Building a Literary World
Students at the CapitaLand Lianjiao Hope School gets a new library
Issue: Jan 2010
CapitaLand volunteers bonding with the kids of CapitaLand Lianjiao Hope School
When Investment and Asset Manager for CapitaMalls Asia China, Huang Lei, went to Tibet on vacation in April 2009, she was touched to see children walking enthusiastically to school, albeit the rural conditions there.
“The pupils there were so happy, waving their hands and saluting to us. I was so moved by their adorable faces,” said Huang.
From that moment on, she said to herself that she would want to do something to help children in these situations, whatever it may be.
The chance came for her when a volunteer expedition was organised by CapitaLand to the CapitaLand Lianjiao Hope School in Guangdong province in November 2009.
A team of 16 CapitaLand staff from various business units and countries joined Huang on this trip with one mission in mind: to refurbish and transform an old classroom into a library-cum-reading room for the 542 kids in the school.
No task too small
Volunteers working tirelessly from planning to execution to complete the library
CapitaLand Lianjiao Hope School is located in a mountainous region. Although it is only about two hours’ drive from metropolis Guangzhou, the school is miles away from the comforts and conveniences of city life.
Temperatures fell below ten degrees during the time of the expedition and there was hardly any hot water for shower but that didn’t stop the volunteers from completing their mission.
For five days, the team planned the layout of the new library, sourced the materials, assembled the furniture, sorted out about 2,000 donated books and even created a library system.
“The whole process was not easy due to the limited time, budget, and resources. However, we understood that this library was very important to the teachers and students of the school. So we checked out all the stationery shops in the city and bought things that are not only of value but appealed to the kids as well,” said Huang.
No task was too small for volunteer Anthony Ow, Regional General Manager of GCC and India Operations at Ascott International Management in Dubai.
Ow sorting out the donated storybooks at the new library
“I am so used to sitting in the office with a computer in front of me or attending meetings and looking through figures. But during the expedition, we were in the school mopping and sweeping the floors, cleaning window grills, fixing tables that we purchased, labeling 2000 library books and shopping for essentials in the village (which is very unlike shopping at ION Orchard in Singapore). I have been too comfortable in the office and it was great to be doing some physical work,” he said enthusiastically.
As the volunteers toiled, little eyes were peering through the gaps in the newspaper-covered window of the library, eager to see what the volunteers were up to.
Staying the course
Even though it seemed like a simple task of refurbishment, some things didn’t go according to plan.
Still, the team stayed the course - coming up with creative ways to complete their tasks.
“We had plenty of ideas for designing the library, but we couldn’t make it because of limited local resources. For example, we were supposed to put up the sign of “静” (Silence) on the wall. It was difficult because the school’s printer couldn’t print A3-sized paper. We tried writing it but it didn’t look nice. So we went to the one and only photo-processing shop in town but the owner said his printer couldn’t handle the job. We were so depressed. Then we thought of a creative way: we printed “静” on an A4-sized paper and then chose the “zoom out” mode. Finally we had the big “静” sign put up!” Huang explained.
Volunteer Melvin Tan, Senior Marketing and Communications Manager, The Ascott Limited, painstakingly cutting out “静”, the Chinese character for “silence”
Bonding with the kids
Besides focusing on their mission, the volunteers also took time out to catch a glimpse of the children’s school life. They served the children lunch, ate and played with them.
The kids were thrilled to have these foreign visitors help make their learning environment a better place. But for one child, he was especially moved by Huang’s gesture.
“There was a kid who didn’t have any shoes on in this cold winter. His skin had begun to chap. I bought a pair of shoes for him after I went back to the town. The next day, when the teacher gave it to him as a gift, he held it tightly in his little hands, with tears welled up in his eyes,” she recalled.
Such are the memories that will be etched forever in the minds of the kids as well as the volunteers.
And as a surprise to the kids, the volunteers spent many a night rehearsing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” to present to them at the opening of the library. Even CapitaLand China Holdings CEO, Mr Jason Leow, who visited the school during the expedition, gamely joined in, riling the crowd!
Volunteers belting out Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” and entertaining the crowd at the opening of the school library
“The children were so emotionally attached to the volunteers that they cried when we left. It was also amazing that the volunteers were just as attached to them. Some have even made plans to visit the children again,” said Ow.
Volunteers and kids bonded together
Judging from the smiles of the kids, they were obviously thrilled with the library as well as a new school block, which was also built with funds from CapitaLand Hope Foundation, the philanthropic arm of CapitaLand
This kid was so excited by the new library that he was the first to enter it with Huang
As for the volunteers, many were humbled by the experience.
“At 49 years old, I was the oldest in the group. I was very glad that the rest of the volunteers accepted and gave this “old man” an opportunity to contribute in this expedition even though I did not know how to speak or read Chinese. I helped in other ways. I realized that no matter how small our contribution may be, if we are willing to put in a little effort, the world would be a better place especially for the underprivileged ones,” said Ow.
“From teachers, I learnt what is selflessness. From kids, I learnt what is optimism. From volunteers, I learnt the joy of helping others, ” reflected Huang.
Read more about the volunteers’ experience on the new INSIDE blog.