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Witness workers credited for “love fund” scholarships


Julie Bender speaks with scholarship recipients (l-r) Pan Gui Fang, Fan Chao, Zhang Xian Yong, and Xu Ben Yi.

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January 18, 2008
- Deborah Froese with Jeanette Hanson

CHONGQING, China — The presentation of twelve scholarships to freshmen at Chongquing Medical University last fall caught the attention of a student reporter. The resulting college newspaper article credits Julie and Philip Bender, Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada) Witness workers, and Mark Sunderman, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) worker, with helping poor students financially so that they can focus on their studies.

Entitled “Foreign Teachers Show Love by Collecting Donations for Poor Students,” the story reflects great appreciation for the teachers’ concern and support. It refers to the scholarship as a “love fund.”

In China, education beyond primary levels is hard to access. Fees are high and opportunities for entrance are few. Two years ago however, scholarships for students at Chongquing Medical University were created by Mennonite Partners in China (MPC) with funding from MCC Global Families Program. MPC is a partnership of four Mennonite agencies; MC Canada Witness – with whom the Benders work – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Mennonite Mission Network, (MMN) and Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM).

Scholarship or “love fund” recipients were selected by the university's Student Services office based upon financial need and willingness to consider employment after graduation in rural communities where medical care is difficult to access and sometimes substandard. Wang Fen Fen, second year dentistry student and a 2006 scholarship recipient, reflects on her rural home; “In Lian Yun Gang, the medical care is not very good. There have been accidents and deaths in the public hospital, which has angered the public. There are many complaints that the hospital care is too expensive and of poor quality.”

Most scholarship recipients are orphans or have only one parent, adding to their financial challenges. Chen Long, a student from Yilong county in eastern Sichuan, described his life before university. After his father died, he managed to complete middle school with the support of neighbors and friends. When his younger brother also expressed a desire for continuing education, dreams of high school seemed even further out of reach for Chen. As a 15 year old, he traveled to a small city near the provincial capital of Chengdu. With high test scores in hand, he managed to convince the principal of a new private high school to accept him under full scholarship. Chen’s high achievement level would help the new institution develop the kind of reputation needed to attract more students.

University life still poses challenges for Chen but thanks to part time jobs and his scholarship, he has managed. In his second year of study and majoring in Public Health Inspection, Chen looks to the future; he hopes to improve health care and disease prevention techniques, preferably back home in Yilong county.

As an orphan, Fu Juan Juan, a second year laboratory medicine student, spoke of the pressure her extended family endures to assist her with her university expenses. The scholarship she received last year eased some of that pressure. Like many other post-secondary students, Fu Juan Juan works part time tutoring middle school students in Chinese and Math.

Wang Fen Fen, who also tutors, echoed the importance of financial support. “The scholarship has helped relieve the burden on my family. It has helped me feel more relaxed and able to learn and try my best to do my studies and part-time jobs.”

Both Fu Juan Juan and Wang Fen Fen teach Chinese to Philip Bender.

Julie Bender has witnessed the impact financial struggle can have on students. “I have heard my students talk about poor classmates who are forced to eat only one meal a day,” she says.

For Bender, her role extends beyond language education. She sees her classroom as a space where students can explore their future as leaders in the medical field. “I thoroughly enjoy teaching my 270 medical students, who are both bright and have fairly high English-speaking skills this fall semester,” she said. “Therefore it is possible to engage them in discussions of various issues and values. What an awesome privilege to teach these ‘future leaders’ in Chinese society! I like to remind them of this fact.”

Bender’s student, Wang Fen Fen, has claimed that vision for her own. The second year dentistry student and one of the first MPC scholarship recipients at Chongquing, she dreams of being “a good dentist, with care, skill, honesty and loyalty to my patients.”

The Benders have been working at Chongqing Medical University for the last four years.