Geert van der Sman, The Netherlands (September 2011 - December 2011):
Sometimes very difficult, sometimes frustrating, sometimes exciting, sometimes hilariuos.
Getting from "What is your favourite sport?" and all the kids parroting: "What is your favourite sport?"
to "Do you come back next week?" and "Your 'tray' (small christmas tree that we brought) is very small" is very rewarding indeed.
Other memorable things: a scavenger hunt in the school, a red enveloppe with cut-out words: the kids jumped on them to create as much sentences with the words as they could, lots of "thank you" cards, bags with potatoes, oranges, parsimons and suger cane as gifts from children and teachers. Having a drink with the other volunteers after a not so good experience in one school.
I would not want to have missed this experience!
I wish all the best to this programme, and to the volunteers that will be here after me. It deserves to be a succes.
Christine Lucassen, The Netherlands (September 2011-December 2011):
I arrived in Yangshuo to volunteer for VET three years after meeting co-founder Laurie McKenzie.
Laurie had convinced me and my partner Geert that of the volunteering opportunities in Yangshuo VET has the most added value.
Indeed, teaching at primary schools around Yangshuo which cannot afford to pay a foreign teacher is quite different from talking to young adults at private language schools.
Not only did we have a lot of fun, I also think we helped improve the prospects of children who rarely get to talk to foreigners. It seemed we were opening a small door in their heads: English is not just another boring and difficult subject you have to work on at school, it actually enables you to communicate!
It was great to see the kids' confidence grow. Getting to know the primary schools' Chinese English teachers and their families was also great, and practising pronunciation with them was very fun and necessary.
The kids' happy 'hello teacher!' when we entered the classroom was so welcoming and their enthusiasm in playing (language) games was overwhelming; we really felt useful and appreciated. Some kids asked us every week at the end of class whether we would come back again the next week, and when we finally left, we were given dozens of goodbye cards and small gifts.
With co-founder Laurie gone, VET is not run as a Western organisation, which meant we had to be flexible and patient.
The poor English of some Chinese English teachers at the primary schools can make communication something of a challenge and the kids can be naughty.
Nevertheless, we are thrilled to have been part of the VET programme for the past four months.
We had a wonderful time volunteering; we met great people - other volunteers from different countries, mostly lovely primary school kids and very dedicated teachers.
We saw a lot of the beautiful landscape around Yangshuo, ate good food at the Owen College canteen and went on nice outings with the young adults studying there.
I think VET volunteers can make a real difference to the future of these children, and hope that there will be enough volunteers & donations to keep it flourishing!
Andy Royandoyan, The Philippines (two days, November 2011):
I have always wanted to experience China through the eyes of a teacher, in exchange for learning the language and the culture ... but somehow I never had the chance. Until recently...
I visited the Majestic Yangshuo while I was on vacation, and by chance I was able to spend 2 days teaching primary school students basic English thru V.E.T.
It gave me more than what I had initially hoped for.
I had such a wonderful experience with my fellow volunteers... and an even more amazing time with the kids. It is such a fulfilling moment, knowing that you have been part of something worthwhile, teaching and embracing the children as if they were your own. It gives your human persona an empowerment and a humbling feeling at the same time.
I do hope I can visit China once more and do a longer volunteer work at Yangshuo with the VET programme. Keep up the good work with your volunteer program!
Lynnette van Kerkwijk, Australia (almost three weeks, September 2011):
The first week was very quiet and disappointing as no classes in the rural schools had been arranged... Especially when tourist visas to China have been cut back to a month, it is important to check when holidays occur, if your first interest is in teaching in the programme.
In the second week the teaching began at Yima and then at Fuli, both rural schools. We rode bikes to Yima to find the children waiting for us but the teachers missing as they had returned home for lunch. When classes began the children were rowdy especially the boys....
What was great to see was the consideration given to those children who are disabled. One of the girls in this particular class was in a wheel chair but she participated well. She was a very bright, though quiet student.
The first visit to Fuli was difficult. However, this improved over time and when Molly, the English teacher, returned to her school at Fuli, which I think was a different school from the first one, I felt happy with the teaching. I was warmly welcomed. Using the text and working from that to begin with was the best way to succeed.
It takes time to build up a relationship with staff and students so the longer one stays the better, although obtaining a longer visa may prove difficult. As well, some Staff and Principals may think that the volunteers pay Owen College money to teach and that therefore this should be given to the school to boost funds. No money, however, exchanges hands between the College and volunteers. We receive free accommodation and meals – all of which is very acceptable.
I found that gradually as the students came to know us, they responded to our teaching and the venture became worthwhile. Using the books first and working with the teacher who on some occasions would stay in the classroom, was the best method for success.
We had to be careful about rewards. A danger presented itself when we were teaching in that students began to expect a gift or reward. I took small koalas, books, pens, pencils and these were eagerly received when they were handed out. However, we, the teachers, came to the conclusion that these tokens be given out judiciously. Otherwise the learning may be lost in the ‘gift giving’.
In the last teaching episode, there was an air of expectancy among the students of a reward being given after a board team game was played – an expectation we ignored and distracted the class by getting them to sing the Happy Song!
While rewards may motivate the students, they can lose their real purpose.
There is no doubt that this part of China is worth a visit. The sheer beauty of the limestone pinnacles and their varied colours are extraordinary. Yangshou itself has become very glittery and touristy – not to my taste. Yet the countryside around and on the way to Yima and Fuli is truly beautiful. This is rural China which for me is the real China.