First of all, I would like to thank the CSGC office, Deerfield Academy and the Workman family for providing the funding needed to carry out my summer project. This July, three current Deerfield students (Arthur Yao ‘20, Francis Shea ’20, Allison Xia ‘21) and I went to a rural town in the Yunnan province of China as volunteers to teach English and music with the PEACH Foundation. Arthur & I have been volunteering at PEACH for the past four years so we knew what to expect. Allison and Francis, who are both enrolled in Chinese at Deerfield, however, are new to PEACH, so we hope they found the experience rewarding.
PEACH (Promoting Education, Art, and Community Harvest) is a volunteer organization that specializes in providing summer camps to underpriviledged students in rural, remote and mountainous Yunnan province as well as providing financial support to students to stay in school, as education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty. PEACH has been active in Yunnan since 2004 and to date has improved the livelihood of 12,000 students who would otherwise be laboring in rice, corn, or tea farms. Students attend various classes during the day, starting with “Happy Life.” They are taught the keys to living a meaningful and successful life focusing on self-care, self-confidence and education, and that happiness comes from the mindset, not materialism. Then comes EQ class which emphasizes how to nurture existing connections to make a positive impact and how to control their emotions. Afterwards, the students have Chinese, English and Music classes, and that is where we come in.
I shared the grant money among our combined 48 students to create a more comprehensive education program in each our classes. Classes in local Chinese schools are usually taught in classes with 40 to 50 students, with little time for individual practice. At PEACH, with a class size of twelve students, we are able to help students with pronunciation, conversation, vocabulary and reading which are reinforced by repetition, singing and playing games. With the Workman Grant, I was able to purchase educational materials to enhance the learning experience of our students.
Borrowing ideas from our liberal arts education at Deerfield, I decided to incorporate three other classes into the curriculum. Firstly, I purchased art materials for them to do freestyle drawing. A lot of these students rarely have the freedom and the time to pursue their creative selves because of a packed schedule at school. I wanted to give them the opportunity to express themselves freely. Secondly, I purchased badminton and ping-pong supplies and we engaged in recreational and competitive play. The purpose is for them to develop a passion for sports and to work as a team to achieve a collective goal. I organized games where my class ‘competed’ with students from other classes. The winners got prizes in food and beverage. Thirdly, I purchased plastic balloon globes and poster-sized scratch-off maps and taught them geography. I had them engage in various activities regarding cities, countries and continents and through these activities, ignite their hopes and ambitions. For example, their first mission was to scratch out one country they most wanted to visit and write why. Turkey and Paris were big ones for some reason. All of my students have never left their hometown and had little idea about the world beyond their village. Nevertheless, I hope this activity helped them fantasize about life beyond the mountains and served as constant reminder that they can work hard to fulfill their dreams and subsequently travel the world. This is also where English would be helpful.
In addition to continuing the same projects as last year, after visiting the houses where many of my students live, I realized that many of them only had one single light bulb in their house to do school and house work. Furthermore, power outages are still a problem for many villages. This year, I wanted to also give each of my students a portable lamp. In fact, one of my students from this year, Logan, sent me a video recently where his house lost power but he was able to navigate using the bright portable lamp. Personally, the lamps are the most worth it because in order for students to get into university, they have to take the national placement exam called the gaokao. Never mind that they are competing against students with better resources in China, but if their score is too low, they are not admitted into college. These lamps are insurance that students can study at any time.
This teaching experience has been profound on so many levels for me as well as my students. Thank you CSCG for supporting me with the grant for the past two years. I hope I have made a difference in their lives and given them the tools necessary to dream big in life.