Using Knowledge to Serve

By Angel Yang

When the term “Social Justice” first came into my view in my sophomore year in San Domenico High School, I was flooded with a sense of novelty. I  was aware of the concepts of charity, volunteer programs, and service, but never once had I heard about Social Justice. Based on literal meanings, I drew a parallel between Social Justice and words such as charity, and immediately, it appealed to me. 

I grew up with my mom’s passion for charity. She had brought me to rural mountainous schools to teach local children English, to countryside centers for children whose parents are low-wage factory workers, and to the district volunteer programs for mentally disabled people. “When you have more power, you should help more people,” my mom always tells me. Affected by her philosophy, I foster the eagerness to contribute to society, participating in charity programs and sometimes donating money on social media. 

In the Social Justice class, however, I learned that a sheer willingness to contribute is far less than enough to make an impactful change. The first assignment — the summer assignment to watch a documentary called the True Cost of The Fast Fashion — baffled me. Indeed, it was somehow eye-opening. I learned about the chain influence on the fast fashion industry, of which thousands of factory workers in developing countries live and work in terrible conditions due to the “necessity” of lowering the cost. The awareness, nevertheless, is accompanied by a sense of powerlessness. How can I, by myself, alter the whole system? That was the first time I realized the complexity of charity and service. 

What alleviated my feeling of powerlessness was the documentary Poverty, Inc. It was a shimmering light guiding me through the darkness of confusion. We watched and discussed the film together in class, from which I learned the differences between charity and social justice. Charity focuses on the surface of the problem, doing good that sometimes harms the local economy, whereas social justice tackles the root of the problem, sustainably benefiting the poor, marginalized communities. The film caused me to reflect on my previous act. Did going to a rural school for two weeks truly make a difference there, or did it rather disturb the school’s regular system? Did the money I donated transform to what target communities genuinely need, or did it blend into the pocket of charity companies and indirectly promote the prosper of charity business? Conscious of the unintended opposite effects of my previous service experience, I’m determined to discover an effective path of service in the context of my ability. 

Enter Kiva Loan Project, which opened up another aspect of thinking for me. In Social Justice class, we went on a website called Kiva, which gathers information about people who need money. Divided into groups, we carefully went through the information provided on the website, including the use and the amount of the money, the length of the loan, and personal information. Then, we lent $25  to the group or person we chose to support. 

Throughout the process, we sensibly differentiated charity and Social Justice. Our group decided to loan our money to a woman in Vietnam who aimed to build a better water system on her own to address the local water problem.  Lending her $25, a seemingly small contribution, in fact, created more sustainable influence as we intended to support local people to improve their communities through their ideas and efforts. The Kiva Loan Project illustrates that even something small can effectually benefit the local community and addresses the issue of social justice.

Social Justice is to systematically address the issue and confront the root of the problem, but Social Justice never needs to be something big. Instead, it needs to contain thorough investigation and consideration. Social Justice class has completely altered my understanding of the subject–besides kindness and passion, we all need knowledge.   


在San Domenico高中二年级时,我第一次听说了“社会公正”(Social Justice)这个词,一知半解的我对它产生了浓厚的兴趣,在我眼中,它和慈善一样,都是帮助别人的事业。而我,从小就生长于我妈对于慈善的热情。她曾带我去偏远的山区支教,去市郊给工人的孩子们讲课,去街道的阳光之家带领智障人士做活动。她说:“当你有能力时,你要帮助更多的人。” 在我妈从小的熏陶下,我也对慈善公益有着极大的兴趣,我也想通过我的一点付出,让这个社会更美好。

但在Social Justice这门课上,我认识到原来公益,不仅仅需要一颗热忱的心。在暑假时,应这课的要求,我看了纪录片“True Cost of The Fast Fashion”(真正的成本),在快速时尚的影响下,为了利润,为了降低成本,工人利益被剥削,他们时刻面临着危险的机器,每天长时间疲惫地工作,却只有微薄的收入。在震惊于里面反映的一连串有违人道的工作环境的同时,我也感到了迷茫与无助,盘根错节的系统难道凭借我的热情,我的捐助就可以改变嘛?我意识到了公益的复杂性。

Social Justice课上看的一部纪录片“Poverty. Inc, ”逐渐理清了我混沌的思绪,从这部影片中,老师带领我们探索了慈善(charity)和社会公正(social justice)的区别。慈善是最基本的物资捐助,是富人对穷人的施舍,是我们以为的好。纪录片中,我们看到捐助到海地的米摧毁了当地的农业,使得当地的人民只能依靠于慈善机构的救助。所以慈善不是对症下药,反而有可能起到反作用。社会公正是真正的公益,是指引别人自己解决问题,是专注于表面之下。和捐米相反的是,一对夫妻去海地帮助当地的一位妇女开展自己的小型企业,真正的让她和她的家人脱离贫穷。

看完纪录片,我们做了Kiva Loan Project,实践了社会公正的理念。这个项目要求我们和3-4个小组成员一起在Kiva网站上选择一个项目,然后借25刀给这项目。经过调查背景,项目内容,借款期限和借款总金额,我们小组选择了一个在越南山区的女士,她想贷款来制造一个新的用水系统,她需要钱买管子等物品。她的项目不仅仅帮助了她自己,更是帮助了他们整个村庄的饮水健康问题,所以我们选择支持她的项目。虽然25刀是一笔小钱,但它却比给海地捐助大量大米更加有效,它支持了当地人民自力更生,支持了一个更公正的社会。

真正的公益(社会公正),是看见内在系统上的问题,但公益却从来不需要你去真正改变一个系统,它可以是一件很小的事,就像我们课上的Kiva Loan Project。高三的Social Justice课让我意识到除了善心和热情,公益更需要探索和知识。

About the Author


Angel Yang

I am a Junior and have been at San Domenico since Ninth Grade. As an international student, SD community is my second home, inclusive and supportive. At SD, I am encouraged to try new things and be myself. Due to my interest in writing and service, I participate in both yearbook and Children In Need club, during which I enjoy meeting and getting to know more people.

Click here to read Angel Yang’s articles.