For this issue, we reached out to schools in Beijing to ask who was making an impact on their school communities. Our terms were loose, as we were curious about individuals who made a difference in leadership, community, and charity. We don’t feel like someone necessarily has to contribute to charity to be a community star, as sometimes a great, reliable friend in a school community can make just as much of an impact. Each of these stories is special, and we’re so proud to have had the chance to talk with these students and teachers.
Colleen Usher, British School of Beijing, Shunyi
CAS Coordinator at BSB, Shunyi Colleen Usher hasn’t always been a teacher, nor was she always passionate about service. “I came to serve a bit later in life.” Originally starting her teaching career in the UK in 2006 in public school education, she came to BSB, Shunyi on a journey to be able to fund her own personal charity endeavor, setting sights on volunteer teaching in Haiti.
Usher started to serve well before she was appointed the CAS Coordinator, helping students in an array of charity events throughout the three years before her appointment. When asked why she serves more than what her contract expects, she said she enjoys working with children of all backgrounds, “because they’re our future.”
She has found that students at BSB, Shunyi are willing to take on anything she throws at them. Usher pointed out that many students who have come from affluent backgrounds have never done hard physical labor, but in the project to bring smokeless stoves to the most needy of families in Tanzania, students took on the challenge. “I was quite proud of them for taking it head on and seeing a different type of achievement [other than academic]. It was quite eye-opening for a few of them who hadn’t seen such poverty.”
Through charities based in China, the benefit is both ways. “When we volunteer at migrant children schools, students with Chinese heritage are able to connect. It’s this moment where they both see, ‘Hey, this person is just like me, just in different circumstances.’ The migrant child is able to see there is this opportunity to be in better circumstances if he pushes for it, and for students at BSB, Shunyi, it supports this idea of helping because we’re all one family, not ‘us and them’.”
Usher helps develop CAS projects that are either directly benefiting education or completely self-sustainable. When looking at the project to bring smokeless stoves to the needy of Tanzania, sustainability was the goal of Usher and the students involved. They originally looked at buying stoves, but it would have been too expensive and “a bit like an air drop then walking away.”
Instead, the stoves they built became reproducible. “The NGO [Seeway] we worked with went back into the villages where we built the stoves and said others from different villages had come and thought, “We can do this.” And so went and built their own.”
Usher continues to help students lead initiatives in Tanzania, like collecting soccer kits (Tanzania requires teams in every school, but many are without proper equipment), and backpacks equipped with protractors, compasses, and notebooks.
Photo: Uni You
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