I first met Front Lounge in a country house in Xi’an, invited to take part in the iGNiTE – the first international iGNiTE experience led by a group of young people from Scotland and a group of students from China, students of various universities in Xi’an. I was told me about the organisation and I felt it was something that could really help the young people in my village.
Why? Because Lijiang was (and still is) in the process of rapidly developing through tourism and there were a lot of young people around me who were struggling – they don’t care about education, aimless. A lot of families came into a lot of money because they sold land to developers. So poor people became rich very quickly and it really affected the young people. The effect was young people started dropping out of education, thinking that they had money in the family or that they could get tourism / service industry jobs. There were 6 young people from my village in particular who felt they could easily get jobs. So, they dropped out of education. But they squandered the money. And then turned to crime and ended up in jail. This really affected me and I wanted to do something about this. I felt something like Front Lounge could make a difference. Although I had no idea how. Just a feeling.
Actually, I didn’t think Front Lounge would actually come to Lijiang but I asked all the same. So, I was surprised that a visit was arranged and Front Lounge went to Lijiang. And then went back, again and again. Something important happened during these visits: one day my grandfather, He Shang Hui, was telling me of all the things he accomplished as a local leader. He planted trees, he built a community centre and he married the women he loved. He shared with me his final mission: to build a library in Lijiang.
My grandfather could see the potential in creating sustainable businesses in Lijiang but he also knew it was not possible without a good education. I was so moved by the conversation that day but I was also terrified, I knew my grandfather’s final mission rested on my shoulders. I asked Front Lounge to help and the organisation has been by my side ever since.
What I love about Front Lounge is the organisation listens to young people’s voices and gives them opportunity.
What impressed me quite a lot is the way of doing the project. Very different from what we do in school or university. We are usually told what to do, and we cannot put our own ideas into the activity. For the first experience with iGNiTE everyone was challenged to contribute. Whether they had experience or not, everyone had a place in the team. They were encouraged to use their own imagination, their own creativity. If you enjoy the process then the result will maybe surprise you with how good it is. In that way I felt encouragement that the process is just as important as the result.
In the end I didn’t build a library but established a reading project called I read instead. My journey in Lijiang has been: I Read, then English training, then parenting workshops, then the Kindergarten (started 6 months ago in Sept 2019). I am doing education. The more I work in Lijiang the more I understand education is so important. We are adapting education to the new situation, and trying to free people from old mindsets. The more I work with children and families, the more we understand. Education can help change this mindset, and can give a sense of safety, and security.