Scholarship and education

Volunteering without a license

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Eckart Loewe with his students in 2006

Eckart Loewe (卢安克), a volunteer teacher in a remote village in south China, used to keep a personal blog on which he described his thoughts on rural education.

Loewe works with "left behind children" (留守儿童), rural kids whose parents have gone elsewhere to make money as migrant workers. In the years he has been in China, he has kept a low profile and has refused TV interviews, preferring to concentrate on his work. However, at the end of 2009, he agreed to be interviewed by Chai Jing for CCTV's One on One program. Then he was profiled by the mainland's print media in both Chinese and English. The attention he received apparently grew too hard to handle, and earlier this week he shut down his blog.

Here is a translation of the statement he posted to his website:

I am not a native of this country, yet by interfering in business that a foreigner should not interfere in, I have made some natives uncomfortable. So as not to damage your pride, I should not interfere in the matter of left behind children. But if I drop it, then my students will be very upset. There is only one way to resolve this conflict: if outsiders don't know, then one will be made uncomfortable by my actions.

Attention from society has already exceeded my endurance; I cannot endure the consequences, responsibility, and stress brought about by society's response, so I can't let any more people learn about my situation. So I have to shut down my blog. I ask for your understanding.

Ultimately, more and more people will be uncomfortable for me, but I really do not want anyone to be made uncomfortable because of me.

At the request of the relevant departments, I make the following statement: I have no formal status as a volunteer, and I am not credentialed to teach in China.

If anyone tells you that I am promoting a particular person or thing, then you ought to know: I do not partner with others, I only serve others. If anyone collects fees or donations in my name, they retain them. I do not accept money. If somewhere you see me telling people to do things, you should know: that is not my intention. I will not tell people to do anything.

A screenshot of his blog, taken from a cached copy Baidu made on May 19, shows a wealth of content that has now been removed. The accompanying website (Jiaoyu.org), which contains Loewe's translations into Chinese of education-related materials as well as information about other programs, is still accessible.

On My1510, a blogger posting under the name Bingpu (冰瀑, "icefall") contrasted the warning Loewe received from local authorities with the media attention he generated earlier in the year:

Who Are You Making Uncomfortable, Eckart Loewe?

By Bingpu

Because "he is unqualified to be a volunteer or teacher in China" and because he does not want to be bothered by the media, Eckart Loewe has shut down his blog.

At the start of the year, CCTV broadcast an interview with German volunteer Eckart Loewe, touching the hearts of many ordinary Chinese people. But at the same time, this also brought him a warning from the Guangxi Autonomous Region Public Security Department: he was unqualified to be a volunteer or a teacher in China. The implication was that he should not appear in the media and should not discuss issues related to Chinese education and left behind children. Otherwise, the "relevant departments" would take action against his "illegal activities" and could expel him from the country at any time.

This is highly unreasonable. If the "relevant departments" at the Guangxi Public Security Department had seen reports about Loewe, and if they had looked into things at the primary school in the village of Banlie in Qiexue Township, Donglan County, Hechi, Guangxi, where he has done volunteer work for nearly a decade, then they would have acted quickly to offer him assistance – if, according to certain rules, Loewe may indeed be "unqualified" to serve as a volunteer or countryside teacher. But they did not provide any help or services. Instead, they issued a warning, which is tantamount to saying that a young man who loves China and has put his life and efforts into the research and practice of education in the Chinese countryside is not welcomed by the Chinese government. Someone akin to Norman Bethune or Lei Feng is "illegal" in China.

This is not the first time this has happened. In October 1997, when Loewe was volunteering as an instructor at a vocational school for the disabled in Xining, Guangxi, his passport was confiscated by the Xining Public Security Bureau and he was fined 3,000 RMB. You should know that Loewe has volunteered as a teacher in Guangxi for over a decade and has not accepted a cent from a school. The three or four thousand RMB he lives off of every year comes from his parents, far off in Germany. His monthly expenditures total less than 200 RMB, and he saves a portion to print teaching materials or provide assistance to poor students.

When Loewe returned to China in 1999, he set up an office to legitimize make his status and goals. He subsequently moved from Xining to Yangshuo to escape the score-centered abuses of exam-centered education and to better explore and implement quality education, and finally selected the impoverished county of Donglan, and settled into a remote village called Banlie. At Banlie Primary School, he spent a decade as a rural teacher, eating sweet potato leaves and cabbage stir fried with salt, receiving not a cent in wages. During that time, this young man who endured the same difficult existence as the farmers in China's poorest region while engaging in highly creative research and practice, contracted hepatitis and nearly lost his life in a car accident.

When his visa expired in 2006, Loewe was forced to leave China again, the country to which he had devoted his life. His desire to gain Chinese citizenship was but a dream, and all of his research and experience went unrecognized by the publishing world. Although he had help from friends in the news media, from well-known academics and education specialists there was not a word. And a foreigner who has not made "great contributions," be he Norman Bethune or a "western Lei Feng," cannot gain Chinese citizenship.

In 2007, a tenacious Loewe returned to Banlie to continue volunteering as a rural instructor, where he remains to this day. Loewe has kept a personal website and blog since 2001. The website contains translations of education-related works amounting to more than a million characters. On the blog, he has selflessly posted the results of his research, hoping that they will be of assistance to others. At the start of this year, after a long-term avoidance of the media, he cautiously accepted an interview in the hopes of satisfying the needs of many more people, but what he received instead was a warning from the local public security agencies. This was the reason Loewe gave me for refusing an interview when I saw him in Banlie in April. Everything Loewe has done he has done openly. Nothing he does bears the shadow of illegality.

Loewe said that he shut down his blog so that he would not make "natives" uncomfortable. On one side are those made "uncomfortable" by the good works of others, and who issue "warnings" out of ulterior motives. On the other are the ordinary people who truly honor and respect him. I am not made uncomfortable by Loewe, who has put everything toward the pursuit of his own ideals. What he serves is the "humanitarian spirit," and those who benefit are the children of Banlie Primary School. What makes me uncomfortable is that this after he has endured so much, the country has at last harmed him. As a native of this country, I must make my opinion known.

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There are currently 4 Comments for Volunteering without a license.

Comments on Volunteering without a license

> any qualifications in China as a teacher

The original says 教师资格, which I think is short for 教师资格认证 or teaching credential. So he was probably asked to state that he isn't credentialed to teach in a public school in China, which I'm almost 100% certain is true.

Yes, uncredentialed would probably be a better term there. The blogger makes the point that local officials could have issued him credentials fairly easily if they so wished.

What's odd is that according to a Southern Weekly profile done in 2007, he was credentialed as an international volunteer by the Communist Youth League in April of that year. That status was only in effect for one year -- I wonder why it wasn't renewed?

He is a young guy worth of tons of respect and encourage. I know that there are lots of problems with Chinese government,but he is doing something for kids and no matter what. I hope he can stand up all the misunderstandings and insist on what is right. Cheer up. Loewe.

Will your country change the immigration law for that one person?

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