Representatives from public relations firm Waggener Edstrom share facts and figures about Australia with students from the Chi Heng Foundation's Beijing summer camp for AIDS Impacted Children on July 13. [Corey Cooper/China.org.cn]
Children from AIDS-stricken families in Henan Province got a chance to see the world like never before Wednesday morning from the Beijing office of global public relations firm Waggener Edstrom.
Waggener Edstrom staffers treated the kids to "tours" of the six cities where the firm is represented – New York, Seattle, London, Johannesburg, Sydney and Mumbai. Each city was introduced with a brief presentation that included games and fun facts, which was followed by more serious discussions about local problems.
At the Mumbai booth, students tried traditional Indian dancing and learned how to say "My, the weather is nice today!" in Hindi. New York City's presentation started with familiar landmarks such as Times Square, Wall Street and Broadway that was followed by a somber discussion of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Johannesburg's lecture introduced South African culture with a reference to the country's troubled apartheid past and severe economic disparities.
Qian, 18, said that she was delighted to learn more about history, geography and international affairs. "At our school, we focus mainly on math and science," she said. She said she is intrigued by the U.S. and hopes that she can study in Washington, D.C. one day.
Following their "world tour," the students gathered in Waggener Edstrom's boardroom for their first-ever video conference, connecting with the firm's Hong Kong and Shanghai offices for a live chat. They then discussed how they thought communications technology would improve in the future.
The Waggener Edstrom visit was part of a week-long camp in Beijing sponsored by the Chi Heng Foundation for children from AIDS-stricken families in Henan Province. The Chi Heng Foundation is a Hong Kong-based organization that helps AIDS-impacted children throughout China with educational sponsorships, vocational training, social support programs and counseling.
Chosen from thousands of students in their province, the campers received an all-expenses-paid trip to Beijing for their excellent academic performance. Similar camps will be held in July and August in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Guangzhou for children from other provinces. More than 100 students total will participate in the camps this summer, said Joshua Luo, program coordinator for the Chi Heng Foundation.
Millie Wu, director of technology practice at Waggener Edstrom, said she was surprised to learn that so many families in China are still affected by AIDS.
A study by China's Ministry of Health, WHO and UNAIDS said that Henan Province reported between 40,000 and 60,000 HIV cases in 2009, making it one of China's most HIV-prevalent areas. Many people in the province contracted HIV from the proliferation of illegal blood banks in the 1980s and 1990s.
Wu said she volunteered her time yesterday to help motivate students in AIDS-affected families to continue their studies. "We want to help the students have fun and give them hope that they can have a better life," Wu said.
In addition to the grief of losing one or both parents, discrimination against AIDS-affected families in rural China can cause orphaned children to lose their motivation to succeed, Luo said. Through painting, dancing, ice skating, excursions to Beijing's historical sites and meetings with world-renowned companies and universities, the summer camp will help the students to feel loved, giving them more incentive to stay in school, he said.
After the Waggener Edstrom visit, the Chi Heng campers traded their briefcases for paintbrushes for afternoon art therapy led by professional art tutors. In groups of four, the children explored their creativity using different mediums. One group used pastels to create dragon-themed posters celebrating 2012 as Year of the Dragon. Another group worked on abstract themes with oil paint on canvas. Still another group used watercolors to depict images from home.
Even though most students are shy and unsure how to express themselves at first, a few days of art therapy can show them how to gain confidence in themselves, as well as how to share their ideas with others, said Hong Kong native and art tutor Agatha Lee, who has headed the Chi Heng Foundation's art program for several years.
On the students' second day of art therapy, signs of newfound creativity and expression were already evident. One student drew a vividly colored, jagged-looking dragon that suggested his inner anxieties. Another took the dragon concept and adapted it to a Chinese folk legend. The abstract painting group found a way to connect their paintings into one work, suggesting they were learning how to communicate.
The day didn't stop there. Later that evening, the group headed out to Beijing's Chaoyang Distract for hip-hop dance lessons. Over the next few days, they will tour Tsinghua University, the Beijing offices of Standard Chartered Bank and Coca-Cola, the Capital Museum and Summer Palace.
The students have already visited the Forbidden City on Monday. Luo said the itinerary may sound packed for a one-week excursion, but the organization tries to keep the schedule as filled as possible. "It's a once in a lifetime experience for the children," he said.