On a Tuesday morning in mid-December, Helen Boyle was riding in a van with Santa Claus.
They were driving to a migrant school in Daxing to give students more than 350 presents as part of the Secret Santa program of her charity organization, Migrant Children’s Foundation (MCF).
Boyle founded MCF in 2009, with the goal to give previously unthinkable opportunities to migrant children. Now the volunteer-driven group supports nine migrant schools and collaborates with many of the city's most prominent international institutions. But MCF is a far cry from Boyle’s original career path. She was once a structural engineer.
In the UK, Boyle studied engineering, going on to get a job at a work site after college. She married and wanted to keep working, but her husband’s work schedule (alternating one month out of town and three weeks at home) made that impossible, especially as newlyweds. They had a son and a daughter, who are now 28 and 25, respectively, and as Boyle raised them, she went back to university. She studied computer science, which led to a career in education.
After more than 20 years, Boyle was ready for a change. She took a one-year sabbatical in 2008 to visit her daughter, who moved to China right after high school. Never one to sit around, Boyle stayed active in the Rotary Club, an international charity which she worked for in the UK. “My mind, my heart was always in charity work,” Boyle says. A Chinese woman she met through Rotary Club took her to her first migrant school. The students enthusiastically greeted her by endlessly repeating “Hello!” “I was totally taken by the children,” she recalls. “They were so full of life.”
The passion and energy within Boyle had found its goal. She wanted to help migrant schools. She sprung into action, first finding one in northwestern Changping, where she talked to the principal to ask what she could do. After several meetings, she organized a new playground to be made with Rotary Club funds, only to receive a phone call from the school’s principal saying the school was to be torn down to make room for a new residential block.
Instead of letting the disappointment weigh her down, Boyle found another school. The first time she went to this one, in southeastern Shibalidian, she biked. “It nearly killed me,” Boyle laughs. She began to teach every Friday, impressing the principal with her commitment. He asked her to help at more schools.
Meanwhile, word of her actions spread through Boyle’s daughter to her daughter’s friends, and everyone itched to get involved. “Out of nowhere, I had this group of volunteers that said they wanted to do this,” Boyle says. “And that’s how we got started.”
One of them made the website. Others started organizing volunteers. But as MCF was growing, Boyle’s sabbatical was rapidly coming to an end. She asked for an extension, with no luck. Driven by her work with MCF, Boyle asked to be laid off, so she could effectively retire from education and still receive severance. Yet she was once again rejected.
Boyle faced the difficult decision of throwing herself into MCF at the cost of her career, or going back to education while sacrificing her work in China. But her husband and children said, "If you feel that you're getting somewhere and you're doing something, you should quit your job." So she did.
About six months later, she returned to the UK to set up MCF as an official charity. When she came back to Beijing, “it just went mad,” she says. She started with the Beijing Buddies program, in which expats travel together to migrant schools to teach and have fun with the kids.
Organizers at the Bookworm Literary Festival asked to work together with her, so they arranged for 16 authors to teach kids creative writing. From there, it spread through word of mouth.
Schools, hospitals and chambers of commerce have all stepped forward and volunteered their time and resources to support MCF. Through MCF, kids are performing science experiments (through a partnership with the Royal Society of Chemistry), getting health check-ups (one of which revealed a boy’s severe heart problems, resulting in two surgeries that saved his life), listening to Bach in live concerts and, of course, unwrapping Christmas presents.
“I’m looking for opportunities for these kids,” Boyle says. “[MCF] is a platform that provides opportunities not only for my kids, but for expats.” It's like a bicycle wheel; local organizations are the spokes reaching out to help migrant kids in every aspect of life, with Boyle as the axle, connecting them all in the middle. And this wheel is going to keep on spinning. Boyle’s not going anywhere, she says. She’s in this for the long haul.
“This is something I started,” Boyle says. “I’m not just going to pack up and go.”
You've reached the limit of allowed deals. For more information
You've reached the limit of allowed housing listing. For more information