View from the ground: Yearn to Learn

Starting a charity in China has its challenges but for the founders of Yearn to Learn – providing classes for orphans with disabilities, the rewards are speaking for themselves writes René Cronan-Dixon.

René Cronan-Dixon Co-founder
Yearn to Learn 

I have lived in Beijing for over two years since moving from Sydney with my husband’s work. I got involved with Yearn to Learn through Kim Dorr, an Australian special needs teacher. Kim had been asked by Teresa Woo, who runs Ping An – a medical foster home, to visit an orphanage for children with special needs situated about one hour south of Beijing. Theresa has a very close relationship with many orphanages in and around Beijing and was the one who identified that the children in these orphanages would benefit from a teaching program.

I agreed to go out to the orphanage with Kim and meet the children and from that day on we hatched a plan to start a charity called Yearn to Learn.

Yearn to Learn is a non profit, voluntary organisation which aims to provide relevant, meaningful and inclusive education to disadvantaged children. Our vision is to develop fully functional classrooms and therapeutic facilities within orphanages for children with physical and intellectual disabilities. The majority of children in orphanages have been born with congenital medical problems such as cleft lip/palate, heart disease, spina bifida, Down’s syndrome, and cerebral palsy.

These children are often referred to as “children in waiting”. A lucky few receive surgery and medical care and become eligible for adoption. Most, however, remain “in waiting” for years, unable to access education or be recognised as healthy children for adoption. It is these children Yearn to Learn aims to assist.

At the moment there are five of us involved with Yearn to Learn – myself, Kim Dorr, Teresa Woo, Ruth Payne and Tanya Stacey. We all have different skills and contribute to the charity in different ways.

Kim has been writing programmes for the Chinese teachers while Ruth has then translated them and then assisted the Chinese teachers to implement the programmes. Ruth is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Tanya goes out twice a week to work with the Children. It has been a huge learning curve just to reach this stage of Y2L.

There have been times when we have felt that this is too hard but the thought of the children makes us persevere. Seeing the happiness, pride, and personal development in the children brings us back to reality and makes it all worthwhile.

The rewards so far are the children. The change in the children has been incredible. When Y2L first started the class in October 2009, the majority of the children had not even held a pen or pencil before. Kim asked the children to draw a self portrait – a method of assessment and soon realised that the children had never seen themselves in a mirror before so how could they know what to draw? This is the level we started with.

The children’s confidence and smiles are our rewards. I am feeling very positive about the long term future of Yearn to Learn.

When we embarked upon this we realised it would have to be long-term and it would have to be sustainable. Y2L cannot cease to exist when we return to our home countries. We are starting to generate some interest from corporate and various individual sponsors who have heard about us and would like to assist. AustCham Beijing has been, and continues to be, a tremendous support and we would not be where we are today without them.

*To date, Y2L has established one classroom in an orphanage about one hour south of Beijing. The classroom has been established on a shoe string budget (6,500 RMB or A$1083). Ultimately, Y2L hopes to start classes from nursery through to adulthood so that there is some continuity as the children progress between the various programs and levels. A recent AustCham Beijing trivia night raised 45,000 RMB (A$7500) for the organisation which will be used to furbish the classrooms for a further 40+ children.

**For more information contact René Cronan-Dixon E: yearntolearn@gmail.com

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