Aw's 'big sister' to Gansu kids

Two years ago, Jeanette Aw visited a school in the mountainous region of Gansu in China for the Channel U programme Stars For A Cause.

But her work there is not yet finished.

Today, the 32-year-old actress continues to play big sister to around 10 teens who regularly write letters to her and send SMSes about their life, school and problems.

Aw told The New Paper: "They don't keep in contact with me just because they want to be friends with a celebrity. That's why it's such a comfortable relationship...

"With them, I'm a normal, average person. I don't need to be a celebrity with them.

"They don't ask me about my job or filming because it's none of their concern. They genuinely want to know me as their big sister."

Messages galore

While she had hoped the students would contact her when she gave out her mobile phone number and fan club's post-office box address, she didn't expect them to write so often.

She thinks their teacher helps with the postage for the letters, but the students would have to use their lunch money to pay for the overseas messages.

Aw, who's managed by Artiste Networks, occasionally calls the teens on their parents' mobile phones during their school holidays.

She is especially close to four of them, aged between 15 and 19.

In 2010, Aw and the crew of the second season of Stars For A Cause visited the school in Gansu for gifted children whose families are otherwise too poor to send them to school.

She also delivered and cooked eggs for students so underprivileged that they eat only one egg a year.

Most of them didn't know who she was, only that she's a Singapore celebrity, although some had watched Aw's popular TV drama The Little Nyonya.

During the trip, she gave a boy a basketball and water bottles for the rest of the students.

After she returned to Singapore, she heard the basketball was stolen.

The boy was so upset that his grades suffered.

Aw then sent over a new basketball for the boy and other gifts for the others.

In the latest season of Stars For A Cause, Aw revisited these students and their families, and joined the teens in a summer camp held at Yinchuan.

Aw added that the letters and messages from her young friends often come at a time when she is very stressed over work, and they never fail to cheer her up and make her thankful for her lot.

"Life is much tougher for these kids. All they want is to study, go to university, get a job and bring their family out of (poverty)," said Aw.

"They helped me realise that I'm fortunate to have many things that (Singaporeans) take for granted, like running water and being able to shower every day."

Water is scarce in Gansu, so the people there shower once a week or even once in two weeks during winter.

Aw hopes the friendship with these students will last.

"I'm quite attached to them. Although I spent only a week with them, it was long enough as we spent many hours together."

This article was first published in The New Paper.