My last week at Stepping Stones was quite interesting. We organized a summer camp for a group of college students from the US. They had the opportunity to teach five English lessons to migrant children in west Shanghai, take the children on a field trip, learn Shanghai opera and calligraphy, and interact with local youths. One of my responsibilities was to organize a field trip. We chose to go to the Shanghai Auto Museum. The museum offered guided tours, but we also wanted to design extra activities that could bond the migrant children with the American students. I designed a scavenger hunt. We divided the children into fourteen groups of four. Each group was led by one American student. Each group was given a worksheet. They needed to find the corresponding cars in the museum using the clues from the worksheet. I wrote the rules of the activity a week before and had them approved by my colleagues and the museum. I announced the rules before the activity started, stressing that safety was the priority. The activity was very successful. Every child was involved, and some of them were very excited. I saw groups of students running up and down the museum to find the cars. At the end of the activity, we gave prizes to the winning teams. Other children got souvenirs from the museum. I prepared some extra questions for the scavenger hunt, so Stepping Stones could use them in their future trips to the Auto Museum. From the written feedback, I know that the American students loved the activity as well. However, a few of them complained that the activity was a bit disorganized. To avoid this problem, I could have gathered the American students before the activity and given them tips on how to organize the children effectively.
Besides the field trip, I was also involved in the youth meeting and the opera class. I acted as the translator. While translating, I also learned that, despite the difference of educational background, Chinese and American young people have many in common. For instance, their topics of discussion ranged from online shopping to the urban development. They are interested in food as well as fairy tales.
The end of the summer camp also marked the end of my ten-week internship at Stepping Stones. In these ten weeks, I coordinated a summer program, helped to edit a documentary for the organization, wrote lesson plans for volunteers, helped a professor to conduct her research, met lots of people, and explored my area of interest. These projects have improved my working skills. I learned how to coordinate a program, how to use Premiere Pro to make a decent video, and how to interview a person effectively. By observation, I also learned how to write a newsletter and an annual report for an NGO. All of these skills may come in handy in my future career.
Interning with Stepping Stones offered me the opportunity to see an NGO from an insider’s perspective. It is fascinating to see how a small organization helps thousands of disadvantaged children with their English studies. It is also excited to see that many of the children’s English grades have improved significantly after they participated in Stepping Stones’ programs. This internship has reinforced my belief in social justice. Children, no matter where they are born, should have equal access to education. If the government cannot reach that goal, the civil society, including corporations and nonprofit organizations, should play a major role. Since I enjoy working with Stepping Stones so much, I am considering working in the NGO or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) sector in the future. The director of Stepping Stones forwarded us an invitation from the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai to attend a CSR seminar organized by them in July (this summer). The keynote speakers included the CSR managers from Citi China, WalMart Global Sourcing, and Abbott China. I learned how multinational corporates operate their CSR programs in China and what their achievements are. Since I learned about CSR in my year abroad, I had the opportunity to apply the theories in real world and take in the seminar critically.
My suggestion for those who are also interested in working with NGOs is that they should not come to an NGO with nothing but a determination to “help others”. They should research about the field that the NGO works in beforehand. That is why Stepping Stones require all volunteers and interns to attend a mandatory 4-hour orientation. In this orientation, we learned about the general situation of migrant children in China as well as teaching techniques. In addition, it is likely that the people who work for NGOs gain more than the beneficiaries do. Therefore, one should be modest when working with the beneficiaries. After all, it is a great field to work in. The fulfillment that one gets from working with NGOs and other charity programs is priceless.
Now I am back in Brandeis. I miss every bit of my time in Shanghai. I will stay in touch with Stepping Stones and the lovely people I met there. This internship is definitely one of the highlights of my college life.