Experiencing China and Malaysia through Social Impact Projects

Published 11/06/2022 in Scholar Travel Stipend
Written by Linda Chan | 11/06/2022

During the summer of 2020, not only did I learn more about China’s left-behind-children situation and music therapy, I also learned more about myself as a person and have also been challenged to find more opportunities to create social impact.

I spent 10 weeks interning for Keru, a social impact consulting start-up in Shanghai, China. Through my internship, I worked on two projects that involved providing solutions to our local partners’ problems as well as mentoring high school students from China. While many people choose internships related to their course of study, I chose an internship that allowed me to travel and impact the lives of those across the globe.

My first social impact project with Keru took place in Guangdong, China in a small village called Yunan Village. Leading a group of 15 high school students with 2 other mentors, our role in the village was to evaluate a summer program hosted by Shining Star, a grass-roots non-profit organization in Guangdong, China. The purpose of the summer program was to promote resilience among the left-behind-children in the village. Prior to this trip, the only knowledge of China’s left-behind-children population I had, came from the internet. From all the articles I read and videos I watched, the image I had of left-behind-children were all very depressing and I walked into the program worrying about how I should interact with them. I was prepared for the local kids to keep their distances with me. I was prepared to see tantrums and violent behaviors. I was prepared to feel helpless with the kids. 

Despite my role as a mentor for the high school students in evaluating the resiliency classes and summer program Shining Star offers to the local children, I was also invited to participate in the summer program.

When I first stepped foot onto the school grounds, the local kids were nervous to see a group of unfamiliar faces who were there to observe them. They were distracted by our presence and rather than displaying emotions of excitement or curiosity, it was unease that I saw in their eyes. My group and I both held back, sitting along the sidelines of the classroom, unafraid to approach the local kids ourselves. However, to my surprise one of the little girls came up to me and asked for my name and who I was. She was very extroverted, so outgoing I really wondered whether she was a left-behind-child. She popped the bubble that separated all of us from the local kids and eventually, kids started opening up and reached out to get to know our group more. 

Throughout the five days, our students along with the local kids, participated in group activities and the resiliency classes Shining Star prepared. We visited the homes of these local kids and realized how privileged we are as students going to private schools, living in big cities with many resources, and of course having parents who are physically active in our lives. We established strong friendships with the children, so strong they saw us as their older siblings, their role models. They learned from our students how to work in teams, they learned how to be patient, they learned how to compliment others rather than calling each other names. Our students taught them to be more gentle. They taught them how to behave in the classroom. They told the local kids not to hit others for attention. They told the kids that they cared about them. 

I saw the impact our high school students had on the kids and I saw the impact the local kids had on our high school students. Last but not least, I saw the impact the resiliency classes had in helping the local kids learn how to cope with the struggles of life.

On the very last day of the program the local kids cried. The high school students cried. I cried. We had spent five days getting to know each other, helping each other, growing with each other. Our high school students went from being kids who only wanted to play with the little kids to being role models and individuals with goals of creating more impact on the lives of rural left-behind-children in China. 

The second project I went on was in Malaysia and there, we worked on raising awareness about Music Therapy as an intervention for mental health illnesses. Despite my lack of any musical talents, this project was another eye-opening experience. Through this program, one of my biggest takeaways is: Communication is Key. Though I’ve always known that communicating with others does not have to be done verbally, this summer I learned about the power music has in relaying feelings and emotion to others. The purpose of our project was to help our partner educate the public about what music therapy is and how it can be used to improve mental health. As we participated in the workshops to get a better understanding of the effects of music therapy, I was not only having a lot of fun creating impromptu music with my students, I found the session to be a great stress relieving exercise as I experimented with a variety of interesting instruments in creating rhythm and beat. Without the use of words, my friends and I expressed the feelings of anxiety, excitement, anger, sorrow, and fear with only the use of simple instruments. It was amazing to see a story unfold or the change of emotions play out as we, tapped our tambourines, rattled our shakers, and of course, grounded our sounds with the booming sound of the drum. Though it was a lot of fun just playing around with the instruments and learning how to make impromptu music, I realized how music therapy was effective in hearing the stories of those who are non-verbal. At the end of the project, our students created an informational video for our music therapist in explaining what music therapy is to the residents of Sabah, Malaysia.

The two projects I participated in were both rewarding in that not only were we able to give our partners a final deliverable that exceeded their expectations, but this trip also benefited all of us in helping us realize that there are many opportunities for us to make an impact on others. Seeing the growth in everyone and even myself made me realize that learning doesn’t necessarily have to come from a teacher or a school setting. This program really exposed me to the effectiveness of experiential learning, allowing me to acknowledge that impact does not take long periods of time to achieve. It can be done in five days. Because of my two projects, I now see that impact in our own lives is not just what we have learned through the process, but rather the drive in our hearts to continue improving what has been established. 

Though I probably won’t be able to see the local children of the Yunan village nor will I be able to visit Malaysia to educate others on music therapy in the near future, the impact both of these projects had on spreading awareness to these social issues was very valuable to me. Just like our Milken Scholar network, it was very heartwarming for me to realize that through the resilience-based summer program and our influence in the program, the children of Yunan village are now a network of their own who will be able to support and build each other up through the difficulties they may encounter. With my project in Malaysia, it has been an honor to have taken part in providing access as well as educating the public about music therapy as an intervention method to improve mental health. Being able to travel this summer to Asia and impact the lives of different populations across the globe has been a such an unforgettable and fruitful journey.