“I Can! You Can! We Can!” Empowering Young Women at CWEF Summer Camp

IMG_1292The 10th annual CWEF and Ember Summer English and Leadership camp was held in Deqing, China from July 8-10, in which volunteers from Hong Kong worked with girls scholarship winners to strengthen their English skills and engage in empowerment activities. This is our group picture moments before we said our goodbyes after a meaningful and memorable weekend together. 

In 2006 a small group of students at Hong Kong International School heard about a group of girls in the southern Chinese town of Deqing who had passed their high school entrance exams to attend the best school in the area but, due to financial difficulties, had to work instead. In response, the students and CWEF (Concordia Welfare and Education Foundation) created a girls scholarshipIMG_1169.JPG program in Deqing that has supported more than 300 girls to receive a high school education over the past ten years. Three of this year’s participating HKIS alumni – Jenn Wu, Jaime Shih, and Charmaine Kwan – also started their own organization called Ember to support these students, a commitment they have maintained over the last decade, even while working full-time jobs in Hong Kong.IMG_1200Every summer since the inception of the scholarship program, a group of Hong Kong volunteers has held an English and leadership camp for the girls. This year, the 10th summer camp, a group of 21 high school, college, and working age volunteers from Hong Kong traveled to Deqing from July 8-10 where IMG_1211they were eagerly met by 40 scholarship winners. Over the next three days the Hong Kong team led a series of English activities through videos, songs, games, brainstorming sessions, and group discussions. A special focus of the curriculum was teaching empowerment, encouraging the girls to consider how they could take on personal challenges in their families or social issues in their communities. Inspired by a TED talk by Indian educator Kiran Bir Sethi, students encouraged each other throughout the weekend to get infected with the “I Can” bug, repeating the slogan, “I can! You can! We can!” The empowerment message inspired the girls to not only continue to pursue their educational goals, but also prompted them to think about how they can act now on behalf of others.

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On Saturday evening we did the “Into the Fire“activity in which everyone shares what are the most important people, objects, and values in their lives.

One of the weekend highlights was having one of the graduates of the scholarship program, Ocean, share her story with students. After overcoming a series of personal challenges throughout her high school and college years, today Ocean is a well-established and much loved Chinese teacher at a primary school in the nearby city of ZhaoQing. She shared how she wanted to be a teacher for more than twenty years, encouraging the girls to never give up on their dreams. Ocean has been extremely committed to the English camp, participating every summer over the last 10 years.

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Ocean sharing with the girls her journey from being a year 2 high school student to a successful primary school teacher.

At the end of the third day the Deqing girls offered their final reflections on the weekend activities through a presentation. Many of them shared their dreams for the future: to be a psychologist, teacher, translator, emcee, Chinese medicine practitioner, doctor, and many more. Other groups discussed the personal and social issues that they focused on during the weekend: family struggles, water pollution, and educational reform in China. The teary-eyed goodbye between the girls and the volunteers provided evidence to all of the opening of hearts that grew wider and wider as the hours and days of the summer camp progressed.

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Additional Information:

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Celebrating 10 Years of Summer Camps with Ember. Thanks for the cake, CWEF!!

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The “Outstanding Tigers” small group was given “I Love HK” t-shirts after being selected by the judges as the best presenters.

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The message from the family issues small group : “Father and Mother, I Love You.”

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The Hong Kong volunteer group

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With Charmaine and Jenn on a girls scholarship trip in 2008.

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Group photo from Summer Camp 2011

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Final 2011 Summer Camp Group Picture

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The very first trip to Deqing in April, 2007. Brian Li (lower right), Greg Ladner (middle right), Mercedes Chien (upper right), Gary Chan (back), Jasmine Lau (upper left), Jennifer Wu (upper left), and Ocean (lower left) all were part of this first trip to “Fragrant Mountain” school.

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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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3 Responses to “I Can! You Can! We Can!” Empowering Young Women at CWEF Summer Camp

  1. Jim Handrich says:

    Congratulations on ten years, just inspiring!

  2. Pingback: Did We Make A Difference? Action Research of a Teaching for Empowerment Program in South India | Social Conscience and Inner Awakening

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