Annie Li and Michelle Mariko

Michelle Mariko ’10, and Annie Li ’10 received the Winton Volunteership last spring for their summer project at a refugee school in Mianyang, China, a city devastated by an earthquake over a year ago. The school Mariko and Li visited is a collection of portable buildings. They are all that remain of Beichuan Middle School, which was located only a few kilometers away from the epicentre of the earthquake. “It was a huge shock [to see the devastation], as it was more than a year [after the earthquake],” said Mariko. “When we visited the city of Beichuan, it was frozen the way it was [after the earthquake’s devastation]. It was a very surreal experience.” Mariko and Li arranged for copies of The Phillipian and Backtracks to be delivered to the school to improve the Chinese students’ English, and as a way to connect the two schools. Mariko said that they decided to send reading materials to the students instead of donating money. The majority of the donations, she said, fund work on the school itself, and do not end up in the hands of students like reading materials do. “We planned on going [to the city] without the [Winton Volunteership], but Annie stumbled on it on PAnet last year, and we just decided to apply,” said Mariko. The pair also brought a camera to China in order to film a documentary that exhibits the devastation that still exists in Mianyang one year later. “We found it very hard to talk to [the kids] about the earthquake,” said Mariko, “We ended up connecting with the kids more than I had expected.” Li said, “[The kids] are so inspired, so motivated, and even in their situation, still look towards a brighter future.” “If I were [in their situation], I would be devastated. Even everyday events are so shocking there… and [the kids] were still really happy,” said Mariko. Mariko and Li will release their documentary in a few weeks. The two are currently arranging for a venue to screen it. The Winton Volunteership, organized by the Community Service Office, is an annual award given to “students working in community self-help efforts and, by doing so, come to a deeper understanding of and concern for the problems facing underdeveloped communities”, according to the Phillips Academy website.