The Purpose(less) Trip – DreamCorps Summer Volunteer Program – by Tracey Cui

In the summer of 2013, when I was just set free from the stress of final exams, I packed everything in a suitcase and set out for Beijing, the first stop of my summer volunteer program in China. I was assigned to the Niujie Central Elementary School in Yunnan with my beloved teammates, Changyuan, Haiting, Yannan, and Huanqi, from various universities across North America and China. After two days of training in Beijing and two days of traveling by airplane, bus, and the school headmaster’s SUV, we finally arrived at a serene and picturesque village called Niujie (literally means the Village of Cattle).

The purpose of the Summer Volunteer Program initiated by DreamCorps is to promote education and literacy for children in underprivileged rural area in China. We believe that reading is paramount for child development. By emerging children in a reading-friendly environment, we could inspire their imagination and broaden their views of the world through the establishment of a functional library system and incorporation of reading-oriented activities into everyday classes.

At the first glance, the goals looked so grandiose and abstract to me that I invevitably started to worry if we could accomplish the tasks. After I had interacted with children and the local teacher, and been exposed to the stark living condition of the village, I realized that the goals after which we strived were even farther than I had originally supposed. “What is the purpose of all of this, given that we are aware that what we do could by no means change anything?” My teammate and I had a talk in the classroom that we transformed into a library book by book. While we were about to end our crestfallen talk, one of the grade three girl puncticiously open the door of the library and came to us with a bundle of China roses in her hands. She told us she picked them from her family’s field and they were so pretty that she couldn’t wait to show them to us. Strangely, despite the fact that we concluded our talk with the realization of the impossibility to bring lasting impacts, we are more pumped to make changes and to offer the best we could to these kids.

Before I set out, some cynical people asked me how much money we would donate to the school. Upon hearing my anwser that we gave the school nothing but volunteers and books, those persons laughed and said you did not understand what these schools in rural area truly want. However, two things encouraged me and made me steadfastly believe our efforts were not less valuable than material assistance. Firstly, the kids who were so fond of reading once a well-rounded library was established. Secondly, the DreamCorps summer volunteer program, which was designed to give us the greatest freedom and proper resources to carry out the plans that embodied our own interpretations of “Let reading inspire”. The importance of purpose has eclipsed by the brightened smiles of children and their aspiration to learn more about this unknown world. What we saw, heard, and expirenced in Niuejie trumped all and made up the real purpose of this trip.

Right now, we are still not sure if what we did brought any siginificant changes to the children, but none of us has the slightest regret of participating in this volunteer program. Before we leave, some kids promised that one day they would come to Canada to meet us. Although we all know that was a joke, but somehow I increasingly convinced that they one day they will reappear in front of me.

 Last but not least, The Dream Corps Summer Volunteer Program for 2014 has begun to accept applications. Volunteers will be building and organizing libraries for schools in rural China as well as participating in reading activities with local children. If you are interested in rural development and diversifying your cultural exposure AND you can speak Chinese (no matter you are still learning or a native speaker), please apply at by February 23, 2014. No registration fee involves. Contact for questions regarding the application and volunteer selection process. You can also keep updated with the Dream Corps McGill Chapter by following our Facebook page at We will hold an INFO SESSION on Jan 21st and Feb 5th, for more information please check our Facebook page. I will also be presenting. Hope to see you all there!ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage


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