Vicky Tuck Travel Award - Flora Leeper

Flora Leeper (2020, Glengar) travelled to China in the summer of 2019, between SFC1 and SFC2, to volunteer with The Mother Bridge of Love.  It is a charity focussed on the educational needs of Chinese children who fall through the gaps of the Chinese welfare system, and Flora worked with the ‘Support Chinese Children’ project, teaching English to special needs students in Nanjing.

“I began thinking about doing something like this in 2015 when the Chinese One Child policy was lifted after 36 years of rigid enforcement. I remember being shocked at an article I read at the time which summarised the effects of this enforced family planning scheme. By 2016 there were approximately 33 million more men in China than women. A convincing interpretation for these skewed demographics is the centrality of patrilineal values in Chinese society at the time. The policy consolidated traditional attitudes into real demographic change. The infanticide and selective abortions that have been accepted to be responsible for this gap during the early years of the policy were replaced by abandonment of young children during the later years.

The Mother Bridge of Love charity is one of many in China that is helping to alleviate the impacts of this policy.

Perhaps inevitably, I found giving English lessons very challenging. I stood before a large class of students, ranging significantly in age and ability, armed with a white board pen and, somewhat unprofessionally, a bag of the class's favourite sweets. The lessons depended heavily on being interactive as the students' concentration wandered easily. After a couple of classes it became clear that music was a key point of access to the students’ engagement. I processed this realisation with a mixture of excitement and dread. Those who remember me from school will also remember my marked lack of musical aptitude. Nevertheless, together we learnt and danced to songs from my childhood.

One day in particular remains very clear in my mind. I spent the day visiting an orphanage run by the charity. It just so happened that on the same day a girl had travelled back to China to visit that orphanage.  It was the place she had spent the first years of her life after she had been found abandoned in Nanjing and had been taken in by the charity. In stilted, translated conversations she reconnected with the nurse who had been a mother to her for such a crucial part of her life. Her shy questions faltered and the nurse hugged her. We were all in tears by the end. 

From moments such as these it was clear to me that I gained a lot more from this experience than I was able to give. Perhaps this is the nature of most volunteering expeditions. I am so grateful for being given this opportunity through a Vicky Tuck Travel Award and am still benefiting from it now. It is because of my time in China that I chose to pursue Chinese at university and feel more confident than most for my upcoming year abroad. Thank you.”