Christine Keung, who immigrated to the United States when she was four, is intent on using her education as a force for good – by tackling rural pollution in Northwest China.
Growing up, what mattered to Christine Keung was honouring the sacrifices her parents had made. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she was the first person in her family to graduate from university, winning a National Science Foundation research grant at age 19, and in 2014, a Fulbright scholarship and admission to the Harvard Business School’s high-potential student programme.
When I became the first in my family to earn a college degree, I knew that I could use my education to insulate myself from the problems of the world, or to become a force to address them.
Her fascination with Northwest China stemmed from her parents’ experience during the Cultural Revolution. When Keung visited the region’s Shaanxi province in 2012, she marvelled at cave dwellings where her father had lived, but was dismayed at the dumping of medical supplies and pesticides in Yellow River tributaries. Returning two years later on a Fulbright scholarship, she decided to focus her research on rural pollution.
Her ambition is to help authorities find long-term solutions to hazardous waste, and village women – who bear the disproportionate cost of environmental degradation as men migrate to cities for work – are the key to her project. “I see transformed communities where women have the knowledge, motivation and ability to preserve, protect and invest in their land,” she says. Her team will lead workshops, with local university students acting as field agents supporting women’s groups.
Villages where Keung works with women, farmers and doctors on water contamination
Keung is fluent in English, Mandarin and two Chinese dialects (Cantonese and Shanghainese)