Desk Officer Tom Longden recently visited Project Trust’s volunteers in China. Here are five things he learned on the visit:

Travelling around China takes commitment, but is worth it

You have to experience travelling around China to get an appreciation of just how vast it is. The fact that you can get on a plane for a few hours and only travel a third of the length of the country is pretty staggering. Our volunteers embrace the travel, and often spend upwards of 24 hours on a hard-seated train. As a country to travel in it’s got everything from huge cities, to mountains, to deserts, and in a year our volunteers can only really see a snapshot of what China has to offer because of its size.

Volunteers across China have very different cultural experiences

We have volunteers in three provinces in China, and the three provinces have their own identities entirely. There are volunteers in Xinxiang in the far North West that borders Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kurdistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Xinjiang is home to a number of ethnicities including Uyghur, Han, Kazhaks and Tajiks groups and therefore our volunteers teach pupils from lots of different countries and backgrounds. Further East towards the centre of the country there are projects in Gansu, a province of 26 million people characterised by a larger proportion of traditional Han Chinese. Finally we have projects in the south east in Jiangxi province where the landscape is very different to the North West, there’s fewer factories, and volunteers are out of the desert and in the hustle and bustle of big cities.

Project Trust volunteers in China

Project Trust volunteers in China

Volunteers in China can run lots of extra-curricular clubs

In China schools are open six days a week, from 8:30 – 21:00 Monday – Friday, as well as on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. Whilst that means volunteers have a lot of work to do, it also means they have a lot of opportunities. They obviously get lots of scheduled teaching time, but they can also do lots of extra-curricular activities when the pupils are in school on a weekend. One volunteers is doing a football club on a Sunday afternoon, one volunteer is doing an English film club on a Saturday morning and we’ve got volunteers running drama and arts clubs as well.

Making dumplings is a competitive activity

One great moment from the visit was at the last project, where we were rushed into the school kitchen where we were met by 10 senior members of staff, including the head master, and we were taught how to make dumplings.  It started off as a friendly lesson, but very quickly turned into a competition of who could make the best dumpling. China has an incredibly diverse culture, so outside of teaching volunteers can be involved in anything from being taught how to make dumplings, to traditional Uyghur dancing, to being invited out for banquets by local people. Volunteering in China enables people to be thrown into a very different way of life, a mix of religions and a mix of people from extremely varied backgrounds.

Competitive dumpling making

Competitive dumpling making

Seeing volunteers thrive at their project is the most rewarding part of being a Desk Officer
Seeing volunteers teach in their projects is always great. You’ve worked with them on Training, and at that stage they didn’t have much experience and are usually battling with a mix of excitement and nerves. But by the time you see them overseas they’ve had a few months of experience and have really hit their stride. The volunteers in China were getting on really well and I can’t wait to see how they progress for the rest of the year.