The Gifts of Christmas: Teaching English to Girls Scholarship Winners in Rural China

2012-12-29 02.58.59A group of 20 HKIS students, teachers, and alumni taught English to scholarship winners in Deqing, China December 28-30th. Facilitated by Concordia Welfare and Education Foundation, this trip’s Winter Camp provided English lessons to more than 50 girls who are receiving CWEF scholarships.

The scholarships ease the financial strain upon families of allowing a daughter attend high school.* To attend either school from which the girls come – Xiang Shan or Confucius Middle Schools – students need to score in the top 1/3 of the country. Given their challenging home situations, the girls’ acceptance to high school speaks of their persistence in the face of adversity.  As these are the two top schools in the area, the scholarship winners are all high achievers.

The English lessons focused on the theme of giving during the Christmas holiday season. Students read O. Henry’s classic story, “The Gift of the Magi,” in the morning. In the afternoon, the students learned about the tradition of Santa Claus. The key reading piece was “On Santa’s Team.” Both stories emphasize that the essence of the Christmas story is that it is was more blessed to give than to receive.

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In keeping with this theme, the scholarship winners and the Hong Kong group visited an local elderly home on the last day of the camp. As we had come to expect, the girls were just as attentive to the elderly as they were to our lessons. When they returned to school, the girls said how much they enjoyed helping older people, a form of experiential learning that is not generally part of their education.

The highlight of the trip for most Hong Kong participants was simply the enthusiasm for learning that these poor rural girls exhibited throughout the 3-day camp. As soon as our lessons began, they gave their utmost attention to us. Their palpable desire to learn confirmed that the scholarships are a wise investment in the girls’ future.

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In conversation with the girls, we were surprised to learn of their daily schedule. Their first class is at 6:50 AM. They have about two hours in the middle of the day for lunch and a nap, and then they have afternoon classes.  After dinner, they have additional study sessions in their classrooms from 7-10 PM at night. They get back to their rooms around 10:15 and lights go out by 11:30 PM.

When we left the school at 9 PM on Friday night, the first day of the camp, the school was a beehive of activity. Classes also continued all-day on Saturday, and was filled with students studying until at least 8:00 when we returned to the hotel. Sunday is the only day off for students.

Our respect for the girls only grew when we visited their dormitory. Each room had 6 pairs of bunk beds. The twelve girls needed to share one bathroom facility. The beds had planks of wood – no mattresses – to sleep on. No lighting was available during the day, so even trying to read a textbook during mid-day hours required a battery-powered light. With a cold front bringing near 0-degree temperatures on Saturday night, staying warm was also a challenge for the girls.

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The participation of three seminarians from Lutheran Theological Seminary also added another allowed the girls to meet people from Cambodia and Myanmar for the first time. The three seminarians mixed easily and even playfully with the girls in our study groups. Two of them shared their musical abilities through song.

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For the Hong Kong participants, the great gift of this Christmas trip was to meet such virtuous, hard-working students who give so generously of themselves to us their teachers, to their fellow students, and to the elderly that we visited. Meeting such girls is the joy that sustains this program.

2012-12-29 07.47.52Jenn Wu, HKIS graduate in 2008, stands between Sally (L) and Elain (R). Jenn has started an organization called “Ember” that has started fundraising clubs at international schools in Hong Kong for this particular girls scholarship program. Jenn has been a leader of the scholarship program since its inception in 2007. Sally and Elain, both year 3 students, visited Hong Kong in April, 2011, speaking at the HKIS Fashion Show that raised money for the girls. You can learn more about their home lives as well as their own personal stories with these links.

Comments from Participants

Nicola Ho, grade 11, leader of the HKIS Ember Club:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe highlight of the trip for me was simply having the opportunity to spend time with the girls. Although this was, in essence, a service trip, we were able to connect with the girls on the most basic level. For example, I shared meals with them, walked around the campus with them, talked to them about school and took pictures with them. Although these are very simple activities, it helped me realize that service is more than donating money or helping those you don’t know. It is about building connections and caring for those who need the care.

Let Sayapen, CAN participant:

Words are not enough to say thank you very much for everything! I am very blessed in the trip even if I did not expect any trip this Christmas season. I thank the Lord for the trip because it turned to be a present to me this Christmas and new year.

2012-12-29 04.47.03The scholarship students were lovely and I enjoyed being with them. The whole team together with the Ember Club leaders, HKIS students, LTS students, and members of the CWEF staff were all great! They’re all awesome and phenomenal! The theme of Christmas and the stories we used to teach English are excellent. The scholarship students were all lovely, so eager to learn English and Christmas songs. I enjoyed the Chinese food and truly awesome to eat with thestudents in the school canteen. The experience was most treasurable. There is nothing more I can say because being it was indescribable.

Douglas Yang, grade 10 (in red jacket second person on the right)

2012-12-29 03.00.00The most rewarding part of this trip was seeing the efforts put in by the girls during their immersion in the English language. Though not completely foreign to them, these girls do not usually have as much time devoted to English as they did in these three days. Therefore, they really took this opportunity to learn as much as they could, and their efforts could be seen not only from their actions, but also from their proactive attitude. Upon conversing with the girls on their everyday lives and their family backgrounds, I truly gained an appreciation for both what I have, and for the efforts put in by these girls. These girls served as an inspiration for me to continue to work hard in school, and it warms my heart to witness and hear about their success stories. I wish these girls nothing but the best, and I hope to be back to see their continued progress!

Charlton Leung
, Grade 10 (in maroon sweatshirt in picture above):

Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to help the girls in Deqing. It was a very valuable experience for me. Here is my blog comment:

What was the highlight of the trip?
The highlight from the trip was reading each of the student’s stories. On the second day of the trip, the students had to write about the best gift they received. Many of us would give a materialistic answer and talk about the new gadgets that we recently got. Because the students we taught came from a relatively poor background, they didn’t talk about tangible objects. They talked about abstract presents. One of the students wrote about the continuous and priceless support of her parents. Because those stories came from the hearts of the students, they made the highlight of my trip.

Did you gain some new appreciation or respect for something?

I must admit that I haven’t been a member of the community who actively gives back nor have I seen the hardships that some people in our community endure. This trip exposed me to the difficult circumstances that people who are less fortunate have to overcome and more importantly, this trip gave me the opportunity to experience the joys of service. I have never actually understood the rewards that come along with helping someone. Now that I have tried it, I know that the rewards is a special sensation that cannot be described but can only be experienced.

Did it change how you saw something in your own life?

This experience changed my entire perspective of the education given to me. The girls showed me that the only way out of poverty and the only way for a better life is through knowledge. I always classified education and school to be a burden, but now I see it as a blessing. We should not wastefully misuse our opportunity to learn at school but we should be as eager and excited as the girls are to gain knowledge. Lastly, although the girls were poor, they were happy. Now, I understand that happiness is not measured by how many gadgets you have. That is just being happy superficially. The girls were happy because of the spiritual and non-materialistic gifts that people have given to them. All in all, this precious opportunity gave me many new insights into life.

*To support this worthy cause, please visit the CWEF website. The cost of supporting one girl for a year of high school is $3000 HK. The next opportunity to teach English to the girls will be during summer camp in July, 2013.

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Zella and Micah with our three seminarians eat a local speciality of Deqing, “Juk Gou Fan” (Bamboo Noodles) during an early-morning breakfast before heading to the Winter Camp.

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About martinschmidtinasia

I have served as a humanities teacher at Hong Kong International School since 1990, teaching history, English, and religion courses. Since the mid-1990's I have also come to assume responsibility for many of the school's service learning initiatives. My position also included human care ministry with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Hong Kong, southern China, and others parts of Asia from 1999-2014. Bringing my affluent students into contact with people served by the LCMS in Asia has proved to be beneficial to students and our community partners alike. Through these experience I have become committed to social conscience education, which gives students the opportunity to find their place in society in the context of challenging global realities.
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2 Responses to The Gifts of Christmas: Teaching English to Girls Scholarship Winners in Rural China

  1. Pingback: Summer 2013 English and Leadership Camp in Rural China | Social Conscience Education

  2. Pingback: “I Can! You Can! We Can!” Empowering Young Women at a CWEF Summer Camp | Social Conscience and Inner Awakening

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