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A day I never expected to have in China

This Newsletter is from Jerry Dickerson, an American building wooden schools in the earthquake area for the Canadian government. He participated a  Chinese New Year gift giving at a local middle school. I was impressed with his story and wanted to share it with you. 

The 15th of January brought me a very different day than I had ever expected to have in China.  The Director of Canada Wood in Shanghai has a very interesting wife, Mari-Lucy.  She is a French Canadian raised in the big city of Quebec where she considers herself more French than Canadian.


She has lived in Shanghai for the last three and half years.  I first met her in the community church’s expatriate service. I had been invited to the service by her husband Fred.  Later in November while I was still in Shanghai I was asked if I would help with the Charity “Giving Tree” that she has assumed the leadership role in 2 years ago when the founder of the charity had to leave China because her husband was transferred to a new post in a different country by his company.

 At that time the charity was giving over 2,000, gift bags at Christmas to children in schools in the remote and poorer parts of Eastern China.  This year the Charity gave 10,000 bags out and expanded their territory to include the Sichuan Province for the first time.  I was able to join Mari-Lucie and her friend Jean Chen for the ceremony where they presented the bags to the kds in a village about an hour out of Mian Yang.

The school we visited only had the teacher’s three-year old dorm survive the quake out of all the old school buildings.  Classrooms, kitchen, and children’s dorms are all new and completed since the quake a year and half ago.  The three-hundred plus student body of high school students showed excitement and eagerness to meet us and receive their gift bags.


This school is in a very poor part of the county and had no foreign teachers to offer English classes to the students.  Thus English, which is a mandatory class for all the high school students in China, is taught by Chinese teachers.  Not one of the teachers made an attempt to speak with us in English but instead all of them chose to use a translator we had with us to communicate with us through.  This indicated to me the skill level of these English teachers must have been quite limited.  Despite this handicap for the children being taught at this school, I was greeted by an eager 11th grade young man who had no hesitation to come directly to me and speak with me in English.  He seemed to have plenty of vocabulary, as he never paused in his speech to find a word he might need to search for.  He said he loved the language and wanted to talk to anyone that would do so with him so he could improve his English skills.

The ceremony included a couple from Memphis TN.  The husband is the President of the Asian Division of International Paper that has a plant and his office in Chengdu employing over 5,000 people.  The corporation had partnered with the "Giving Tree Charity" for this school’s gifts.  

Their staff had written letters to each and every child personally and included the letters in the bags specifically addressed to each child.  The company had bought all the items that went into the bags except the jackets and then inserted the items into the bags as well.  A large job and not cheap either. This made the giving of the bags a little more difficult- to make sure the right child got the correct bag but well worth the effort.  The bags included all the things a western child might receive at Christmas.  Clothing including a jacket, shoes, socks, candy, fruit, and a thermos for their hot water, a stylish knit hat and a hand held computer game based on the gender of the child along with other small items. 

Following the ceremony we were able to then mix with the children who swarmed us like locust on a pea patch.   It was here that the children began to practice the English they had been learning.   It took several of the children to carry on a conversation as each contributed to the sentence.  But the process was successful. 

We were invited to the children’s rooms where I was able to see the gifts that the children had received.  There we again conversed about their life in the dorm.  It was a great time for us as well as the children. I have included pictures of the event.  I had never thought I would be present for such a presentation and found it a great event to experience in person. 

Mari-Lucie and Jean then had time to see the area around Mian Yang.  They invited me to go with them to a Taiwan organization which two years ago had opened a training facility (Action Love Volunteer Association) on the edge of Main Yang to train local Chinese how to reach and serve the Chinese communities around the Sichuan area.  They offer medical assistance through shots and even pay doctor bills for treatments not covered through other government programs. Family counseling in areas of child rearing, alcohol treatment programs and even budget planning are offered. The goal is to eventually go all over China with this program. 

In just two years they have opened counseling centers in 20 villages around the Mian Yang City where they also offer financial aid for families taking on the burden of rearing children of lost relatives from the 5/12/08 quake. Families are given a hundred RMB (about $14) per month per child to aid in the cost of an additional mouth to feed in the home. Most people can feed a child for about sixty RMB a month, allowing the rest of the funds for clothing and other needs of the children.

I asked how many children the funds are currently supporting. I was told they are now providing support to 210 children’s families. Joseph Tsao, the director of the mission can be reached at

Saturday we went to Bei Chuan City that had been so badly damaged in the quake.  It was an interesting place.  We were not permitted to go into the city itself as the site is still not ready for the public to wander through it, but we could see it from far up on a hillside a kilometer South of the city.   I have included a few pictures I took out of a book we bought at the site showing what has changed there from before and after.   

Jerry Dickerson