art dream

Ethan Rong (right) shares a light-hearted moment with local villagers.

Li Tongxin, the foundation’s president, noted that it was important to respond to the educational needs of rural schools and provide children with a chance to change their fate.

Shanghai M&G Stationery Inc provided all the materials for the art class. The company is committed to helping resolve the lack of education resources in rural areas. It has launched a "Golden Seed" program to establish creative classrooms, improve the reading ability of students and provide an environment conducive to art. 

Artists, employees and college students have also been invited on short-term volunteer programs to provide training. 

“Education is a lifelong pursuit that requires the continuous efforts of many people,” said Teresa Zheng, head of M&G Stationery’s public relations department. “M&G Stationery hopes to do its best to plant the concept of kindness and beauty in the hearts of children in remote areas.”

City volunteers inspire rural childrens art dream

Some of the artworks created by Yuhua Primary School students

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