Galleries : A tradition of generosity
For most of us who have grown up on the Vineyard, the extent of our awareness of China is very limited. For Laura Kimball, however, China represents the world that she was once very much a part of, the traditions and culture she was raised with, and the country to which she will one day return. A resident of Oak Bluffs, Laura is a senior at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.
On hearing about the destruction in China caused by the May 12 earthquake and its aftermath, Laura decided to raise awareness of and money for the international relief efforts. The disaster is most recently reported to have taken the lives of over 62,000 people in Sichuan Province, an area of China best known in the West for its spicy cuisine.
Born in Northern China's Ningxia Province, Laura is ethnically Chinese, looks Mongolian, and yet talks like and lives the daily life of your average American teenager. "The Vineyard is home right now" she says, "but I think of myself as a Chinese person" Laura asserted, pensively considering her American and Chinese identities. "My mom says when I go back to China I'll be treated as an American and will have a hard time fitting in".
As of this summer Laura will have spent half of her life among hundreds of young Chinese orphans in an orphanage in Northern China and the other half about 8,000 miles away as an American teenager with a loving family among the Island community. "I was supposedly left in front of the orphanage door as a baby," she said. Laura, or Jin Ju (her Chinese name meaning golden chrysanthemum) remembers walking for miles to get to school every day in the village of Yinchuan where the orphanage was. At age nine, Laura spent the year jumping from one Chinese foster family to another. "I just wanted a family," she explained.
That was when she found Penn and Julie, or when Penn and Julie found Laura. She was nine years old, she didn't speak English, and her new parents didn't speak Chinese. "There was lots of pointing and sign language." She remembers being so excited for her first day of third grade here on the Vineyard, that she was completely dressed with her backpack on ready to go to school at 4:30 in the morning! "So I just waited in my clothes for hours, all ready to go to school" she giggled.
Here on the Vineyard, her family continues to celebrate the Chinese New Year, one of the most important holidays in China, but otherwise, for Laura, Chinese culture has become increasingly foreign. Yet Laura is ready to go back and learn more.
This fall, Laura plans to return to China. After ten years of living in America, now with only a faint recollection of the Chinese language and life in China, she will spend time volunteering in Xi'an, for a portion of her gap year before attending Eckerd College. "I want to go find my parents and learn about Chinese culture" she said.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
In preparation for her trip, Laura is studying Mandarin Chinese with Theresa Yuan, the same woman who she worked with learning English ten years ago.
Fundraising for the earthquake relief is not the first time Laura has been active supporting causes larger than herself (she and a neighbor raised money for Katrina victims two years ago) but this time is different, she says. "I saw the pictures and I just felt like it could have been me. I felt like I really had to do something." With the help of friends Carol Mercier, Marjorie Lucas, Rosa Parker, Laura got to work immediately and has devoted much of her time in the last few weeks collecting Island donations. With help from numerous generous Islanders, she has already collected over $2,400, reaching almost half of her goal of $2,500 to send to China to assist with the international relief efforts.
Often with a friend by her side, Laura sits discretely behind a "Please Help" sign at public venues around the Island asking passersby to donate anything they can. All proceeds will be sent to Save the Children foundation. Laura reassures donors that 93 percent of donations go directly to aid projects in the areas most devastated by the earthquake in China through building child-friendly centers and temporary classrooms for primary school children. All donations are welcome. Checks can be made payable to The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, memo: earthquake relief, and can be mailed to: Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, P.O. Box 1385, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.
Oak Bluffs resident Olivia Lew is recent graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, fluent in Chinese and a student of Chinese culture.