By An-Li Chao, translated by Mable Wong
So the third Annual English Summer Camps have been concluded—just like that.
Departing Yanyuan , Sichuan , riding en route Xi-chang, my daughter Clara and I shared a prolonged silence.
"I'm thinking of the children," said Clara.
"I'm thinking of them a lot, too," I replied.
"I will come back again next year," she continued.
"I want to go back to see them now," stealing a moment of silence, I thought to myself.
This year the organizing of the Summer Camps was much greater than the previous. For one week, each was held in a row at Yuanyang and Lu Chun Counties in Yunnan , and Yanyuan County in Sichuan . A total of 320 PEACH children attended and the number of teachers were also comparatively larger. 12 volunteers have since arrived from Taiwan and the U.S. , of whom 5 were American Born Chinese youth—ABC.
With the goal of teaching the English language, each camp held 2 to 3 sessions of instructions, which were tiny classes of 15 students. Besides English language, there were classes on Chinese literature, music, science, EQ lessons, Q&A session, and a course on "The Joyous Life." 8 sessions were held each day, which started from 8:00 am to 5:30 p.m., a very tight schedule indeed. After dinner, there was movie appreciation. Since not a single movie projector was available at Yanyuan Ethnic High where the camp was held, it was replaced by Ms. Yeh's Q&A session on math and science.
Teaching English language was a first to me, and I was glad that Ruth had prepared an elaborate tutorial supplement, which made teaching a simple task. The primary objective of the English lessons is to teach phonetics and proper pronunciation, so whenever a new word appears, they can simply look it up in a dictionary and be able to pronounce it.
The first day of the lessons, the children were so reticent that all their heads were lowered. I could only stare at their heads of hair but not their faces. Several students, who were about to become sophomores, could not even sort out the 26 alphabets, and a few of them did not know how to use a dictionary. When the phonetic lesson was over, I invited them to read the vocabularies to me. After a few corrections, I had them repeated again. Most of them were too timid to raise their heads to look at me while reading, and my most frequent phrase was "lift your head and watch Auntie, watch the lips!" Two days later, having slowly warmed up and became more talkative; the children slowly lifted their heads. The children's learning abilities were quite keen, and they seemed quite capable to handle most of the pronunciation, with the exception of a few difficult ones such as "th" and "sh."
And then I announced that when the lessons were to finish in 6 days, a recitation context would be held in English. Those who wished to participate please raised their hands--not a single whisper, not even a lifted head.
"Your pronunciation has been improved a lot, so don't be afraid to be on stage. How about that: I'll find a story for each one of you to read a passage; this way the whole class can perform on stage together," I suggested.
"Auntie, I can't compete—the moment I step on stage, I'm too shaky to speak at all," one boy pleaded.
"Then you should find a short passage," I argued.
"Oh no, I have never been on any stage before; I really can not handle any competition. Besides, it should be self-motivated; those who prefer not to can choose not to take part." What a well-articulated young boy!
When the distribution of the story's passages was done, I decided to give that young boy one more chance.
"You only need to speak two words on stage: ‘The End,' how's that?"
"Very well!" it only took him one second to consider, and it's agreed!
And so the whole class had sent everyone to compete on stage. Although not a single award was won, I was extremely pleased with everyone's performance. That boy, a reserved individual who was entrusted with the important mission to declare: ‘The End,' had been changed to an opinionated one who couldn't wait to submit. And that put a smile on my face and a delight in my heart.
When organizing the summer camps, we do not just hope to strengthen the children's English language skills, but more importantly, we want to mend their broken hearts, to help them to regain their self-respect and self-esteem, and at last to promote their self-confidence. "The Joyous Life," a lecture by Ruth spends 5 hours to tell the children of a recipe to bake a fragrantly delicious cake that is "The Joyous Life." Using a humorous tone, she precisely points out the secret codes of having a joyous life. Though I have been quite acquainted with said recipe; still it's a delicious treat just to hear it again.
I have told Ruth many times that had I been given these secret codes at my younger years, my "joyous life" would have started years earlier.
One of the children's favorite activities was the science lesson, and Ms. Yeh's expertly designed experiments on physics and chemistry principles allowed them to bask in the otherwise dull and boring theories. After the lessons, every child was holding on their finished experiment objects and could not let go.
The children had suggested adding a physical activity lesson to ease up a bit; however, due to the tight schedule, a lesson added meant a lesson deleted. Then Auntie Jeng suggested some possible lessons for them to choose to cancel, but they could not do it. Finally Auntie Jeng suddenly remembered there was also the science lesson, which could be a candidate if they prefer to replace. Unanimously they declared: "don't want to." After a vote, they all agreed to cancel the physical education lesson!
The 7 1/2-hour long "Mood Management" by Ms. Yeh was also brilliant. With 20 plus years of teaching credential at National High and the professional teaching material, she guided the children to the proper ways to recognize, express, and control mood changes. "There is no right or wrong mood—only the right or wrong management," Ms. Yeh reiterated somberly and heartily.
For half an hour each day, Auntie Lai led everyone to a lively music session of popular American tones—uplifting and refreshing. After a few sessions, the children had learnt almost 10 songs. The talented Ms. Lai, excels in both songs and dance, had us up on our feet not just to move our lips but our limbs!
Sensing that the children do not have much chances to speak Mandarin in public and that they converse in local dialect when they gather, we elected 3 sessions to train each of them reciting Mandarin poems on stage. Furthermore, we held a Chinese literature recitation contest for groups or individuals—one per campsite. The 3 contest results were quite satisfying, with the Yanyuan children whose Mandarin proficiency out-shone the rest. Meticulously enunciated, their presentations of " Farewell Kang Bridge ," "Sentiment in Four Intonation" were inspiriting, reverberating.
We have to take this opportunity to thank all teachers who arrived with whole-hearted participation. Take Uncle Hsu, who went to the school every early morning to join the children in early self-studies. After he finished teaching his own English classes, he would stay with them listening to other teachers' lessons. The children enjoyed asking a lot of questions to Uncle Hsu, who would answer them all and all never abbreviate.
The teachers always used the self-studies hours and the after-lunch free time to run tutorials for the Chinese, English recitation contest participants. To the teachers, the contest results were not as important than the quality bonding time with the children, a more precious reward indeed.
The performances of the 5 fore-mentioned "ABC" senior-high student teachers—Emily, Andy, Terry, Max, and Clara—were also quite remarkable. Take Clara, having arrived with her mother--a truly mother and child, mother and daughter team. Though they may be young, their teaching were not confusing and their methods unique. And the children were quite respectful to the young teachers who were closed to their ages. As for the young teachers, I believe these encounters with the PEACH children throughout these summer camps would make wonderful memories for the rest of their days.
The Q&A Session addressed the questions that the children might have but were too timid to ask openly. So we have come up with a solution: invite them to write the questions on a piece of paper and hand it in. The inquiries could be generalized into 3 categories: education, family, and friendship. We plan to print all these frequent inquiries on a small pamphlet, which will be distributed to each of them. What trouble them are somewhat similar, and we trust more than half could be found in it.
Moreover, we extend a special thank to Auntie Shih for her speech, titled "Attitude and Efficiency," delivered at Yuanyan First High. She told the children the methods of studying depended on the individual not the methodology. It's rather important to maintain a serious attitude while studying, and as long as it's effective and suited the personal preference, it's a good method. Other older teachers also provided their personal learning experience for the children. Uncle Chen summed it up with the most enlightening, saying, " to study, one must first find a way to seat oneself on a chair!"
During the summer camps, we also find time, besides daily lessons, to bring the children to the hospital for physical check ups. This year the infection rates of rhinitis and chronic headache are much better than the last. It ought to attribute to Ruth's "Wash Your Hands" campaign. Furthermore, the infection rate of influenza is lower while stomach ulcer's rate still exceeds 50%. Ms. Shih, a doctor of biochemistry who is also our medical consultant, went to town after class to find suitable ulcer medication for the children. Besides distributing the ulcer medicines, we also instructed the children proper stomach cares. Eyeglasses prescription rates had also increased: it's closed to 50 pairs. There was this girl whose eye examination result was found to be 1600-degree, and she had not even owned a pair of eyeglasses—she simply squinted her eyes at class. According to the doctor, to correct a 1600-degree eyesight is closed to impossible. We are contemplating maybe in a couple of years when her eyes are fully developed, we will bring her to Kunming for a thorough examination to see if it's feasible to correct it with laser procedure.
In all these summer camps, the final day always seems to be the saddest day. A weeklong dawn to dusk encountering had fostered between the children and us a closed bond that's almost inseparable. On these tiny faces after faces wrote the unbearable sentiment of farewell. When it's time to depart, Ruth has this practice of giving every child a hug, which prompted some children to embrace the aunties and uncles, sobbing. Some couldn't help but burst out in tears.
"Auntie, when are you coming back?"
"Will I see you all soon?"
Oh, what a heartbreaking farewell scene. Witnessing this, even the aunties and uncles were moved to the brink of tears.
My dear children, since the winter of 2001 when we entered your world, it has been four years now. And these have been the best four years of my life. I have to thank you for giving this opportunity to know you. In every engagement, the anticipation preceding, the excitement during, and the reflection afterwards have energized me to care for more children like you. I admire your endurance, persistence, and determination when facing adversities, and it hurts me to learn the pain and powerlessness that you experienced at such tender ages. Allow me please
to be with you on this journey, this journey to maturity.
“The life of the individual has meaning only insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful. Life is sacred, that is to say, it is the supreme value, to which all other values are subordinate. “
Wrote in 2005, Aug, in Hsin Chu