From freshwomen to empowered young ladies

Participants of the U for Girls Workshop 2019

Amity's University for Girls (U for Girls) program, has provided scholarships and accommodated more than 450 female university students in difficult living circumstances over the past 11 years. Often tragic individual life stories lie behind their participation in the U for Girls program. Besides financial support, the program also provides workshops to support personal development.

Mouths open in awe and eyes completely focused on the speaker, the audience of 40 university students listen to a young lady filled with self-confidence. The lady who shares her life story in a classroom at Guiyang University, Guanxi Province; is Yang Zheng Mei. She is an alumni and former participant of Amity's University for Girls program.

The female students of the class, who will graduate after this semester, cannot avert their eyes from Yang Zhei Mei. The way she speaks is almost mesmerizing, without breaks; and was professional as a TED talk.

Yang Zhei Mei, an alumnus of the U for Girls Program, is giving an inspiring presentation to the 4th grader before their graduation this year

Gender-inequality still exist

Although the number of female university students in China is slightly higher than the number of boys, there are much more male postgraduates. Company executives in higher positions are also more likely to be male. Being considered responsible for children and family, women often still face severe obstacles to pursue their career and life dreams. Such gender-inequality still exists nowadays in most countries around the world.

To ease the burden of girls who already come from unfortunate backgrounds, the U for Girls program selects such students who fit the requirements and are recommended by their schools. Afterwards, the girls have to pass an interview to receive financial support by Amity. From the first year on, the program accompanies the young students and supports their development and self-confidence through workshops.

How to pursue and reach goals

The first-year “freshwomen” will develop a vision for their career paths. Games help them to self-assess their interests – in fields of social, creative, mechanical or mathematical work. The girls develop a sense of career direction for themselves through small group activity and discussion. This helps many of the shy students to open up and to communicate with each other with ease.

Upon asking one of the 4th semester students what she liked most about the program, she answers: “In the workshops of the U for Girls program I met my best friend.”

"By the second year, the students set personal goals and targets. They learn techniques on how to pursue and reach goals systematically, and also become aware of these skills", explains Donald, project officer of Amity. Societal trends, such as the impact of advertising and consumerism, are discussed as well.

In the workshops the young women are not only acquainted with, but are also given opportunity to scrutinize concepts of gender roles and societal norms. In contrast to common teacher-centered education, the girls develop their own way of thinking and learn logic and critical thinking in an interactive and fun way.

Amity's program officer Donald Tam during a workshop session with 3rd grades of the U for Girls project

Experienced volunteers accompany this process

Volunteers from Hong Kong guide the girls in their discussion if necessary

Experienced volunteers from Hong Kong accompany the learning process as tutors and give guidance if necessary. During the self-assessment and self-introduction sessions of the workshop, the girls exchange a lot of their experiences and ideas with each other and there is much enjoyment and laughter.

The program fosters and encourages personal and character development. This helps to build independent citizens who are taking responsibility not only for their own in society, but also for their environment and others around them. The development of the women who are already in their 4th year and will graduate after this semester can be clearly witnessed. They have grown into mature and confident young women.

In the last year of the program, alumni students are invited to talk about their life and experiences after graduation. The alumni speakers are an inspiration for the girls and encourage the graduates by sharing their post-grad success stories.

Pursuing a career and life

U for Girls students share their mindset in an authentic way, demonstrating different possible paths for young women pursuing careers and individual lives, despite prevalent conventions and extenuating circumstances.

Mr. Ye, the backbone and long-term supporter of the U for Girls program, responds to the question regarding why young girls in the program should be supported: “Women are often the structures of the family; they shape the family and have most influence on the kids. With good educated mothers, children will benefit as well”.

Mr. Ye, long-term supporter of the U for Girls Program, interacting with the participants during a group session

Yang Zheng Mei works for “Be Better”, an NGO dedicated to financial education for children and youth. As a young child her father passed away and she was abandoned by her mother. With the help of the U for Girls program, she was able to graduate as an engineer. After working a couple of months in this field after graduation, she wanted to have a more meaningful work following her motto: “Find something you like and then try to earn money with it."

After writing down their wishes and dreams for the future, the participants of the U for Girls program let those wishes "fly" in form of paper planes