Home>Service> Global Love of Lives Award> 18th Fervent Global Love of Lives Award> The Voluntourist —— Andrew Yu
【Travel thousands of miles for love with one kg more】

“Charity shouldn’t be restricted to only a small group of VIPs, famous philanthropists, or the rich. All of us can be a part of it, and everyone has the power to be the one that makes a difference.”

-Andrew Yu

Setting Out for Love—the Courage to be Different
Andrew Yu is nicknamed An Zhu, which has become a household name. Coming from Guangdong, Andrew had started working in a foreign IT company in Beijing a decade ago because of his interests in the city. He led a stable middle class life and loved to travel around as a backpacker in his spare time.

As an experienced backpacker, Andrew often travelled the whole world alone, setting foot in various places. Having seen the prosperity in big cities in which he once lived and worked, Andrew had also visited schools that were deficit in resources in the deep mountains. In those rural areas, Andrew had seen what other backpackers hadn’t.

Andrew's role had transformed tremendously for the past 15 years. From a promising engineer who enjoyed a stable life and backpacking, to a traveling philanthropist, Andrew combined travel, philanthropy and creative industries and finally become a full-time philanthropist. Though started out with nothing, brave as he was, Andrew rose to challenges. He was willing to take risks and had successfully opened more opportunities for voluntourism. So far, millions of people have been involved and brought modern educational resources to 66 million children in rural areas. Out of 2341 applicants worldwide, Andrew made it the best candidate for winning the Global Fervent for Love of Lives Medals, awarded by Chou Ta-kuan Cultural & Educational Foundation. 

Seeing Different Scenes in the Trip
Every youth dreams of travelling alone, and Andrew is no exception; he went to Yunnan province as his first backpacking trip. In 2000, he and several friends visited places such as Dali, Lijiang and Zhongdian. During their trip, a foreign friend cried out: “A School!” when they encountered the first primary school down the road, with only 3 teachers, and around 20 students in it. There were merely some broken desks and chairs to use in only 3 classrooms, and no sports facilities could be seen. Andrew suddenly realized that beneath the image of prosperity, these schools around the hot spot were extremely poor.

When Andrew travelled alone to Pingyao in 2002, he was overwhelmed by what he saw. He met a group of children playing soccer in a small yard. But after taking a closer look, the so called“soccer”was simply a plastic bag filled with colorful waste paper boxes; the plastic bag was glimmering bizarrely under the sun. Andrew would never forget this scene. These plastic bags were useless trash in big cities, yet in this village, they were toys that children spent time collecting and caring for. It downed on Andrew that poverty was neither far away nor nightmares for only a handful of people, rather, it had already affected people to a far greater extent than he had imagined.

The year 2004 was a turning point for Andrew. He travelled to a school in the west southern part of China. Once again, students there had no stationaries and the facilities were old and broken. Before returning to Beijing, he removed his backpack and left all the books and pens to the children.

When this trip ended, Andrew had a lighter backpack yet a heavier heart. He had seen children's thirst for knowledge, yet knowing how incapable he was with only himself to help them. He knew he had no resources. And even if he did, he couldn't have travelled to every village in China and brought resources to people in need of them.

Coincidentally, a friend of Andrew, Ying Jie Cui, told him a story right at the time. During the Chinese New Year, Cui visited Yubeng village in Dechen County, Lijiang Yunnan. In the 2-month stay, he met two female teachers from Kunyang, who were teaching in the small school there without any payment for the past 6 months. When Cui was about to leave, they asked him to bring some words of encouragement to teachers in another village: “You are not alone.” and “Success is to persist.” After going back to Beijing, Cui told Andrew the story which then deeply impacted him. Andrew thought, why not gathering friends who love to travel and bring changes to education in rural schools? With this idea in mind, he completed a project called “1 KG more” that night.

A simple idea put into practice
It's estimated that 66 millions of children in China alone were lack of learning materials, while over 3 hundred million people travel to countryside in China each year. Andrew thought, by bringing resources to children alone, he could only help perhaps 30 children each trip, but if as much as 3 hundred million people could bring some resources for the children when travelling, the problem would be easily taken care of.

Based on this idea, the first challenge Andrew met was how to promote his thoughts to these backpackers and make them join the act.

In the first two years, Andrew stayed in the IT company while at the same time, launching the movement of “1 KG More” online when he's off from work. With the help of his IT background, Andrew then established the website “1kg.org” to link backpackers alike in China.

The concept of the project was simple: every backpacker is encouraged to bring learning materials and resources for children in rural schools they encountered in their trips.

The structure and idea of the website “1kg.org” was borrowed from the creation of Wikipedia. Each backpacker bound for different destinations could report and update the needs from schools they visited online. Address, contacts and wish lists were provided by project participants on the website, so that backpackers could include “visiting schools” in their agenda before departure. With the information made public by backpackers throughout the country, these rural schools were therefore able to minimize the distance between themselves and backpackers thousands of miles away.

Be brave to accomplish
In the past two years, Andrew gradually found that his time after work was almost filled by 1kg.orgHe had to design projects, plan activities, contact with volunteers and media and so on. This was the moment when he realized that, perhaps he should consider being a full-time philanthropist.

Nevertheless, entrepreneurship was then considered risky and unpromising in the overall China society. Nobody would give up a lucrative job and devoted to work that didn’t seem to pay off. When Andrew was in such a dilemma, the inner adventurous side of him had won it all. He decided to change the way he thought: “If you are given three years for this, what exactly would you lose should you fail at the end?” This was the time when he finally realized that all his worries were unnecessary. The world wouldn’t come to an end even if he fails three years later, the worst scenario would be finding another job.

The dream of being a millionaire was shattered when he resigned the job. For most of the people, to give up on a job that promised high salary and bright future was undoubtedly a difficult choice.

However, Andrew said, “It's not about the money, rather, it's something that you go for once finding out it’s necessary. This kind of life doesn't offer you a mansion or a sports car, but I don't want to grow old with only big houses and cars without ever pursuing my dreams.”

Failure Is the Best Teacher to Success
After his resignation in 2006, Andrew traveled around rural areas in China, looking for inspiration for his new career. Together with a group of volunteers, they explored the possibility of further developing into a social enterprise. In 2007, Andrew established a team for “1 KG More”, and started to try out new charity projects to keep the team sustainable. From 2007 to 2010, “1 KG More” team launched several experimental operating programs, including publishing charity books, building libraries for schools in affected areas, selling charity greetings cards, and building community participation websites. Feeling mentally and physically exhausted, the team was far from reaching the goal of being charitable and making a profit at the same time, but could only maintain basic operation.

 Andrew recalled, “During that period of time, I was like a warrior cutting my arm off after being bitten by a poisonous snake. Fortunately, I was an octopus. I had more than two arms, so cutting off a few of them was not a big deal.”

For Andrew, these years of failure gave him a great opportunity to learn and reflect. The stumbles along the path did not shake his determination. He still believed that even if he fails, there’s nothing to lose, so why not give it a shot? The failure experiences helped him acquire keen insight to make good judgements, and establish an operation process for the organization’s sustainable development.

He started to think, “Is providing supplies enough for rural education?”

Andrew once went to Baoshan High School at Lijiang and audited one period of Chinese class. That was the most unforgettable experience. Baoshan is one of Lijiang’s most remote townships. It takes seven hours to drive from Lijiang to Baoshan and the road condition is poor. That hour of class was about a classical Chinese article, “Viewing the Tide”, which depicts the spectacular sight of Qiantang River Tide. To his surprise, as the teacher stepped onto the podium, she didn’t start to talk about the article right away. Instead, she said the following words.

“Dear students, the article for today’s class is “Viewing the Tide.” However, we’re in the mountains. Neither you nor I have seen the ocean. We don’t have any related pictures or DVDs in school as well. So later on when I’m explaining the text, I want all of you to use your wild imagination and picture the Qiantang River Tide by yourself!”

Andrew realized that for rural schools, the lack of knowledge was a more urgent problem than the shortage of material resources. It was a more difficult issue to cope with, and he found out that arts knowledge and life skills were particularly insufficient.

From a Humanity Point of View
Andrew Yu’s educational concept is very different from the mainstream. For those rural children, knowledge of everyday life is much more important than exams. From Andrew’s point of view, tests are utilitarian, whereas general knowledge is practically applied to daily life. Children should not only be taught how to memorize things and get high scores, but know how to apply what they’ve learned to their lives. Life skills like how to wash your hands or brush your teeth may be simple to us, but are in fact what those children need to learn.

Traditional subjects emphasize comprehension. However, comprehension along is not enough to enable children to discover and solve problems in real life. The traditional way of teaching aims at training students to accept certain concepts by means of indoctrinating, punishing and scolding, and offering inducements. These methods may be effective in helping students build short-term memories, but the information they memorized cannot be applied to everyday life. Therefore, Andrew put more emphasis on “discovering problems,” the first step of learning before comprehension. If students discover their own problems, they would be motivated to solve them. Once the problems are solved, the skills and knowledge they’ve learned can be put into practice. To Andrew, learning process is made up with three steps: problems finding, comprehension, and taking actions. Only by completing the whole process can children truly learn the knowledge.

Andrew and his team conducted surveys and interviews with rural teachers to better understand the situation. They found out that due to limited numbers of teachers in rural schools, most teachers are responsible for several classes at the same time. In some schools, one teacher has to teach all the subjects for the entire grade. Oftentimes, because of limited time and energy, these over-burdened teachers are only able to cover the main subjects like Chinese, Math, and English, and have no spare time for courses like PE and art. For this reason, many schools give up these types of classes altogether.

After some research, Andrew’s team developed a teaching material box, which is called “1 KG Box”, for volunteers and teachers. They designed themes that can inspire students’ creativity, and drew comics that demonstrate teaching steps. By doing so, once they receive the box, teachers and volunteers could start teaching a class right away without any training in advance.

The first batch of boxes covered four topics: arts, handicrafts, reading, and drama. With business sponsorship, nearly three thousand boxes were distributed to over two hundred schools. Later on, Andrew’s team further discovered two more urgent issues that rural students often neglect, namely, life management and personal growth. Many children have never developed basic health and hygiene habits. They drink unboiled water, buy unhealthy snacks, and they are not used to washing their hands and brushing their teeth. They also lack the knowledge of traffic safety and disaster prevention and response. And owing to collective accommodation, students encounter many problems related to social interaction. School bullying happens a lot because students don’t know how to deal with conflicts. Facing these problems, Andrew invented new boxes for these children: “Hand-Washing Box”, “Know Your Snacks Box”, “Road Traffic Safety Box”, and “End a Fight Box”.

Innovative Charity for Everyone
The creation of “1 KG More” provides new thinking for backpackers. Backpackers coming from all directions embark on a journey to connect themselves with the world. And by exploring the world, they know themselves better.

Backpackers are no longer bystanders that purely observe the needs of others. Instead, through the website, 1kg.org, they are now charity activists. “1 KG Box” pushes the boundaries even further by turning activists into organizers, enabling every single person to take part in the movement. As Andrew puts it, “Charity shouldn’t be restricted to only a small group of VIPs, famous philanthropists, or the rich. All of us can be a part of it, and everyone has the power to be the one that makes a difference.”

The core value of “1 KG More” is equality. Given the fact that every region and every ethnic group has different needs for knowledge because of varying geographical and cultural backgrounds, Andrew’s “1 KG Box” makes adaptations accordingly. He believes that forcing rural students to take tests rather than teaching them life skills would be a kind of self-centered arrogance toward knowledge and cultures.

“1 KG More” seeks to break down the traditional top-down hierarchy of the giver and the recipient. With “1 KG Box”, backpackers walk into rural schools and interact with the children. During the process of exchanging ideas, they establish equal relationship with those children. The bond between them is based on true friendship rather than short-lived sympathy or pity. This has also changed the definition of the word “Voluntourism”. In the past, people believed that donating money was sufficient to help those in needs. However, true fellowship and sincere compassion is what money can’t buy. With successful operating models and programs, “1 KG More” is promoting a new way of thinking about charity. 

From an IT engineer to an expert in voluntourism, Andrew comes to realize that using the power of creativity to solve problems is more interesting and challenging than simply donating money and goods. Good design and projects also create greater and longer impact than traditional charity. Hoping to see backpackers making friends with teachers and children in rural schools, he built a website called “1kg.org”. As he recognized the fact that creativity is more powerful than doctrines and materials in changing a child’s life, he designed “1 KG Box”.

Andrew helps us realize that charity should always be focusing on people, and the fact that money cannot really satisfy our genuine needs. When he chose to leave IT company, he knew that he didn’t want a life with big houses but no dreams. He discovered along the way that his life job lies in charity. Andrew, as well as other backpackers, will continue to walk into rural areas and help more rural children.