During a visit at Dandelion, an exhibition of beautiful handwritten letters came to my attention. Seventh graders in Teacher Wang Jien Hua's class wrote these letters, each to one of their parents, sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings. Teacher Wang is a strict, stern, and totally dedicated teacher. She never gives up on a student. Her students fear, respect, and love her.
With the help of the Beijing-based Xin Lian Xin (Heart to Heart volunteer project), Dandelion has set up an activity to address the gap between many students and their parents. Every year, students are asked to write personal letters to their parents, which are then read during parents' meetings at school. Many students feel estranged from their parents, while the latter cannot grasp what is going on emotionally with their children. This letter writing assignment has become a powerful tool to heal these wounds and reconnect the two generations.
While reading these letters, I came upon a moving assignment given by Teacher Wang. She asked her students to wash the feet of their parents. Many students were deeply affected by this project. The feet-washing assignment not only had an impact on the psyche of the students, it also touched the lives of some members of their families. Zhang Bing Xin's father was so moved when his feet were washed that he made a special trip home to wash the feet of his mother. Bing Xin said, "I want to wash their feet often now when I have the opportunity to show my appreciation and gratitude."
The story of Liao Shu Li, the award-winning student mentioned earlier, testifies to the power of Teacher Wang’s assignment that students wash the feet of their parents.
Before Liao Shu Li became a student at Dandelion, she would start arguments when her parents did not satisfy her demands. Rarely did she help her parents with housework. Shu Li’s brother was a college student. In order to earn enough money to pay tuition for their two children, Shu Li’s parents worked long hours everyday at Daxing, planting, harvesting, and selling vegetables. Every penny earned came from their sweat and labor. But Shu Li seemed indifferent to her parents’ situation. She took everything for granted, until the day she was given the assignment by Teacher Wang.
At the beginning, her parents refused such a practice. Her father said, "I am a peasant. I am not a big shot. How can I accept to have my feet washed! I am not able to provide well for my daughter. How can I allow her to wash my feet!" Shu Li insisted. Her parents reluctantly complied. During the washing, tears filled her father’s eyes.
Yet the one who was most affected by the assignment was little Shu Li. When she touched her mother’s feet, so hardened by the long years of labor that the skin was cracked, she understood the meaning of the assignment and why her parents could not grant her every wish.
From then on, Shu Li became a different person. She no longer demanded money. She started helping her parents with their work, rolling up the straw mattresses to the top of the large plastic barrel every morning and letting them down in the evening. She helped them in the fields and with housework as well.