Sincerity vital to gain trust

Updated: 2013-05-11 02:10

(China Daily)

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Editor's Note: Zou Yan, 42, from Beijing, is a volunteer sent by independent international development organization VSO to Kenya in March 2012. She has been volunteering as an adviser at Kiranga Youth Polytechnic, a vocational school in a remote village of the country's Central Province.

Sincerity vital to gain trust

Zou Yan (center) enjoys her days with students at Kiranga Youth Polytechnic in a village of Kenya's Central Province. Provided to China Daily

In the first two to three months I was at the school, things got off to a slow start.

Sometimes I was at a total loss, and had no idea of how to make plans for the school.

Without a clear purpose, I began to take pictures of the classes and subjects I was unfamiliar with at the school, and record the life of students.

Life outside classes was tedious as students can only play soccer or volleyball. So before I formally took my role as a strategy adviser I made a proposal to teach the students kung fu, Chinese language and culture, and played movies to enrich their life.

My opportunity to gain their trust came when the school planned a Twin Workshop ceremony. In a preparatory meeting, the school's principal assigned each teacher tasks, except me, because I had just arrived at the school.

So I proposed to make a PowerPoint presentation to promote the school.

But still I didn't get any support. Teachers were not familiar with the popular presentation software.

So I used the pictures I took of them as the main content of the PowerPoint presentation. When I showed teachers a draft of the presentation, everyone was excited.

Teachers started to support my work. Whenever there was a new project, they would ask me to take pictures.

It was at this moment that I realized that in the first months at the school I had been trying to help it move ahead, but, unconsciously, I strived to make myself outshine others. I had been listing the areas that needed improvements but it was hard for them to accept advice given in that format. The fact that I'm a woman and the principal is a man made them even more uncomfortable.

Only when I made them feel that I was sincere and there to help, they became supportive and things started to change.

A project manager at VSO asked me to draw up a school development proposal to get more funds from the organization. I spent almost a month to come up with a 50-page plan.

To show respect toward the principal, I had him review it before I submitted it to the VSO manager in early August. In about a week, I got a reply saying that the requested funds would be in place.

The efforts paid off.

By the end of April, the school's enrollment had expanded to 202. In most technical schools in partnership with VSO in Kenya, the enrollment is less than 100.

Zou Yan told her story to China Daily reporter Wang Zhenghua.