A group of 16 university students who volunteered to teach underserved children in southwestern China over the summer have terminated their program early because of multiple instances of sexual harassment, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Monday.
According to a statement posted to social app WeChat on Monday morning, several female volunteers had been harassed by locals since their arrival in Zhenxiong County, Yunnan province, on July 13. “To prevent such sexual harassment incidents from recurring and taking into account the safety of the team members, the teachers decided to end this volunteering project ahead of schedule,” the statement read.
The students all hail from Nanjing University, in eastern Jiangsu province. In 2013, a student from the university established Caiyun, a nonprofit that places volunteer teachers in underserved areas of Yunnan. Every summer, Nanjing University students are selected and trained for the program. This year, 16 students from the university were dispatched to Zhenxiong County. They had planned to stay for three weeks but lasted only 10 days.
Several of the female teachers reported undergarments going missing. Some women said in an interview with local media that the male villagers, while polite in Mandarin, would say crude things about them in the Yunnan dialect.
One of the villagers, a teenager surnamed Shen, even recorded a video of a female teacher showering and shared it on WeChat. Local police announced on Tuesday that Shen was under investigation and would be fined 500 yuan ($73) as punishment.
The Nanjing University students left Zhenxiong County on Monday. By Tuesday morning, their WeChat statement about being harassed had been deleted. Caiyun and the teachers told The Paper that while they are no longer accepting interviews, they will issue a joint statement in the coming days. Sixth Tone’s messages to Caiyun and the teachers went unanswered on Tuesday.
According to Beijing Youth Daily, other Caiyun volunteers had been harassed over the past six years as well, albeit not as seriously. A staff member from the Zhenxiong County education bureau confirmed this to The Paper and called this year “an extreme case,” the likes of which had never happened before. The official added that the bureau would look into the case and conduct a survey on security issues that future volunteers might face while teaching in the county.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: A volunteer teacher takes a group of children to wash their hands at a school in Liupanshui, Guizhou province, July 22, 2011. Xiao Ran/VCG)