Zhouzhuang school, Zhouzhuang village, Zhecheng county, Henan province, China, April 2013
In this dusty school yard, water balloons shaped like plump apples with strings attached at the stems are hot commodities. Yet in the span of four days, I only saw a balloon thrown once in this school of almost 300 kids.
Since that is clearly suspicious and unnatural, I thought maybe the balloons were like Pokémon cards – you know, satisfaction from the simple act of possession and status conferred.
On the day I took this photo, kids had been shoving water balloons in the my hands in a show of affection, shyly grinning and then running off a little aways, delighted with their gifting. I was extremely touched, but also extremely unsure of what to do with the balloons as a ‘responsible adult.’
While trying to figure that out, I wandered around the school yard, awkwardly balancing three colorful balloons in each hand. A gaggle of little ones followed to see what I’d do or say next.
I turned the corner and saw this image between the gray, concrete school and the squat, concrete bathroom. Carefully tying the colorful balloons dangling against the bare backdrop are 13 to 16 year-old 6th grade boys, the only ones tall enough to reach the branches.
I love that I’m continually surprised – in a good way – by people. It’s inspiring.
The repeating second and fourth Chinese character 自 on the wall from left to right refers to the ‘self.’ Together those characters (including a missing 自 cut out of the photo on the far left) say: Self Reliance, Self Strength, Self Esteem.
This image sits on my bedroom bookshelf. Sometimes when I’m feeling a bit defeated about something, I like to look at it and every time without fail, it gives me heart. Kids do pretty amazing things.
FYI: I was a PR / media / fundraising volunteer with the Shanghai-based education non-profit Stepping Stones for several years. They’re the ones that arranged this trip to the school. If you are interested in volunteering your time, expertise or money, check out their website here!