Chinatown Committee Director Archive Boston Chinatown PBHA
The Chinatown Committee began in 1976 under the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) at Harvard University. PBHA is a student-run public service umbrella organization in Harvard University consisting of 73 programs, over 1,700 student volunteers, and serving close to 10,000 people in the Cambridge-Boston area. As an organization dedicated to social service and social action, PBHA in its 100 years of existence has evolved into the largest student organization of its kind in the nation. As part of PBHA, the Chinatown Committee through its 6 unique programs focuses on serving the residents of Boston Chinatown and nearby Chinese immigrant communities. With approximately 150 volunteers, the Chinatown Committee is the largest group within PBHA.
The Committee strives to empower Chinatown residents to address the challenges of living as immigrants in the inner city. Though Boston Chinatown is a culturally vibrant community, it also faces overcrowding, low wages, and relatively high crime rates (Chinatown has traditionally been Boston's "red light district"). In hand with this pressing issues is a high-labor, low-wage restaurant industry that the majority of fathers in Chinatown work in: these parents work six 10-hour days per week, with most wives also entering the workforce because of low salary. In addition, they often work prolonged shifts, as Chinatown's shops and restaurants open as late as 3am.
The diminished parental supervision adds to the frustrations most immigrants already experience in adapting to a new language and culture. While many parents in Chinatown encourage a hard work ethic in school, they are limited in helping their children with schoolwork because they lack both fluency in English and time away from work. Consequently, an ingrained sense of cultural isolation develops that projects Chinatown as a closed community.
The programs of the Committee aim to help families in Chinatown address these issues through its student corps of mentors, in-school tutors, afterschool counselors, and ESL teachers. Simultaneously we also hope to introduce Harvard volunteers to a Chinatown community rich in culture and history. Two of our programs (Elderly and ESL) directly benefit the adult segments of the population through valuable English tutoring, while four of our programs (Afterschool, Big Sib, Quincy School Tutoring, and Teen) serve the youth segment with academic tutoring, creative enrichment, and opportunities to discover the world outside Chinatown. We believe that by providing a nurturing social environment where youth can trust positive role models, reinforce their English language skills, and build self-esteem, our students can begin to break through the cultural isolation and gain a greater understanding of their identity in relation to the world outside their ethnic community. In this way, the Committee also hopes to help share and preserve Chinatown's rich cultural background. We do not expect to fully resolve the issues that face Chinatown, but we do recognize the importance of providing opportunities that foster collaboration and empower both individuals and communities.