October 24, 2005

Hope Fest Raises Money For Chinese Education

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Students, staff and community members gathered yesterday for Hope Fest, a festival of Chinese culture organized by Cornell’s Project Hope to raise funds to sponsor educational costs for poor children in rural China.

“China has a very large population, and, because of that, it’s much harder to enforce education laws,” explained Leslie Huang ’06, founder and president of Cornell’s Project Hope. “We need more people to help out and money is needed for that as well.”

About 200 Hope Fest guests trickled in and out of Willard Straight’s Memorial Room during the afternoon, filling the room decorated with Chinese lanterns during the scheduled fashion show and dance performances and clustering around the calligraphy, food and information tables during the lulls between presentations.

Using the money donated at the free event and other fundraisers, the organization hopes to sponsor school fees for 20 Chinese students, doubling the number of sponsorships they were able to provide last spring when Project Hope began at Cornell.

To entertain Hope Fest guests, fashion show models dressed in brightly colored embroidered silks walked to the beat of music, earning laughs with Charlie’s Angels references and smiles as children joined the adults onstage. Both children and adults modeled the traditional quipao (women’s dresses), magua (men’s shirts) with a few more modern designs mixed in.

After the show people returned to eating, browsing and watching artist Jim Hardesty’s calligraphy brushes at work. As two great blue herons took shape under Hardesty’s fingertips he talked with visitors about his interest in calligraphy and East Asian studies.

When he first saw calligraphy as a four – year – old in a Chinese laundromat, Hardesty’s interest was piqued. The painter now teaches at the Johnson museum where some of his pieces are a part of the permanent collection and volunteers for events like Hope Fest.

“I do this for them so people donate a little money for the program,” Hardesty said.

Visitors paid to have messages written in calligraphy with the proceeds donated to the project. Other ways to contribute included a raffle, Asian souvenirs and donations.

142 million Chinese are illiterate, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), almost equal to half the population of the United States. In addition to sponsoring students’ school fees, the China – based parent organization Project Hope also works to build schools and create libraries to combat illiteracy and promote education.

“Many people think of China as a glamorous developing economy, but the rural areas are really very behind,” said Frances Yufen Lee Mehta, Senior Lecturer Asian Studies and faculty advisor for Project Hope. “With all the good living here people tend to forget, tend to take it for granted and never know that in other parts of the world there are people who are in need. We let students know for as little as $60 you can put children through school for a whole year. That is not something very far – fetched. It is easily do – able and in the meantime students learn how fortunate, how blessed they are here.”

A video at last year’s China night sparked Xi Wang’s ’06 involvement in Project Hope. Wang grew up in China and the charity appealed to her desire to help people in her native country.

“I went back to China this summer, and I went to a lot of the rural areas, and there’s a huge contrast [with the cities],” Wang said. “The urban areas are developing, and people are getting richer, but there’s always the poor class left behind in the countryside. I think everyone in the world should have some standard of living, and I think it’s the responsibility of people that are in better situations to try to help out as much as they can.”

A little later in the program five dancers from the Illuminations Dance Troupe took the stage; their music and quietly graceful movements were punctuated by the snapping open of fans in the Iron Fan Dance, a traditional Chinese dance meant to mimic warriors according to Sophia Luu ’07, president Illuminations Dance Troupe.

Other student groups such as the Chinese Folk Dance Troupe and Tzu Chi, a Buddhist based charity organization, contributed to the event by providing entertainment and volunteers. At the end of the day the organization earned about $800. “I’m really very happy,” Huang said. “It was a big success.”

Archived article by Katy Bishop
Sun Staff Writer