By Haldis Toppen and Merrill Hill, CCI Greenheart staff members

CCI Greenheart welcomed 30 interns from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) to the U.S. with an orientation and Greenheart Service Project on June 22, 2014. To start the day, we met with the HKBU interns and their leader, Alice Yau, at Thomas Beckham Hall  on the University of Illinois – Chicago (UIC) Campus. During the brief orientation, we covered J-1 visa program regulations, responsibilities of the participants upon arriving to the U.S., and a brief Q&A session about what it means to volunteer.

After wrapping up the orientation, the participants took a bus that dropped them within walking distance to the Greenheart Service Project site. The participants arrived at the garden eager to begin their volunteer project. There were 3 garden staff members, 6 Work and Travel (W&T) participants (2 Romanians and 4 Thai including W&T Ambassador Scholar, Naon), and CCI Greenheart W&T staff member, Haldis Toppen already on site.

Garden staff quickly divided up the large group of participants to cover a variety of tasks: weeding garden beds, picking flowers, trimming bushes, and cleaning the new garden gazebo. Participants clearing weeds were treated to a mini botany lesson as they learned what to clear out and what to keep. One participant, particularly curious about how St. John’s Wort was used as an anti-depressant, received an explanation from staff member Irene.

It was a lot of work but a great help to the small regular garden staff. Everyone had a great time and enjoyed the pizza lunch provided by CCI Greenheart. Even after lunch was finished and the event was technically over, some HKBU participants spent the sunny Sunday afternoon in the garden; completing the tasks they had been assigned! “Gardening is a new experience for us because we do not have access to gardens in Hong Kong due to the size of the city.” – Alice Yau, representative of HKBU.

Greenhearts were definitely made during their first volunteer experience in the U.S.!