For Xinyi “Cindy” Hua ’16, it all comes down to children. “My definition of peace is that every child can live a healthy and happy life in order to reach their potential. There will be no peace if our children are left behind,” says Hua, a psychology major and music performance minor who was awarded a Davis Project for Peace grant of $10,000 to fulfill her vision.
As Chinese parents move from rural to urban areas to find work, more than 60 million children of migrant workers are left behind to live with grandparents or relatives. Hua, who hails from Jiangdu, China, understands these issues.
“By sustaining and expanding this mentoring program, I hope to help more left-behind children stay in school, attain more knowledge of self-protection, and become contributing members of a peaceful society.”
“Without proper supervision and guidance, these children are at risk of dropping out of school, becoming vulnerable to sexual assaults or death and face potential mental health problems,” she said.
Hua gathered 22 volunteers from Nanjing University in June, 2015, and conducted one-on-one interviews with them to understand their personalities and preferences. At the same time, she met with left-behind children from Xinqiao Elementary School, with a goal of matching them with volunteer mentors. She also held volunteer training, created a training handbook and website, and collected donations, books and activities for the matched pairs.
“The program had just been in place for three or four days and I already was hearing children asking their mentors, ‘Can I be a college student like you in the future?’ That’s exactly what we wanted to achieve: changing how these children think about themselves and the world.”
The process was not easy. It required a lot of planning and the ability to adjust to changes with little notice. For instance, the village Hua originally planned to work with experienced unusual rain and flooding, which caused them to withdraw from the project in June. Fortunately, Hua had previously visited Xinqiao Elementary School and they agreed to participate and host the program instead.
“We were changing our plans all the time, but it went really well. The volunteers were really supportive. The children and the school and the principle, they were all really supportive too. I guess if you are doing something nice, people get it and they know there’s no reason to refuse.”
Hua reported to Joyce Meredith, special assistant to Denison President Adam Weinberg, bi-weekly during the implementation of her Davis Project for Peace. “Cindy has been a delight to work with. Her planning and preparation for her project were impeccable, which was no small part of her success,” Meredith said. “But above all, I have been inspired by her dedication to the children she worked with and her passion to continue this important work into the future.”
Hua explained that she couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else than helping these children in the future. During her time at the elementary school, another principal from a local middle school was visiting and asked if she could set up a similar program in the middle school. Hua hopes this is just the first of many steps for her to help improve the lives of these 60 million children.
“It is hard to measure how much you’re giving back. You never know, you might be changing their lives,” said Hua. “They look forward to us coming every day. And when we leave, they ask ‘Will you come tomorrow?’”
Hua hopes to expand on her work when she graduates. “I'm trying to seek support from grants, foundations and if possible from Big Brothers Big Sisters. It would be ideal if they have plans to expand to China, as they do have branches in many countries.”