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During the winter of 2005, as an active member of The American Women's Club Shanghai and a contributing writer for that organization's magazine, I was among the members of AWCS that headed to Hong Wei School with a truck load of about 500 gifts. The presents had been collected for Shanghaiâ€™s Giving Tree program, a charity dedicated to giving Chinese New Year and Spring Festival gifts to needy school children, many of them from migrant families.
After we arrived at Hong Wei, all of us women taking part in the distribution of gifts were startled by the number of children lined up in neat rows within the schoolyard. As we began to congregate by the truck full of gifts, the children clapped and cheered, leaving the bone chilling air buzzing with their excitement. â€œThis is incredible. I feel so bad that we donâ€™t have enough presents for all of them, said one woman, as we moved towards the truck. Another replied, â€œThe school knows we only have enough for the lower grades, but I feel the same.â€ The rest of us agreed, and then a woman with tears in her eyes added, â€œSeeing how happy all these kids are would have meant so much to Carolyn.â€
Two days before, Carolyn Clevenger had died. As a member of AWCS and a Girl Scout leader, sheâ€™d led Concordia International Schoolâ€™s scout troops in collecting school supplies to fill 100 backpacks for the Giving Tree program.
Over the course of handing out the gifts to the children, we women got caught up in emotions over Carolynâ€™s death and those of gleeful children, many of whom had just received a gift for the first time. While watching the children hug, play, and share their presents with within classrooms, we came face to face with things the school lacked: heat (all classrooms unheated), updated textbooks (only recently in certain areas of China are migrant children allowed to go to school), library (not a single library book), computers (none), playground equipment (not even one ball), musical instruments (not a one).
Soon there was talk among us women of wanting to do more for these children and their school, and to do it in memory of Carolyn
In the Making a Difference photo essay.
Also by Deborah Downes
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