Maria Filippova - General Care Projects in China
The month I spent volunteering in China was an experience I will never forget, an experience that opened a new world to me. The trip was somewhat spontaneous, before even realising my dream of travelling to China was going to come true, I was by myself, on a plane, heading to Chengdu to do a Care placement for one month.
The excitement was overwhelming, I didn’t know anybody there, my Chinese was extremely basic and I had no idea what to expect, however as soon as I landed, I loved Chengdu and was ready for the adventure awaiting me.
My Care Placement
I worked in a school for autistic children located in the north-western part of Chengdu, almost one hour away from my accommodation. The children were aged three to seven years and were accompanied by family members.
Every morning I was full of energy and couldn’t wait to start work. All day I played with the children and taught them how to carry out different tasks. It has been the most gratifying and memorable activity in my life.
I can recall my first day really well. When I arrived, my supervisor introduced me to the friendly staff and to my surprise, nobody could speak English. This became a little challenge and a great opportunity to improve my Chinese. As I walked into the playroom, some of the children were afraid of me at first, as they had never seen a foreigner before. Others, on the other hand were really thrilled. I remember one girl in particular, approached me and started touching my hair, looking very amused. She always came to school wearing bright, pretty outfits and many cute hairclips.
After a couple of days I became very attached to the children. Despite their disabilities, they are eager to learn and have fun. Thanks to them, I learnt many things about life and started noticing things I never noticed before. The smile on their faces was like sunshine that filled you with positivity. I will never forget one little boy, who ran up to me every morning, and happily said “laoshi hao!” giving me a kiss on the cheek.
All the children soon started calling me “jie jie” meaning elder sister. A Care placement is one you have to enjoy. Always smile and give the best of yourself. At my work, despite having a language barrier, I became really attached to the children and was also very close to the lovely staff and the relatives who accompanied the children. By the end of the month, I felt so happy there that I didn’t want to leave. Helping someone who really needs it is the best feeling in the world.
Life in Chengdu
Chengdu is a very modern and fast growing city filled with life and movement. It is impossible to get bored there. I met many amazing people during my stay in China who made my trip even more memorable. After a couple of days I met the other volunteers. They were all amazing people coming from different backgrounds who were, like me, really interested in China. Due to the diversity of nationalities in our group we discovered a lot about each other’s cultures and traditions. I am so glad to have met them and grateful to them for making my adventure so unforgettable.
Every evening we went out and explored new places around the city. Getting around Chengdu is really easy, fast and cheap at any hour of the day or night; there are plenty of taxis and a really good public transport system.
Chengdu is known as China’s happiest city and therefore has the happiest people. They lead a very leisurely and slow-paced lifestyle compared to people in other Chinese cities. Every day of the week, the bars and restaurants are bustling with people and activity; there are different concerts, parties and other events every day. I can honestly say that I have never had a better time than in Chengdu.
Chinese people are really friendly and fun, so despite the language barrier they are always eager to make friends with you. I have unforgettable memories from every single evening I spent there.
During the day, there are many beautiful places to visit. Chengdu has one of the largest panda sanctuaries in China. The centre mimics the giant pandas natural habitat allowing the visitors to discover more about this endangered species.
Just outside the city are mount Qingcheng, the Dujiangyan irrigation system, Leshan giant Buddha, mount Emei and more fascinating sites with a rich historical background. Inside Chengdu there is also a vast variety of places brimming with strong cultural and leisurely ambience. The first time I went sightseeing, I was a little bit shocked when a Chinese lady suddenly approached me and asked to take a picture with me. Later on I became used to this. Chinese people are not used to foreigners, especially outside the city so things like these are completely normal.
Chengdu is also very famous for its cuisine. It has three categories, Sichuan cuisine, hotpot and snacks. Sichuan cuisine is known for its piquancy as well as hot and complex flavours. Hotpot is the first thing people usually think of when Chengdu cuisine is mentioned. It consists of a large simmering pot filled with a spicy soup on one side and delicious broth on the other. The ingredients are placed inside the soup and left to cook at the table. Hotpot ingredients can vary from vegetables and seafood to more exotic ingredients such as intestines and brains. I must say it is an interesting experience.
Snack bars are scattered all over Chengdu. There are famous streets with dozens of small, delicious snack bars where you can try authentic Chengdu specialties including duck heads and feet, a wide range of dumplings, wontons and more.
My Overall Impression
I loved China. It is a growing powerful nation with great potential, full of opportunities and has a rich cultural and historic background. Though being a completely different world to Spain, I adapted immediately and felt very at home there.
One thing I particularly noticed and appreciated was the Chinese mentality. People are very traditional and respectful, family always comes first and traditions are well conserved.
China is a place one has to discover individually. It has a certain unique magic which is indescribable. In the future I am planning on studying and building my career there. I am very happy to have had the opportunity of discovering a completely different world, helping children and meeting so many amazing people. Thank you Projects Abroad for this marvelous experience!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.