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Jun 30, 2015  Nandao / China

Social engagement in China

Furniture for a better future

Unlike in China’s modern cities, people living in rural areas still struggle to survive, existing under harsh circumstances and in extreme poverty. A Henkel China initiative called the “Furniture Donation Project” strives to support some of China’s most remote villages. To break out of poverty, the people of rural China often migrate to big cities in large numbers, leaving behind run-down villages in desperate need of proper infrastructure and schools where facilities maintenance is neglected. A group of Henkel volunteers came together to help support villages in these remote areas of China.

Children outside their old school building in Nandao

Henkel employees Jens Schneider and Wilson Zhang (second and third from left in the background) with the children outside their old school building in Nandao.

Henkel employee Jens Schneider set up an initiative, traveling to Nandao, a village in the mountains of the Guizhou Province in the southwest of China together with his colleagues Wilson Zhang, Jacques Liu and Kevin Gu. In Nandao, the four volunteers delivered a furniture donation to the village’s school in cooperation with Haworth Asia-Pacific, a manufacturer and supplier for office furniture. Schneider and Zhang share their insight into the project.

Please tell us about the beneficiaries and the school.

Zhang: The school we donated to has 60 students. It is situated in Nandao, a remote area in the mountains, about 400 kilometers away from the nearest city. The highway to Nandao has also been damaged considerably due to landslides, which made our journey to the village quite difficult.

What inspired you to set up this project?

Schneider: A project in our department required us to be equipped with new office furniture. Therefore, our old cubicles were dismantled and stored in our basement. We decided that a donation project for schools would be the best option to reuse the furniture. The project was a joint idea, since Haworth has also organized this type of initiative in the past. Henkel donated old tables to Haworth, and they made new benches and tables out of them. We donated a total of 60 tables and 120 chairs to the school in Nandao.

Schneider (left) and his team set up the donated furniture

Schneider (left) and his team set up the donated furniture for the school in Nandao.

What kind of hardships do the villagers face and how does the project help them?

Schneider: Some of the village’s children attend school at a different location, which is three hours away from their village by foot. This situation is a great burden on families in the village. So with this project we are hoping to make these children return to Nandao and attend classes at the new school that has been refurbished for them.

Zhang: When we first visited Nandao, children were going to school in an old, run-down building. We installed the furniture on a weekend when the children were not in school. On the following Monday they entered the classrooms and were quite excited and happy to see their new school.

What were your most memorable moments?

Schneider: The most memorable moment was when the village elders came to us and thanked us several times for the donation. Hopefully this encourages the other children to return to Nandao to attend school there.

What would be your most important lesson from this project and what advice would you give?

Schneider: Our project was a small but substantial contribution to the village in Nandao. We had a lot of fun working together to install the furniture with the help of the villagers. Our experience shows that you really do not need a lot of money to do good. There are still so many things that we can do to help.

Zhang: I would say that for us, the act was small, but for the village it had a huge impact. If you are planning to volunteer in a remote area, you have to have a solid plan especially when it comes to logistics.