A Call to Service and Community

In the dimly lit third floor of a Starbucks, a senior and co-president of our school’s National Beta Club and I sat listening to a community leader who directs a charitable NGO in our city, Dongguan. As Erica listened attentively to Aaron as he discussed the three organizations that were the focus of his charity’s support, I furiously scribbled down notes. It was October, and it was time to plan our Beta club’s major fundraiser. Winter Wonderland is four hours of food and carnival games that is open to our school community and the broader expat community of Dongguan.

            (The Beta club at our school is one of two Honor Societies, the other being the National Honor Society. Both organizations value excellence in academics and service. Beta club’s emphasis is mostly on fundraising activities for charitable organizations outside our school community.)

            In her report to the other three officers, I could see in their eyes a consensus was forming. Beta club was once again going to support the elderly men and women of the leper colony of Sian Island in our city. 

            Leprosy – a disease seemingly ripped from the pages of history. Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease as it is also known, is still around. It is a bacterial disease that progresses very slowly and is difficult to transmit between people. It is curable with a lengthy treatment with multiple antibiotics. Left untreated for too long, it damages nerves causing numbness as well as affecting skin, and potentially, it can lead to blindness. The residents of Sian Island have been cured of the disease, but carry the marks of this insidious disease in their gnarled hands and feet, or their lost arms or legs, or their failing eyes. They also carry the social stigma of a disease that strikes fear and revulsion in some. And that is why they stay on Sian Island. The government would prefer they stay out of view of the public.  

            Our connection to the people of Sian Island began the year before when we took on the task of preparing gift boxes for the residents there and gift bags for the staff of the charitable organization that works with them. That December, as our school bus crossed the causeway onto the island located in one of the many waterways in the Pearl River Delta, none of us first-time visitors knew what to expect. What we found was a community who were shunned by the outside world, but who enjoyed the camaraderie of their decades long journey together as recovered lepers. As we sang songs for them and presented the gift boxes, they returned the favor by singing for us and graciously opening their rooms to show us how they live and work together.

            Knowing for whom we were planning and executing Winter Wonderland became a powerful motivator.

We wanted something beyond ordinary. We wanted to motivate our students, our school community, to give a little extra. We wanted extraordinary. Once Erica and Jay and Sophie and Yu Hong, our student leaders had embraced the focus of our efforts, it was time to enlist the help of a powerful ally – the parents of the Parent Support Group, the PSG. As Yu Hong took time from her school day to present what we hoped to do and how the PSG could help, I watched as one parent leader turned to another with a big smile. She knew we needed, and more than that, appreciated their help. “You can count on us!” was their reply.

            And help they did. They recruited a multitude of food and merchandise vendors. Compassion for our neighbors on Sian Island had become infectious. A parent donated a large assortment of gift boxes to be sold with the proceeds going to the Sian Island residents. Others stepped up to rent food or merchandise vending tables. Parents spent hours decorating and organizing the front of the school, the lobby, and the cafeteria. Their support was an invaluable contribution.

            The spirit of giving continued in the days leading up to the carnival. “I would like to send some toys cars from my factory,” one parent conveyed to the PSG. “I would like to give stuffed animals for prizes for the games,” said another. “Could you use a couple of trampolines? We can run the activity and collect tickets.” In the days following the event another parent sent in nearly $100. A group of mothers who rented two tables as food vendors donated all their profits from their sales adding a few hundred more dollars.

            Our Beta Club leaders also worked on mobilizing the middle and secondary students who would be needed to help run the 27 games and activities on the day of Winter Wonderland. It was a Herculean task, but with a goal of making Winter Wonderland extraordinary, they recruited 55 student volunteers and urged still more to help on the day of the event. The kids worked hard and played hard.

            Winter Wonderland is also one of our major school community events. It requires using multiple areas of the school’s facilities and the help of teachers, staff, and our director. Office staff assessed the electrical power needs of our cafeteria for the many food vendors and several guards painted the sponge throw board and our teacher volunteer Santa posed for photos on the day of the event. Through the tireless effort of so many to make a fun filled day for our QSID families and the families of our community serves as an example of our success orientations, lived out before our students – responsibility, concern for others, and group interaction. It was through teamwork and a strength that comes from a unity of spirit in support of our school and our neighbors on Sian Island that made Winter Wonderland so successful.

            Winter Wonderland raised over $3,500 in the four hours of the event and in the days following as gifts continued to come in. With those funds, Beta Club was able to purchase gift boxes for all 68 residents of Sian Island and 18 gift bags for the NGO support staff. In addition, enough money was raised to pay for 16 cataract surgeries, ten of which were scheduled to occur in the first quarter of 2019.

            And it all began with teenagers who were moved by the needs of others, teenagers who dared to do the extraordinary for their community.