For 7 years the Yunnan Student Volunteers of the UM-SJTU Joint Institute have been helping the children in the remote villages in Yunnan Province. Every winter, as timely as the migrant birds, the JI Yunnan Student Volunteers would arrive at Daxi Elementary School and Mengxiu Middle School to teach for 20 days.

During the short period, the volunteer teachers would instill the love for learning in the children’s hearts and form life-long friendship with the children, as witnessed by Mr. Shichen Qiu, the principal of Daxi Elementary School. He remarked, “The Torch Festival in summer is the most important holiday for the Su minority, and most anticipated by the children. The arrival of JI’s student volunteers is like the winter Torch Festival that lights up our children’s life.”  
The student volunteers offer specially designed curricula in science, history, and geography to satisfy children’s curiosity and broaden their horizons.
The warmth of torch – teachers and pupils helping each other
Daxi Elementary School was quite rundown. Many windows of the classrooms were broken; students had to endure the cold in class. The plates and utensils at the cafeteria were worn and dirty. Therefore, the student volunteers initiated a fund raiser. A Yunnan business donated 20,000 RMB to help improve students’ living condition, including donating down jackets, supplies, and three brand-new ping pong tables to enrich students’ recreation. Pupil Qinhua Mu, with armful of supplies, exclaimed, “Thanks to the warm jackets, from now on, we can learn well even in the cold classrooms! Thank you so much!”
To encourage donation, the volunteers at Daxi Elementary School held a public ceremony to recognize the donors, with major media coverage. Volunteer Liyu Wang commented, “We wish to make a social impact, so more people will be involved in helping the disadvantaged children in the poor area.”    
Students at Mengxiu Middle School need more mental guidance than the material help. Volunteer Wenxuan Zhou remarked, “We can only help the children very little in intellectual improvement; the more important is to instill in them the desire for learning and to boost their self-confidence.”

The student volunteers are mostly spoiled city slickers; country living is a big challenge. Sleeping in the unheated classrooms, many students would wake up due to the icy cold. On weekends, they have to cook by themselves on the rudimentary stove. Many children would stay over the weekend to help the teachers build fire and cook. There were no bathing facilities in school, so children invited the teachers to bathe at their homes. The students are deeply touched by the children’s help. For Liyu Wang, 2013 New Year’s Eve will forever etch in his memory because he spent it with a child’s family. They talked together under the starry night until 2014. By living together and helping each other, the urban student volunteers and the rural minority children have formed deep friendship.

The long-lasting torch – long-term sponsorship for children’s future

Throughout the seven years, many children have moved up to middle schools or high schools. Some volunteers have committed to sponsoring the children’s long-term education. Daoxuan Yan went volunteering in 2007. Since then, he has sponsored 3 children every year with 3000 RMB. Huixian Mu, one of his benefactors, is able to continue to study at high school without quitting to help her family thanks to the financial aid. This year’s volunteers have contacted the Lotus Foundation and Overseas Chinese Foundation to provide scholarships for both schools. The mission of the Yunnan Student Volunteers is to help the children become self-reliant, reach for their goals, and move up on social mobility.     

JI Yunnan Student Volunteers are idealistic and responsible youths. They have lit up the torches in the children’s hearts and shone the way for their future. They have overcome many difficulties to fulfill their social responsibilities. They have learned and grown a lot from the memorable experience.  

JI Student Volunteers at Daxi Elementary School: Tong Xuan, Liyu Wang, Zhiyi Fan, Peng Yuan, Han Song, Zhengtao Xu, Jiawei Zhang
JI Student Volunteers at Mengxiu Middle School: Yunfei Lu, Wenxuan Zhou, Heng Zhang, Shuqi Xu, Kaiyuan Cao, Hanyang Zhou, Hongxi Zhang, Yiming Yuan