We are different, we are the same

Erhai Lake, Dali
Erhai Lake, Dali

This is the phrase Save the Children China communicates to spread awareness of its inclusive education programme. It also represents the work the IKEA Foundation is doing with Save the Children. Over the course of the trip, I realised it extends beyond the collaboration between these organisations. It is relevant within our own group, accurately describing how eight people from different backgrounds and experiences get to know each other under such unique circumstances. It is applicable to our experience in China this last week, entering a new culture with only a few ideas of what to expect. I believe, in a broader context, this phrase is representative of any situation in which people from different backgrounds come together with a common goal. We are different, we are the same.

Our IWitness group at the Bamboo Temple, north-west of Kunming
Our IWitness group at the Bamboo Temple, north-west of Kunming

After only meeting once or twice, seven people from all over the Netherlands and one American met at Schipol Airport to depart on a journey across the world to witness this collaboration at work. Given the extensive travel time and the uniqueness of our shared experiences, we found the similarities and differences between us quite quickly. Be it the attempted deciphering of a dinner menu without English or pictures; the multi-lingual sing-alongs in the long car ride between Weishan and Kunming; the simple joy of having a partner for early morning jogging; or the surprisingly accomplished feeling in finding Oreos in a rest stop convenience store. Shared experiences, such as those from this trip, bring us together.

Early morning walk to breakfast, Weishan County
Early morning walk to breakfast, Weishan County

We arrived in China and immediately encountered the obvious differences: architecture, language, food, fashion, music, social customs. But over the course of the week, we found how similar we are. We greet each other kindly. We like to share ideas, to learn about each other, and to share a laugh and a meal. We enjoy spending time with people we care about. We sing, we dance, we play sports. We smile when we are happy. We have common goals to create a better life for the people who need it most, namely the children, parents and teachers in the communities we visited. These similarities and differences make us human. It is these things that make us stronger when we work together.

Children sharing their artwork, Dacang Primary School
Children sharing their artwork, Dacang Primary School

This trip has been eye-opening and fulfilling. We have had the opportunity to meet representatives of Save the Children and the Ministry of Education, as well as principals and teachers who truly care about the children who benefit from the inclusive education project. They have accomplished so much with the implementation of resource rooms in several schools, training programmes to give teachers tools to support children of all backgrounds, and the continued pursuit of increased support from the local government and community.

Though they have many accomplishments, they see opportunities and continue to strive for more, looking forward to reaching more schools, more teachers, and more children. With this commitment and the continued collaboration between the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children, and the teachers and administrators with heart for their work, it is clear that this programme will continue to provide children of all backgrounds and abilities the environment and opportunity to learn.

Children in class, Dacang Primary School
Children in class, Dacang Primary School

This trip has given a new perspective and a new heart to the Soft Toys for Education campaign. With each soft toy sold, we not only make a donation to Save the Children and UNICEF, we bring educational resources to classrooms around the world. Most importantly, we bring opportunities to children who need it most, opportunities they never knew they had. This trip has also provided a new face to the Soft Toys for Education campaign. Actually, several hundred smiling faces in a few schools in Weishan, Yunnan, China.

Laughter that warms the heart, Gucheng Primary School
Laughter that warms the heart, Gucheng Primary School