In some of my recent In the Loop pieces I have touched on the importance and value of community service, as well as on the feelings that both give rise to wanting to serve and that grow and develop through service. Members of the PTA Committee, with the assistance of Zadok Huang, the Keystone Director of Service Learning, have been exploring new services that allow us to work with more agencies close to campus. We have also been developing more and more internal services for our students and adults to contribute meaningfully to our campus community. All this excites and pleases me, and many others. In one or two further articles in the coming weeks I plan to write in more detail, with Zadok, about various Keystone community service opportunities.
Today, I want to tell you a little more about Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC), an extraordinary organization that sponsors young women, mainly from Gansu Province, to complete high school and to go on to university. Many of you know something about EGRC as Keystone and our parents have been strong supporters for about 5 years. EGRC itself is 15 years old this year. A beautiful book has been published to celebrate this milestone and we have copies in all our libraries. A substantial part of this 15th Anniversary commemorative book is a photo essay by the Australian documentary filmmaker and photographer, Olivia Martin-McGuire. Olivia says this, before going on to allow her superb photos to speak for themselves:
The girls that have gone through the programme often go on to volunteer. Some of them still work within EGRC. The organization has become a multi-layering of women lifting up and supporting each other in the most moving way. In these extreme situations, EGRC has an unerring sense of hope, of generosity, and of focus. EGRC’s intention is exact, and every exchange helps to unwind cycles of gender inequality and poverty.
Over the years, I have met with many of the girls at varying stages. Some have finished university and their lives have been transformed. All of them are invested in helping younger girls, however they can. All of them have told me that part of their own empowerment is not just access to education, but helping other girls who are struggling, revealing to them their own inner strength.
The founder of EGRC, Ching Tien, writes this in her introduction:
EGRC girls understand that education is the only way to change their lives. Through their resilience and determination, they have achieved huge successes. Over the past fifteen years the graduation rate of our university students has been 100%, and over half of them have gone back to their home provinces to work and provide for their families.
Some of the girls, now young women, who have been beneficiaries of EGRC wrote short pieces for the book, as did a few invited supporters. This is what I wrote:
Education and its promotion in various forms have been my life’s work. My greatest compatriot, Nelson Mandela, was a brilliant and powerful spokesperson for the power of education to liberate individuals, to free the oppressed, and to advance nations. He was especially concerned about the education of the poor, and of those in disadvantaged rural locations. He has been an inspiration since my teenage years.
Another inspiration, much more recent, has been Ching Tien and her work in setting up Educating Girls of Rural China. Born of Ching’s personal history, EGRC is a fine example of adversity reimagined as triumphant community service. The lives of over 1000 girls and young women have been altered enormously and beneficially by EGRC, and these graduates are already going on to exert their own positive influences on their communities in return.
Every one of the four schools that I have been fortunate to lead, on four continents, has had a significant financial aid program. Offering a fine education to those whose families cannot otherwise afford it is, for me, one of the most powerful of gifts that a place of genuine learning can offer anyone. The rewards are immense, on many levels. Worthy individuals gain and grow, institutions become more diverse, and communities develop depth and wisdom.
It has been an honor to offer some of the human and other resources of Keystone Academy to assist in a small way the work of EGRC. My students here, in this highly privileged school, have been touched deeply by the EGRC girls that they have met, both in Beijing and in Gansu. The learning has been mutual, and the growth complementary. The fact that EGRC is steeped in one special location, Gansu Province, magnifies this learning and broadening.
I have no doubt at all that our world will become a better, more peaceful place as more and more women take on leadership positions. The education of girls and women benefits all.
Many Keystone employees and families have helped EGRC in different ways. Parents have given individually, as well as through PTA fundraising initiatives. Students have run a charity shop to support EGRC and have initiated other fundraising activities. Teachers have offered English language lessons, here on campus over weekends, and also remotely. EGRC girls have come to our English language summer program. Keystone girls have stayed in Gansu with EGRC families as part of their Heart-to-Heart exchange program. Most recently, Keystone was able to donate 30,000 renminbi to EGRC from the sales of the second volume of my weekly letters.
Thank you, all of you, for these amazing, generous contributions, in kind and in cash. A little goes a long way with EGRC, as it costs 6,000 renminbi to subsidize a girl for one year of high school. If you wish to continue to contribute, or to start doing so, please contact me, or Yiner Ya, the Keystone Coordinator of Parent and Alumni Relations. You will be helping young women like Lipei Chen, from Longxi County in Gansu, who wrote this in the EGRC anniversary book:
As a self-motivated person, I believe that I will break the chains of fate.
Lipei and others supported by EGRC have indeed broken their chains of fate. I hope that Keystone, and you, will continue to help others to do the same.
With warm regards,
Malcolm McKenzie, Head of School