The prospect of travelling for hours by air to the other side of the world really made me nervous! But I was curious too and I felt immense appreciation at being given the honour of representing FunDza, my colleagues, directors, as well as our readers – our FunDza Fanz and, most profoundly for me, our FunDza Family, with whom I work and support.
So, on Sunday 24 September, Heritage Day in South Africa, I embarked on my journey to Jining, Shandong province in China to participate in the study tour, which formed part of the celebrations around the FunDza’s receipt of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy 2017.
Disbelief overwhelmed me when I stepped onto Chinese soil after two days of travelling. Boy, was I tired! But I was also emotional: never in my life had I imagined being a visitor to China. I got lots of stares from the locals – I looked totally different from everyone there. This set the tone for my stay in the country.
I was welcomed by Sandra, my escort and interpreter, as well as Mr Kong, whom I referred to as our protector. We were joined by fellow UNESCO Confucius prizewinners from The Citizen’s Foundation in Pakistan. There were two women, the kind and warmhearted Amna, along with her colleague, Ayesha. Being in the presence of these women made things far easier for me. We were supportive of each other and hopefully our encounter will be cherished by them as much as it was by me. Unfortunately the third UNESCO Confucius prizewinner from Colombia was unable to make the trip to China.
Sandra, a small petite woman and teacher by profession, deep rooted in her Chinese culture, found it hard to relate to me, especially as I am a tomboy and all. She mentioned that on the night of the Confucius prize-giving I should put a dress on. Afraid to disappoint her, I agreed, whilst knowing full well I did not have a dress with me, nor do I own one! Come the night of the award ceremony I put my formal navy blue shirt, light blue trousers, black suede shoes and formal light blue jacket on. She had the following to say, “You look very smart, handsome, just like a man.”
Each activity that we embarked on had to be rehearsed. I was suitably impressed at how organised, structured and disciplined the Chinese were throughout the Confucius festival. The strong appreciation of culture, norms and a way of doing things reinforced my awe.
I also learnt a lot about Chinese policies through my conversations with Sandra. One that stood out was the fact that couples are not supposed to have more than two children, this is considered unlawful in China.
I have to say that the Chinese are very creative when it comes to their food. There were all sorts of meat, salads, soups, seafood, sushi and I was reluctant to stray too far into the unknown!
We paid a visit to Qufu, where the great thinker and philosopher Confucius was born. We explored the mansion and the Temple of Confucius as well as Qufu Normal campus of Jining University. The tour was on a schedule, so the guide was extremely fast. We had to walk quickly to catch up and of course the media contingent added to the confusion! There were TV stations following us around, and we even made it into various newspapers.
The strong media attention really brought home to me the prestige of receiving the UNESCO Confucius Prize. All three UNESCO Confucius prize winners must have done something out of the ordinary to be awarded such an important award!
Later in the day we were joined by students from various African states which were sponsored by the Chinese Government as we walked through the various temples, universities and schools.
The International Seminar on Literacy and Skills Development in a Digital Age was held at Shengdu Hotel Conference Hall where various representatives from all over the world gathered.
It became apparent that I was not only representing FunDza, but South Africa as a country as well.
Each Confucius prize winner had to present their projects. Since FunDza is about telling people’s stories, it was easy for me to share FunDza’s story with the whole world with a big smile on my face. My presentation was well received and other representatives came to shake my hand after the seminar.
Later in the day we received a welcoming banquet hosted by Shandong Provincial Government and we were then escorted to Qufu Convention Center to attend the Ceremony of International Confucius Cultural Festival and the Awarding Ceremony of Confucius Prize for Literacy. Leaders from the Ministry of Education and UNESCO officials delivered their speeches and announced the winner list. We were presented with the award – a beautiful wooden sculpture of Confucius – and had to give our acceptance speeches.
I was shaking like a leaf going on to the stage to accept the prize for FunDza because the auditorium was packed with representatives from across the world. It was indeed an honour and a privilege.
As much as I was nervous, the moment I thought of the FunDza team, FunDza Family and FunDza Fanz, I delivered my speech with great pride and confidence. What a night it was! An unforgettable moment for myself and FunDza as we were complimented left, right and centre. I felt we did South Africa proud. Thank you to each and every person that has contributed to FunDza’s work.
The whole Confucius festival ended with a sacrificing Confucius and praising Confucius ceremony at the Confucius Temple, which is also known as the temple of the Great Sage. Everyone was dressed in maroon Chinese jackets with yellow scarves, and I wore these with pride!
Thank you, UNESCO and partners for our prestigious award and for hosting FunDza in China. What an incredible experience!