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Empowering Kids to be Rural China's Entrepreneurs Today

李伯琳_2.JPGThousands of student performances, activities and games entertained kids across China for Children's Day last Sunday. But if you really want to see children at their happiest, you should see what it looks like when you empower students to have an impact on their own communities and to discover themselves. For the teachers organizing C.O.R.E (Community Outreach Rediscovery and Engagement) in Yunnan Province, every day is Children's Day.

Li Bolin is second-year Teach for China fellow who shares her insights after two years of guiding students to understand their own potentials through C.O.R.E. Go here if you would like to support C.O.R.E. All proceeds help fund supplies for the student presentations and the educational trip awarded the winning team.

Rural China's Entrepreneurs Must Come From Our Classrooms
In rural Yunnan, most of our students live at boarding schools, far from their families in the mountainous villages. Many see their families only once a week. The focus on producing test scores leaves little time for extracurricular activities After middle school, many will find ways to move far from their villages to attend university or work in factories. At this rate, rural China will be devoid of a robust work force and the culture that makes it so unique.

This is the problem that the C.O.R.E project seeks to address. We train students to research, interview and analyze the problems within their communities in order to define how they can enact changes. Rural China is ready for innovation and entrepreneurs. And they need to come from our own students - not primarily by people from foreign countries or big cities.

If we want to improve the quality of life in rural China, we must encourage our rural students to grow up and contribute back to their hometowns. Education should not be used as a means for students to escape their roots, but rather a pathway to reinvest in the communities that raised them.

From Troublemaker to Team Leader
Yang Xiaosheng was mediocre middle school student. He constantly broke school rules. His teacher sand parents didn't know how to handle him.

To everyone's surprise in 2013, he and his buddies signed up for the C.O.R.E project. At first, he joined only to have fun and hang out.

But soon, he became team captain and initiated work to research what it was like to be a tile worker like his father. For the first time in his life, he took careful notes at each training and worked closely with his faculty advisor.

On weekends, he lead team meetings with other students, interviewed tile workers and shadowed his father's work. He delegated work to his team based on their skills, asking two girls with greater writing skills to compose the final report, another boy to be in charge of photography and documentation.

Despite his questionable academic performance, Yang led his team to earn second place and proved his potential was more than what could be exposed in a classroom.

Asked to reflect upon his takeaways from the C.O.R.E experience, Yang wrote: The project gave me an opportunity to interview my father and understand just how difficult the work on making tiles is. Usually, my father and I never sit down at night just to talk but suddenly I had so much to ask him. I asked him how to make tiles, he told me how as a young man he apprenticed with a master and learned through countless bricks and tiles to finally hone his skills. His wages were extremely low at the beginning and it was only through improving his technique and products that it gradually rose. Looking at my father, I noticed just how dark from the sun his face was and how much work he must put in on a day to day basis, yet I continue to make trouble at school each and every day.

On our final presentation poster, we titled our project: "Those who work in the sun and wind; for our children and grandchildren in the rain and storms." Through this project, I learned more about appreciating my father and more about where I come from and what I can do for it.

How Does C.O.R.E. Work?
The C.O.R.E. project provides the training and platform for students to problem-solve for their community. "Entrepreneurship" is the theme of C.O.R.E 2014 here at Heqing No. 2 middle school and over 20 teams and 100 students are engaged in researching and planning their own businesses right now.

Each team is led by a local teacher advisor who guides them to conduct interviews, use the Internet and helps them compose a succinct and comprehensive business plan. Business ideas include sustainable waste management, environmental tourism in the regional mountain ranges, modernizing traditional Baizu embroidery etc. As Teach For China teachers, we train students once a week in the skills of research and business development and provide materials and resources such as cameras, craft supplies and books.
Ultimately, the C.O.R.E. project culminates in a research fair where each team is expected to display their final business proposal in addition to a post presentation. We invite judges from the student body, faculty, school leadership, and local business leaders to evaluate the quality of each team's work. The winning team receives an all-expense paid educational trip to Kunming as a means for students to judge with their own eyes, the differences between the lives they lead and the much wider world.

C.O.R.E's objective is to inspire students to look closer at the world just around them--the diversity of flowers and mushrooms, the tile cats that sit atop every Baizu structure, the insidious presence of alcohol and gambling in their communities, the golden fields of barley--and place it in a context of modernity and progress.

There's a quote from a famous Chinese drama character 许三多: The point of life is to live it with meaning (人要有意义的活着), C.O.R.E is meaningful to me and to all the students, local teachers, and community members who take part in it. Thank you for helping us make every day Children's Day.

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