Doug Ahrens June 2011 Kansas City
As some of you know, last month I had the opportunity to go to China and teach English at a school for children of migrant workers. I went with no expectations and returned laden with wonderful memories of friendship and generosity – and a great desire to help them continue their learning despite almost unbelievable odds.
The children I taught are the sons and daughters of migrant factory workers who come to Beijing to make the stuff we buy at Target or Walmart. They work for a pittance – the average family income is about $370 a month – or 2400 Chinese Yuan. But that is more than they can make in their home towns or provinces. So they come – with their families in tow – to live in run down rental properties, sometimes five or six to a room. But crowded living conditions are not all they face.
Greater Beijing already has a population of around 31 million. The Chinese government is trying to curb more growth, so they impose taxes and registration fees for newcomers. Most migrant workers cannot afford this burden and do not register with the authorities. As a result their children cannot attend public schools. They can attend private, neighborhood schools – like the one where I volunteered – but these are poorly funded and staffed.
The school where I volunteered is an old structure with 10 small rooms around an enclosed courtyard. There is no running water and the ‘bathroom’ is a shallow pit in the back of the school. I had up to 67 kids at one time in a classroom that might be approved for 20 here. They sat shoulder to shoulder and fights for ‘territory’ were the order of the day, every day.
Despite these obstacles my experience was wonderful. The children were delightful, full of energy and a longing for learning. I was showered with love and gifts including drawings, little well-used toys, candy and even a linty chicken wing shyly pulled out of a dirty jacked pocket and proudly presented to me.
I asked what they needed most and the answer was swift and sure: Air conditioning. The kids go all year round and Beijing summers are brutally hot. I cannot imagine sitting in such close quarters in these smelly little rooms when the temperature hits 100F+
While I was there I …