Countown to Vegas – Story #3 – China

May 20, 2009

Here’s our third story of One by One projects created in honor of 50 years of Amway. Some of the images at the bottom of the stories will be shown at the Global Diamond Forum in Las Vegas next week.

Painting windmills

In a corner classroom on the third floor of the Jianshan School, the delicate sound of tiny brushstrokes fill the air like a dozen butterfly wings. Rows of shelves stocked with crisp new books help muffle the sound through the freshly whitewashed walls. For a short time, the traffic and bustle of the city become faint and muted.

Eleven year-old Liu Ling fills in the tracings of her windmills with splashes of yellow. Slowly her creation comes to life. She swishes her brush in the wooden water bowl and mixes a sky blue. Her painting is not intended to symbolize blind courage or sustainable power. But in some ways she represents both of those themes.

Liu’s school is in the city of Tianjin, a coastal town in the east-central area of China, not far from Beijing. Her family is originally from Hebei Province, where they were agricultural workers. Now her parents work as marble stone masons in Tianjin. Like many families in China, Liu’s family came to the big city to find work.

For migrant families moving to the city, good schooling can be difficult to come by. School fees are costly for outsiders, and many cannot afford the basics like books and tuition. As a result, most schools for migrant children teach only basic subjects in ill-equipped facilities.

But the Jianshan School is getting extra help from the people of Amway.

Ms. Yao Juan used to be a full-time art teacher, before getting involved selling Amway products. As her Amway business became successful, she left her teaching job for this new career that she loves.

Yet, Ms. Juan missed interacting with young, creative minds. When she learned that Amway was offering an opportunity for its Sales Representatives to teach classes to migrant children, she jumped at the opportunity to connect to one of her passions.

“It feels different than before,” says Ms. Juan. “Teaching art used to be just a profession. Now it feels extraordinary because I am doing something for society.”

She patiently walks around the room, offering suggestions and teaching the children techniques for mixing paint and using the different brushes. She demonstrates brush strokes on the chalkboard and the effect that subtle movements of the wrist can have on the outcome.

“Every child is different,” she says. “Some paint broadly, some use fine detail. But all are talented.”

Digesting science

Across the hall, the science class is not so quiet. Learning is taking place, but through interactive games and funny examples, not quiet meditation.

Mr. Jin Aiqiang quizzes his class on the parts of the digestive system. He asks for volunteers and hands shoot up. The lucky students line up at the front of the class. Each is given a white cardboard square containing a color drawing of a part of the digestive system – the esophagus, the stomach, the intestines, etc.

The pictures have strings that they hang around their necks. Then they take drawings of different foods and pass them from person to person, describing the process that takes place in each body part, where food is broken down, nutrients are absorbed and waste is eliminated.

More hands shoot up from the desks for a chance to ask questions, or answer them. It is a fun atmosphere. Most students are having too much fun to even realize they are learning.

“I think it is important for kids to learn beyond the textbook, especially migrant children who often don’t get the opportunity,” says Mr. Aiqiang with a smile. “I also learn a lot from them, and use it to teach my child.”

Mr. Aiqiang has been an Amway Sales Representative for eleven years, and used to be an engineer. He has spent the last four years volunteering.

“Volunteer work at Amway is not just a formality,” he says. “We focus on the needy and most vulnerable. I didn’t have this opportunity at my former job, and that’s what made me interested in getting involved with Amway.”

Barnyard races

In another classroom two floors down, a kind of Olympics games is taking place. Only this one involves small children and animal costumes. And in the heart of China, these games take place almost entirely in English.

Mr. Xujie, a longtime Amway Sales Representative, has organized a set of games for the students, each one with a homemade animal costume. A bunny and a horse hop and gallop in a relay race. As they move along, the bunny shouts, “I am a bunny. Watch me hop!” while the horse shouts, “I am a horse. Watch me gallop!”

There are a lot of giggles as the elementary students practice the words they have learned in many previous sessions. Mr. Xu advocates the need for additional classes like this one. He says that parents are busy just surviving, and don’t always have time to spend working on their children’s education. At the same time, schools like Jianshan have meager resources and can only focus on the basics.

However, Mr. Xu sees these as challenges that everyone can address. “We have a great responsibility, not only at the individual or company level, but as a society. Great love can overcome. There are no limitations, so why not contribute more?”

After the class, they ask for Mr. Xu’s autograph and phone number. He obviously has a profound impact on their enthusiasm for learning.

“We must share our abilities with the community, as individuals and as a company, says Mr. Xu. “This is part of Amway’s culture, and part of our initial orientation. We tell people right away that this is the kind of company you are joining.”

Project Sunshine

Migrant families are facing increasing struggles in China and need classes like these for their children. The country’s urbanization strategy aimed to reduce the size of rural population, reduce poverty, and elevate the national living standard. Through these national efforts, around 20 million children and their families have moved to urban areas.

According to Mr. Jack Kuang, Associate Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for Amway, “This movement has provided more jobs for people coming from agricultural regions. However, it also meant that most do not receive proper education and healthcare, and are often marginalized by society.”

Amway identified the needs of migrant children as a primary focus for its charitable efforts over the next three years. Working with the China Children and Youth Foundation, it established “Project Sunshine,” an effort to provide support to migrant children and families.

In the first year, Amway will identify 15 cities with strong migrant children presence and work with local schools to provide libraries, teachers and programs to increase learning opportunities.

“Amway Sales Representatives are passionate about helping others,” says Mr. Kuang. “By partnering with the China Children and Youth Foundation, and contributing time and money of Amway and its Sales Representatives, we believe we can make a significant impact and raise the awareness of this social issue.”

Sympathy for our brothers and sisters

About 70 miles (100 km) away on the outskirts of Beijing, Zhiquan School students prepare for their day. Outside the school walls is a local garbage dump and small dwellings of the city’s working poor. But within the walls are neat and orderly grounds, with rows of one-story classroom buildings. Students are dressed in blue and white uniforms. Large banners hang in the courtyard that read, “Young seedlings need sunshine and fertile soil,” and “Join hand-in-hand for the children.”

Across the courtyard, near the administrative offices, students and teachers spill out from the school’s library, stocked by Amway with a new computer and 10,000 new books. Three girls, top students and representatives of the Zhiquan School, are in the library, waiting for a ceremony to begin.

Fourteen year-old Chen Yu is a second-year junior high student who wants to be a teacher. Her friend, Gao Meng Xing, is also 14 and hopes to be a clothing designer one day. Eight year-old Yu Qi is also from the Sichuan region. She wants to be a doctor. All have high hopes and aspirations. And all have found the library to be a valuable key to their education.

But today, the girls are not checking out books. They are using this space to orchestrate a friendship ceremony for two of their fellow classmates. They are honoring two of their fellow students from the Sichuan region, a region that was recently rocked by earthquakes that killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. The students exchange letters and pictures, and express their feelings about the earthquake, and the support they receive.

Teaching the kids, and the parents

As in Tianjin, Amway Sales Representatives teach classes at the Zhiquan School. Many students and their families move around, as do the teachers. It is difficult to offer subjects like music, art and language classes because of budgetary constraints.

Ms. Meng Peng is a Sales Representative who has been coming to this school since 2006. She organizes activities and teaches courses on basic life skills like manners and customs. Ms. Peng comes once each month, joining 20 other Sales Representatives and driving for three hours to get here.

“It is gratifying to bring happiness and love to the kids here,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to teach, and this is my opportunity, a chance to contribute.”

Classes are also offered to parents. As the welcome ceremony takes place in the library, Sales Representatives meet with parents in the next room. They teach basic parenting, including how to educate their children to support what they learn at school.

Later, all 400 students carry their chairs to the courtyard and set up in neat rows by classroom and age. Today is a special day with a special guest. Amway has invited Ms. Zhou Meiyan, a national celebrity, to speak to the children. Ms. Meiyan has been writing a children’s column in the newspaper for over 30 years, and is very well known for her thoughts and tips for kids.

She leads the students through exercises in etiquette and reinforces messages of self esteem. The children laugh and respond to the small lady with a big personality.

This assembly is another facet of Project Sunshine. It is about making education come to life and providing opportunities to children that face extra hardship, but deserve every chance to succeed.

A nationwide effort

This is not Amway’s first project helping children. In fact, Sales Representatives across the country have formed a volunteer network, backed by the company and populated by 45,000 volunteers.

Amway works with reputable partners that ensure the greatest impact in their local communities. For Project Sunshine, they turned to trusted partner China Children and Youth Foundation, one of the first charities focused on children in China.

“We have partnered with Amway since 2001, beginning in the western provinces,” says Mr. Guo Xiao, Assistant General Secretary of the Foundation. “So Amway is an old friend. We found we have a common vision and now consider Amway a long-term partner.”

According to Mr. Xiao, there are 20 million migrant children living in cities in China that are at a disadvantage in getting a good education and healthcare. Since families in China are registered in the region where they were born, there are no publicly funded schools or social services for migrant families. Students have to go back to their hometowns for examinations and to attend senior high schools. This makes it especially difficult for struggling families to provide good education for their children.

Through Amway and its Sales Representatives, Project Sunshine is positioned to help these children and families. “Project Sunshine will create an opportunity for migrant children to share the same education, health and cultural provisions of city children,” says Mr. Kuang of Amway. “Working together, we hope to impact 30,000 children each year over the next three years.”

The primary focus of Project Sunshine is books and education, just like the Jianshan School in Tianjin and the Zhiquan School in Beijing receive. Each school will be equipped with libraries of 5,000 to 10,000 books and one or two computer sets.

Other components of the program will include celebrity visits and talks from role models like Ms. Meiyan. Amway will hold writing contests and prizes to build excitement around literacy and learning. And local Amway branches will work with local branches of the China Women’s Federation to organize activities that bring together migrant children and urban children who attend regular schools.

Amway leaders decided to help address the migrant children issue as part of the company’s global effort to scale up its One by One Campaign for Children in honor of its 50th anniversary in 2009. It is one of many programs around the world that identify local needs of children, and find ways to meet them by leveraging the resources of the company, its employees, and its Sales Representatives.

“Migrant children have the same great potential as other children in China. But they face additional barriers to achieving this potential,” says Mr. Kuang. “Currently, no other national programs are addressing these challenges with innovation and impact. We want to be the first to offer these children the hope and opportunity they deserve.”

Project Sunshine Beijing

Project Sunshine, Amway Distributor, Tianjin

Project Sunshine, Tianjin

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