A Reflection on My Journey as a Teen Feminist (in 2017 Winter)
"I'm a feminist," I used to declare proudly in countless self-introductions and interviews. I held onto the identity of a feminist, even though most people around me saw it as a label driven by ulterior motives. My intention, however, was always to "stand at the center of the world and call for love."
At 2017 winter, I signed up for the Street Women Research project in Kenya. Just started to realize what is women's rights.
We strolled through the streets of Kenya, observing sights that were both intriguing and surreal: $2 jeans for sale, African women balancing large baskets of bananas on their heads, and heaps of plastic waste. Each frame of these images felt like a rare piece of surreal art. Holding a small notebook, I attempted to hide my fear in the bright sunlight as I slowly interviewed every person I was fortunate enough to encounter. When I looked back, the sun was scorching, but the waves of water were gentle.
I met Carol and realized 5 dollars is enough for a Kenyan woman to start up. Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum, Carol, a single mother who had lived on the streets for ten years. Carol escaped from an abusive household and ended up on the streets. In her struggle to survive, she had to resort to selling her body for money. Eventually, she met her former "husband" and cohabited with him, but he disappeared without a trace when she became pregnant.
Now, the place she called a cherished home was no larger than five square meters, with abandoned iron materials serving as the door. We pushed the half-open door and tried to greet her. Carol's room had no light, and she sat on one of the room's four pieces of furniture, holding her child. In the dim light, I couldn't see her expression, and her gaze seemed to pierce right through us.
She said she had been saving money to buy a deep fryer for making French fries. This food was popular locally, and she wanted to open a small shop in the center of the slum to give her daughter a better life, at least enough to afford the rent.
I discreetly left 500 Kenyan shillings under her pillow, a small gesture of support to help kickstart her entrepreneurial journey. I hoped that her French fry business would start sooner, thrive, and enable her and her child to leave their cramped home.
Every day, I heard nearly ten stories like this one. Each one pierced my heart, and I felt the pain again when organizing the interview materials. What I used to proclaim as "gender inequality" sounded utopian and shallow when there were still women in the world enduring such hardships for survival. My idea of feminism learned from books, seemed somewhat naive.
A Journey from Inspiration to Impact (in 2018)
In 2018, at the age of 18, my journey with China House's youth program ignited a spark within me. Inspired by the eye-opening trip and conversations with fellow young changemakers, I found my calling. I wanted to dive deeper into the issues I'd encountered and make a meaningful impact.
I started by organizing a TEDxTalk event, 'Minority Report,' with a mission to break the silence around feminism and women's rights. This was my way of tearing down the veils of secrecy and engaging in open, passionate discussions on these vital topics. It was a challenge, but I was determined to invite speakers from diverse fields and countries to explore these issues in the Chinese context.
Upon my return to China, I continued my mission by sharing my insights on women's rights, Africa, and poverty. I published my research findings in The China Africa Project Journal and seized opportunities to advocate for these causes within my school community.
Later, my journey led me to the University of California, Berkeley, a place known for its history of activism and inclusion. While my formal association with China House(Global Citizen Action) had concluded two years prior, the impact of my experiences in Africa continued to shape my path. I became more focused on how 'I' could contribute to making a difference in the world."
Once Africa, Always Africa (in 2020)
Reflecting on the past, I can't help but smile at my youthful antics and immature thoughts during my high school days. It's incredible how life can take unexpected turns, as I rediscovered my connection with China House during a casual scroll through my phone over winter break.
I distinctly recall that evening while enjoying a concert by Sunset Rollercoaster. I stumbled upon a China House Management Trainee recruitment post, initially giving it a cursory glance and then dismissing it. However, destiny had other plans for me. Ten minutes later, I found myself reopening my friend's social media feed and carefully reading through the post. On my way back, I pondered, and before bed, I pondered some more. There was something undeniably unique about the China House internship—an opportunity for a small individual like me to make a meaningful impact on the world. So, I made the decision to turn down other spring internships, completed the trainee written test, and proudly became a part of the China House family.
During my days as a trainee, I embarked on a virtual journey to Africa countless times. Whether it was burning the midnight oil to write articles or diving into desk research, it felt as though I was on a voyage through Nairobi in the digital realm. My friends playfully teased that, after this internship, I might transform into a fairy with knowledge spanning astronomy, geography, and humanities. Jokes aside, each day spent at China House allowed me to ask myself, much like Yang Qihan, "Have I become more knowledgeable today than I was yesterday?" I genuinely rejoiced at the thought that my efforts were making a small but significant difference in the world.
A few days ago, while immersed in research, my friend Jiaying and I engaged in a profound conversation about my emotions during this journey. It was undoubtedly a challenging period, marked by the Red Cross scandal, the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, and international students facing discrimination amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The barrage of negative news weighed heavily on my heart. My role at China House involved researching and writing articles based on current events and being a highly empathetic individual. Each time I encountered distressing news, I felt a whirlwind of emotions—shock, anger, and helplessness.
I shared my initial draft with Jiaying, expressing, "Every time I delve into research on these topics, it feels like the world is becoming a darker place." Her response was a beacon of hope: "But you must believe that what you're doing now is making the world better."
Once Africa, always Africa.