向前一小步，文明一大步 - literally means ‘one small step forward, one big step for civilisation’, Commonly found in men’s restrooms in China, this tongue-in-cheek phrase is meant to encourage users to “aim” well and keep the area clean. Looking at the sign, I knew I was back in the Land of the Red Dragon. However, this trip takes on greater significance this time, as it is my first CapitaLand International Volunteer Expedition!
Day 1: Getting our hands dirty
Along with 39 other CapitaLand volunteers (20 colleagues from Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam and 20 local colleagues), I boarded a bus and went on a four-hour ride from Hangzhou to the CapitaLand Jinzhu Hope School in Suichang County, a small township in Lishui City. It was a quiet Sunday and the school compound was almost empty except for a few resident teachers.
After a quick tour led by the school principal, we divided ourselves into three teams (Landscaping, Hall Painting and Dormitory Refurbishment) and got straight to work.
I was assigned to the Landscaping Team and our main assignment was the construction of the CapitaLand Dream Garden — transforming a patch of disused land in the school compound into a beautiful landscaped area featuring colourful play elements and a garden for students to explore and play in.
It was unexpectedly backbreaking to transfer grass patches from the holding area to the playground before laying them onto the ground. A light drizzle made the compound wet and muddy but it did not dampen our spirits! After three hours we completed about half the plot. While everyone was visibly tired, we were excited to see the Dream Garden taking shape!
Day 2: Meeting the children
The next morning, we were pleasantly greeted by a cacophony of happy voices as the children arrived for school — they were evidently excited to see new faces in their campus. We swiftly picked up from where we left off and managed to complete the Dream Garden in the next two hours.
Pleased with our accomplishment, we headed to help our colleagues in the Hall Painting team. They had made impressive progress but were racing against time to complete both the wall murals and painting of the windows and doors. It was heartwarming to witness their camaraderie and rotation-based teamwork formed from a common desire to create a more vibrant play area for the students.
The painting of wall murals in the school hall is a continuation of ongoing efforts to beautify the school. This started in July 2016 when CapitaLand, in collaboration with Nippon Paint China, invited famed Argentine street artist Pum Pum to paint a vibrant mural on the façade of one school wall.
A highlight of Day 2 was certainly the home visits. In eight groups of four, we visited the homes and families of some students. My group visited a family of three siblings who live with their ageing grandparents. This gave us an inside look at how China’s urban migration has left a huge gap in her social fabric, as in this case of this family, where the children’s parents have headed to the cities for better job opportunities, leaving their young and elderly behind.
We went bearing gifts, which were gratefully accepted by the grandmother. She told us how her grandchildren were her hope of breaking out of the poverty cycle, and took such great pride in showing us the letters of commendation they had earned in school for achieving academic excellence. It was a poignant and emotional moment for everyone as we came to understand how these children stay strong despite facing hardship at such a tender age.
Day 3: Game on!
Dark clouds loomed on Day 3 - Games Day! Despite the dreary weather, the children’s energy and excitement were positively contagious. Their cheers and laughter filled the air with such joy that even the ominous skies chose to withhold its watery onslaught until after the prize presentation ceremony.
After lunch, we held a classroom session for the children as part of the CapitaLand Little Architect programme. We challenged their analytical capabilities with questions testing their ability to determine the optimal site for a new construction project and also encouraged spontaneous discussions among them. To our delight, they were very forthcoming! As I watched them, I was struck by their eagerness to discover more of the outside world and, in that moment, I could not help but feel extremely grateful to CapitaLand for giving us the opportunity to meet these young, brave heroes of tomorrow.
向前一小步，文明一大步. I came across this phrase again in the washroom at Hangzhou International Airport. I felt as it I was stepping through time as the highlights from the freshly concluded expedition flashed through my mind. It is laudable that CapitaLand allocates up to 0.5% of its net profit to its philanthropic arm, CapitaLand Hope Foundation – to promote and support causes related to the education and living needs of underprivileged children. To me, the CapitaLand International Volunteer Expedition exemplifies how corporations can take small meaningful steps to give back to the less fortunate in our society. If this can inspire more companies to follow suit, it would be a giant leap forward for our society.