Jingtao's Top Ten

I had imagined my field visit many times before I went. However, the real experience really exceeded any expectation. I learned so much, laughed so much and at the same time did some things that affected people in a positive way. So I decided to write down my 10 favorite things during my field trip. I could probably write up to 20 or 30, and these are in no particular order, but they are reminders of the great experiences I have had.

So here are my 10 favorite things about the field trip:

10. Food! And everything is fresh! Adobo, biscocho, banana-cue, crab, batchoy, jack fruit, coconut juice, dried mango, lemon grass tea and some super yummy cracker I can’t name…I may need to stop here, otherwise the post would be “Jingtao’s 10 favorite food in the field”…

9. Receiving “Love letters” from the students.

8. Seeing the visible impact made by ARK.

Prior to this trip, I’ve done a lot of work with ARK in operations, finance and fundraising. I’ve always wanted to know how my work is transformed into outcome. Is it worth me sending evites until the midnight? Is it worth me dealing with tons of spreadsheets and data to figure out how each dollar comes and goes? Is it worth every other team member’s efforts going through infinite websites looking for funds and detailing every Powerpoint to make every presentation perfect? Now, the answer is an absolute “yes” to me.

I hate to be overselling ARK, but I do believe in our cause and mission, especially after I saw the impact firsthand. ARK is a business of multipliers and ripple effects. I see ARK not only transform lives of these bright and enthusiastic students, but also of their parents, of their brothers, of their sisters, of the whole community and for sure, of their future families. I feel proud to be part of ARK and I’m glad that I could contribute my efforts to make these changes. There were many times when I was very tired physically, but was still happy and content doing what I was doing because the results gave me energy, fulfillment and motivation.

7. Overcoming my fears of dogs by living with 7 dogs. I’m actually thinking about having a dog in the near future, maybe a Golden Retriever.

6. Time spent with children.

Before I came to the field, I was excited but also a little nervous about interacting with the kids because it’s my first time coming to the Philippines, I don’t speak the local language and I’m from a different culture. After I came, with the help of translator (usually a teacher or a parent), I did workshops in many classrooms and I realized that there are so many things going beyond language and culture. I was so amazed and touched by the energy of the students to learn. They always came to me and spoke to me with the few English words they know. I saw their face light up whenever I showed or taught them something new. My heart had a reason to smile everyday.

To share a story with you: when I did a workshop on storytelling of supernatural power in a 4th grade classroom in Bungsuan, I let students tell stories based on questions like “What would you do if you could fly/ if you could run faster than a lion/ if you could be invisible?” When I asked a girl “What would you do if you had an eye on the back of your head?” she looked nervously at me and answered, “I would consult a doctor.”

5. Taking a lot of pictures. Yes. I love taking pictures and the pictures I take, though I’m not a professional photographer.

4. Getting support from many people.

Iloilo Society Commercial gave us a special discount and donated all the pencils for our school supplies; The governor of Capiz province expressed his interest and support; A law firm in Manila provides us with pro-bono service… Thanks to the generosity and support from all the people we met!

3. Gaining new perspectives and insights about rural development and being able to use a lot of things I have learned to help rural Chinese children in my initiative.

2. Seeing gardens in schools.

As someone who’s always grown up in the city, I have never seen gardens in schools. In my mind, school was only about classrooms, canteen and playground. It was so impressive and inspiring to see every ARK sponsored school have managed to develop the biggest garden it could offer to grow lunch for the feeding program and to see parents and community members donate seeds and organize themselves to volunteer in the gardens. Each of ARK schools has a different character, but all of them share the same dedication to making the most out of very little.

Before I came, my parents even didn’t believe that in our feeding program, ARK could feed a student with only 15 dollars a year. Now I could go back and tell them, yes, it is 15 dollars for real and I did the audit. The 15 dollars are so powerful because students, parents and teachers are all our shareholders who are determined to change and control their lives.

1. No internet.

No kidding, 3 weeks without internet was great. Although it made communication much harder, I enjoyed not being distracted by the virtual world. Life in the field is a reminder to breathe, to connect with the real world and not to take everything we’ve had in the developed world for granted.