By Rita Chen
There are countless and valuable things I have learned as an intern of Growing Food and Sustainability. In this entry, I want to talk briefly about my feelings over using young people as productive power across cultures. I was born and raised in Taiwan, a country where Chinese is the dominant culture. After coming to the US to study as an undergraduate student, I observed difference in people’s attitude and faith in what children and young people could achieve between the two continents.
Nothing has moved me more than seeing our members cooperate and accomplish so many things with our bare hands and sweat. Within a couple months, we restarted compost, weeded and seeded the Youth Farm, ran a stand at the Farmers’ Market, set up a drip irrigation system, and built a fence around the farm to protect vegetables from hungry wild animals. The children at the summer camp also eagerly participated in our farm works. They proved to me that young people, even teenagers, are just as capable at many tasks as older adults are.
I recalled being a homeschooler when I was 14. My parents and I were trying to find part-time jobs and volunteer works for me to gain experiences from the society. However, while teenagers commonly baby-sit and garden in the US, no one hires (and trusts) an underage person in Taiwan. Even an animal protection organization apologized to me that they don’t take in volunteers younger than 18.
It’s cultural perception of what young people should be doing. Most kids and teens in Taiwan, if their families are functioning well, are expected to do nothing but studying. The pale and droopy students, often lack of physical activities, move from schools to the night tutors, and finally home to finish their typical day. I asked my parents what about the teens whose families aren’t offering enough financial support? They answered that the teens often have to work as underage labor at drink stands and restaurants. They are underpaid because they are illegally working to begin with; they cannot complain or charge their employers. The labor of teens is not valued and respected but treated as a cheaper alternative.
Working with GFS has made me stronger, both physically and mentally. I believe we are doing the right thing: we promote and value the power of youth. Young people learn by getting their hands on real things, interacting with others, and making mistakes. It means a lot to me seeing children at the camp are able to play games, harvest produce, calculate the weight of produce, and pick up compost with us. Their spirits are encouraged when they know that their efforts count and they’re making a difference. I hope societies around the world could appreciate, respect, and use the power of young people by encouraging them to engage in works commensurate with their ages and abilities. Every kid and teen could have fun, become a member of the community at earlier ages, and shine with his or her individual talents.
Author: Rita Chen is an international student from Taiwan currently studying at UW-Madison. She is our bug expert and draws wonderful bug-themed cartoons that our campers love!