One of the objectives of this project was to refurbish parts of Al-Fattah (mosque) and Al-Falak (pre-school). The compound that we stayed in was Al-Fattah where they were three buildings adjacent to each other. There is a learning centre which is still undergoing some renovation, a mosque that’s divided equally for men and women, and a two-storey building where we stayed in. The learning centre and mosque were already decorated beautifully and purposefully by university students who came before us. We were in between conducting activities and classes for the kids and teachers at Al-Falak or pruning and replanting the plantations, repainting the walls that had worn out, and tidying up the stores and disposing of unused items at Al-Fattah. We also spent one of our days there dusting all the prayer mats in the mosque before cleaning the floors and windows.

In Al-Falak, we discussed and learnt what was needed to be done for the school and eventually painted the walls at the courtyard and planted current and new crops in its garden. We also spent half a day on a Sunday when the kids were not in school to clean the classroom toilets. Some of the logistical items that the team bought to execute the refurbishment activities include paints, brushes, rollers, detergents, and scrubbers.

These activities were meant to educate and inspire the children and the people of Yang Tzai, but the team were the ones whom ended up being educated and inspired. Despite the weather conditions, time constraints, and limited manpower, we carried them out diligently. Working hard under the hot sun for hours have taught us more than we expected to gain.

Before the trip, the team was already informed of these activities and we were prepared for them. What we did not expect was the hot sun during the peak of the day, and the amount of work that was needed to be done. In spite of that, proper and firm intentions were put in place before and throughout the trip. The team focused on the tasks at hand, knowing that all these contributions and efforts made will not be in vain.

The ultimate purpose was simple yet important; to brighten up the lives of the beneficiaries. These refurbishment activities were not impossible for them to do themselves (in fact we learnt that they are more than capable of a variety of skills), but knowing that there are young and high-spirited individuals who are willing to be of aid and support, it might turn frowns into smiles, doubts into confidence, and discouragement into inspiration.

For the team, it developed a greater level of trust and kinship, renewed sense of faith and sincerity, and acquired skills and interesting experiences from each activity.

Striving for Gratefulness and Contentment

On a fine afternoon the Guardians packed pomelos and mooncakes that were bought from the nearby town, Zhaotong. These gifts were to be distributed to the villagers of Yangtzai later in the day. The imam of Al-Fattah tirelessly walked us (we split into two teams to go to different parts of the village, both led by the imam) around to visit the homes of the villagers, which were built on varied levels due to the terrain. Al-Fattah mosque located on a vantage, overlooks the whole village. Undeterred by the distance and steep hills, a number of aged villagers still make their way to the mosque for congregated prayer. These villagers were often found to be contented and happy as seen from their facial expressions and body language. The serenity and peace that we felt came from both the village and the villagers.

The distribution was surprisingly fulfilling as we explored and learnt more about the daily lives of the villagers. Yang Tzai is also known as ‘No Man’s Land’ which means anyone can build a house on any available land and call it home. This is reflective of the sense of welcoming and gracefulness that radiated from the villagers as they held out their arms to receive our humble gifts. The sincerity of their smiles can be seen from how their eyes shone with happiness and gratefulness. The beautiful yet hardworking people of Yang Tzai seemed to be contented with their own lives. They grow many different crops either for sale or for their daily needs such as corn, chilli and soybean. The abundance of chicken, cow, and different plantations showed that they do not need to travel to town which is an hours drive from the village. The prices for meat in town are not cheap for the villagers. We learnt how each household have their own recipe for brewed tea. Thus, factory-made tea sachets were not found anywhere near the village.

The colourful and vibrant flowers found throughout the village bloomed like the spirits of the villagers. There was an instance when I saw in a distance a mother piggybacking her child. The mother stopped when her child saw a pretty flower and let him down for awhile to pluck it. The mother smiled as she observed her son carefully admiring the flower as they continued their journey. More often than not, I unintentionally made easy comparisons to Singapore where everything has been made easy, yet harder to achieve.

Gardens are artificial and trees were uprooted for more buildings. Basic necessities can be acquired at the touch of a smartphone’s screen. Our place of worship can be located just across the street, yet it is so difficult to even leave the comfort of our homes. Factory-made foods are sold everywhere some do not even know or want to know what is organic and what is not. We do not need to know how to grow our own food. Some do not know what tea is supposed to taste like. A percentage of the children of the current generation appreciate an iPad more than anything else. Yet, all we see in public trains and buses, morning or evening, are sad and tired faces. Time is always of essence. There is always a race for a reward. But then again, I guess different places pose different challenges. After realising their worth from the contrasting experiences I’ve gained in Guizhou, I think gratefulness and contentment are goals one should strive for everyday.