I grew up in Beijing in the 60s during China’s politically instability and did not have the chance to finish my own education. Instead I was sent to Gansu, the poorest province in China, and worked in a factory for 8 years. In 2005, having lived in Canada for over 20 years experiencing the society of abundance, and being inspired by my own children growing up with all the opportunities, I decided do my own share – providing rural girls and young women in rural China the opportunities of getting an education. I deeply believe that educated women have educated children, and educating women is the fundamental way of lifting people out of poverty and building better societies for all.
2005 – The Starting Point
In Spring 2005, I went back to Longxi County in Gansu Province where I had lived with my mother for 8 years. With the intention of supporting girls’ education, I wanted to check out the situation and the need.
I visited several local elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, met with students and their families, and witnessed poverty firsthand. Gender inequality is deeply rooted in the culture, where girls’ education is usually interrupted before they reach 12 or 13 years of age. That visit confirmed my belief that educating girls is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and that rural girls needed support in order to achieve an education.
Upon returning to Vancouver, I registered EGRC as a charity, and raised $27,000 through an art auction and a concert. I returned to Gansu in Summer that same year, and that was the very first time EGRC sponsored 24 university girls and 150 elementary school girls in Longxi and Yongdeng counties.
2007 – Establishing Emotional Connection and Support System
Since 2005, I have been meeting with the sponsored girls every summer in their hometowns. In 2006 and 2007, I was able to continue and take on more university students each year.
In the Spring of 2007, I returned to China and travelled to different cities to visit our girls at their universities. I was further convinced that there was a big disparity between the city and rural-born students and our girls felt isolated in their new environment. I decided to build a system to provide ongoing emotional support. This was essential in addition to our financial sponsorship. Through regular online and in-person communications, I established a close and trusting relationship with the girls, and the friendships gradually blossomed among them. This laid a foundation for their future success. Till today, they feel like EGRC is their second family.
2009 – First 24 Girls Graduated
EGRC reached its first milestone in 2009 – the first group of 24 university students graduated.
To mark this occasion, I invited three of our graduates to visit Vancouver, and the local Canadian supporters met the EGRC girls for the first time. A concert was organized to celebrate this occasion, and the local media took great interest in this event. One of the students was featured on the cover page of Vancouver Courier, and CBC’s Duncan McCue reported on this event which was broadcasted on Canadian national television.
2011 – Support from the Canadian Ambassador to China
In 2011, I met with the Canadian Ambassador to China, David Mulroney, and introduced my work. Since then, David has become a supporter and introduced me to the Canadian business community in Beijing.
From that point onwards, EGRC has received financial support from different Canadian corporations such as Eldorado Gold, Teck Resources, and the Canada China Business Council (CCBC). Later on, we gradually gained support from a wide range of international communities, including embassies, business chambers, international schools and other businesses. To date, we have built a solid fundraising capacity in Beijing and Shanghai.
2012 – High School Program Established
In September of 2012, I started the high school program by taking on the first group of 60 students. By 2020, 412 girls have graduated, and 359 girls are currently in the program.
Toronto Star China Correspondent, Bill Schiller, travelled with me to Gansu in May of 2012. His moving story was published in the following month. In the same year, EGRC’s university program expanded to Guizhou Province. In November CBC’s China Correspondent, Catherine Mercier, travelled to Gansu. EGRC’s work was once again featured on the Canadian National News.
2014 – EGRC Alumni Association Established
In 2014, EGRC Alumni Association was established, with the purpose of providing continued support to our graduates and building the EGRC community further. Since then, EGRC alumni have also become an important part of EGRC’s ongoing development. They are paying it forward by donating back, mentoring younger students and assisting our fundraising efforts. Through this process, some of them have become mentors and leaders of the EGRC community.
2015 – 10th Year Anniversary Celebration
In February of 2015, EGRC celebrated its 10th year anniversary in Vancouver, Canada. A dinner gala was hosted at Four Seasons Hotel and over 200 supporters attended. 14 EGRC alumnae paid for their own way to attend the celebration, where they were warmly received by the local supporters. They visited the University of British Columbia, Stanley Park, Whistler Mountain, and the capital of British Columbia, Victoria. They left with fond memories of the beautiful city and the hospitality of the local people.
2016 – Team Established in China
Prior to 2016 EGRC had no staff in China. It was a one-woman show and a couple of volunteers to assist in my efforts.
With the efforts of Dr. Ulrike Tagscherer, Munich Germany based Misereor Foundation started providing funding to EGRC in 2016. The sole purpose of this fund was to help EGRC build a team. In the same year, a program manager in Gansu and a marketing director in Beijing were in place. This was a crucial step that laid the foundation of EGRC’s development.
2017 – The Canadian Ambassador Visited Gansu
In August of 2017 the Canadian Ambassador to China, John McCallum, travelled to Gansu and visited EGRC girls and their families. Ren Guojuan left a particularly deep impression on the ambassador. The day she met the ambassador was the day she was leaving home to start university. Guojuan grew up with her grandmother. She was the first girl in her village to attend university.
Today, Guojuan is in the final year of completing her undergraduate studies in Finance. EGRC sponsored seven years of her education.
EGRC Girls Met with the Canadian Prime Minister
In November of 2017 EGRC met with the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in Beijing over a round table session. Five EGRC students and graduates, including Guojuan, attended the session and met with the Canadian PM. EGRC’s work and gender issue were discussed. The PM was impressed with the girls he met and praised the work of EGRC.
EGRC Registered in China
In the same year, EGRC registered in China under the Beijing United Charity Foundation.
2018 – Future Leader Program Established
Not only do rural young women deserve the opportunity to receive an education, but they also deserve the equal opportunity to discover their dreams and potential, and to develop the skills and confidence needed to fulfill them. More importantly, China and the world need more women leaders.
In the summer of 2018 Future Leader Program was launched, and 12 first-year university students were selected to join this program. In addition to the financial sponsorship, this program provides ongoing English classes, soft-skills training, and one-to-one mentorship and coaching. The first 12 girls in this program have gained confidence, leadership skills and many are active EGRC volunteers.
Celebration of 1,000 Girls Sponsored
In November of 2018, a gala was organized in Beijing to celebrate a new milestone – 1000 girls sponsored.
2020 – EGRC 15th Year and Thriving during the Pandemic
2020 is the first time in 15 years that I was not able to travel to China. We all learned to adapt to the new ways of working and connecting. I am extremely thankful to our loyal donors and supporters who provided essential funding for making this year remarkable. I also want to thank my dedicated team, and I am very proud of all our girls. I am listing the major events that happened during the pandemic which would make all of us proud.
- Some of our EGRC alumni are doctors and nurses. During the worst of the outbreak, several left their families behind to work on the frontlines to save lives.
SAY NO Campaign
- In March, EGRC launched a “SAY NO” campaign for the first time. The purpose of the campaign was to raise awareness and empower our girls with the knowledge and confidence to SAY NO when they encounter sexual harassment and abuse. This campaign will become an annual event at EGRC.
- In order to comprehend how our girls were handling the difficult situation during lockdown, a photo contest was held. It turned out to be the best way to highlight their realities and to better understand their livelihoods and resilience.
Graduation and Summer Activities
- When China successfully managed to control the virus, students started going back to school in May 2020. In early summer, 33 university students and 98 high school students graduated.
In August, EGRC carried on with the annual meeting and training with all university students and their parents. A three-day workshop – Be the Hero of Your Own Story – was also held and taught by Lin Gao, an influential trainer and coach. The girls were united and empowered by the unwavering support from EGRC.