KidSpirit

The Magic of Service

Money and ValueAwesome Moments

It all started with a long-distance call.

“Is this Da Jiejie Xingchen’s house?”

I had no idea whom the call might be from since no one had called me “Da Jiejie,” i.e. “Big Sister,” before. “Yes,” I answered, “Who is it?”

“Da Jiejie, this is Xiaolong Zhang.” No idea. “I’m in 2nd grade now.” Still no idea. “I’m calling from Gunshanzi Group, Sili Hamlet, Zongping Village, Daozhen County, Guizhou Province.” Now I knew who this was.

In tenth grade, I started mailing my pocket money to a needy child for his tuition for two years. A charity organization came to my high school and asked me and my peers if we would like to donate to help other kids go to school. I said, “yes,” and joined the organization, feeling sympathy for the kids who couldn’t get an education. I barely thought that this would help me discover an unexpected treasure until I received that call.

“Thank you, Da Jiejie. Without you, I would never be able to go back to school.” Through his innocent and delighted voice, Xiaolong explained that he and his father had walked thirty minutes to reach the only telephone in the village and that this was his first time using a real phone! He said that with the 400 Yuan (65 dollars) I mailed to his family, he could finally learn Mandarin, math, music, and draw pictures and play sports with his friends. I could almost see his face beaming when he started to talk about school.

Later, Xiaolong’s father took over the phone. “Xingchen, I don’t know how to express my gratitude to you,” his father said in obscure Mandarin. Although his dialect was difficult to understand, I could nonetheless easily feel how excited he was. “As a peasant who can only earn 300 Yuan a year, I was so depressed seeing Xiaolong’s downcast face when he was forced to drop out of school. I didn’t want him to end up like me, without an education.” He was stopped by a sob. “Can I ask you another favor?”

“Of course!”

“Can we exchange addresses so that Xiaolong can write letters to you? He said he wants to be a person like you, rebuild our village, and help others when he grows up…”

Hanging up the phone, I wiped my tears and went to my desk trying to start a letter to Xiaolong. His cheerful and childish voice, as well as his father’s sobbed request, stayed in my mind. At that moment I realized I could do more than feel empathetic. Not only did I encourage Xiaolong, but he and his father also inspired me. By constantly communicating with Xiaolong and mailing notebooks and pencils to him I made myself truly part of the service I had joined. Instead of simply agreeing to donate, I now fully understood Xiaolong’s situation and had hope that my every little effort would affect a change.

From then on I have not only shown my sympathy for people who need help, but I involve myself by making enthusiastic commitments — whether making weekly visits to senior centers in my community, organizing recycling in school, or volunteering as a primary school teacher’s aide. I volunteer because I want to serve others and make things better. With every small step I am finding my own little piece of magic.

My name is Ma Xingchen. I’m from Shanghai. I was an exchange student at Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn for 10 months last year. I picked up my English name “Stella” because it has the same meaning as my Chinese name. I’ll become a freshman at Princeton University this coming fall.

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