La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
January 2003 Newsletter
Into 2003 … a Lasallian Centre in Changjiao-China?
At the end of 2001, I presented my plans to initiate an educational project in the village of Changjiao, in Dabu, Guangdong. I was invited to teach English in the village. It was understandable that at that early stage, I really did not know what to expect. At that time I was aware that they (the local political secretary, village elders, headmaster of the primary school, parents and students) were unsure as to how committed I was and what exactly I could deliver. They must have had many experiences where promises of help from visiting “Huajiaos” (Overseas Chinese) vanished once the visitors left. After all, I did appear out of nowhere in October and November of 2001. I could also disappear never to be seen again. This inherent uncertainty set the stage for the beginning of my mission in Changjiao in 2002.
In brief, when I first arrived back in the village in early March, nothing was ready for me ... the living quarters and classroom promised were strewed with broken chairs and tables. They did not expect me to return!!! Anyway that was sorted out in a day. Right from the beginning I had endless problems with the Headmaster. He did not know what to do with me. On the first two occasions when I left the village to return to Hong Kong, so that they could sort things out, they thought I would not return ... but I did.
Anyway to cut the story short, after three false starts, including the incident when I was told by the headmaster to stop teaching as “students were too interested in English and neglecting their other lessons”, I finally got going and successfully conducted 7 weeks of 7 hours a day English Tuition Programme for 42 students for 7 weeks during the summer. I steadfastly refused to run “classes”. I feared that many who did not have any interest in learning English would be “sent to attend English classes”. I chose to accept students who personally approached me on his/her own. I insisted on giving “tuition” to small groups of students and I insisted on daily lessons for six days a week. Two families in the village hosted home tuition centres for primary school students. Secondary students had their tuition in the primary school hall. The wife of the political secretary hosted one of the home tuition centres. She attended all the lessons and is now a valuable supporter. She now shares many of my views as to how English can be taught in the village.
On the whole, I am very pleased with the experiences of 2002 even though I “lost” three students. A Secondary 2 male student, who did not really revise his lessons at home, dropped out voluntarily when he realised that he could not cope. I had to “sack” two secondary female students because they went away for holidays for two weeks. The students in general are very hard-working. I now have a core group of students that I can work with in 2003. A Secondary 3 girl is my best student so far. She helped me teach the weaker students for two weeks.
By the time I was into the 5th week of my summer tuition programme, many parents admitted to me that they did not expect me to return to teach English as I promised. Then, when I encountered problems with the headmaster, they thought I would surely give up and go away. They were surprised that I stayed. Then they witnessed my teaching programme during the summer holidays. They were amazed that I would teach long hours ... 7.30 a.m. to 12 noon, 2 to 4.30 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. More than once, parents would tell me not to teach for so many hours a day. Anyway, it was not work all the time. Since summer was harvest time, I was constantly invited to join in the after harvest dinners as each family in turn hosted when neighbours helped in harvesting. I had a great time as I experienced the warmth and friendship of the villagers and enjoyed their hospitality when invited to have meals with them … and drank their home brewed rice wine!
A week before I left Changjiao for Hong Kong, the political secretary asked to see me. We had a friendly discussion. He assured me that my presence in the village and my English lessons are well accepted by all in the village. He expressed the hope that I will continue to teach in the village for as long as I can. He even suggested that I conduct English Language classes for adults. He assured me that he and his four administrators will certainly join the class. We also talked about the possibility of starting an English Language and Computer Literacy Center in the village. He is very supportive of the idea. He suggested that if I am worried about security in setting up the center in the school, he is prepared to talk to the local administrative team to make a room available in the administration building for that purpose. I told him that I would consider his proposal. I also insisted that it must be a collaborative effort between the local authorities, the villagers and I, if the project is to be launched. I further added that I had to return to Malaysia at the end of the year. I volunteered to raise the money needed for the project. If everything goes according to plan, I will return to Changjiao in early 2003. I will need 6 months to teach and train local manpower to run the center so that it can be fully utilized even when I am away in Hong Kong or back in Malaysia.
It was at that discussion with the political secretary that a sign of a possible break through became evident. At the end of our discussion, he told me that his brother-in-law had visited his uncle in Malaysia. While in Malaysia, at a dinner hosted by his uncle, his brother-in-law mentioned to those present that a certain Malaysian by the name of Liao Lenian is giving giving free English Language lessons in the village. As it turned out a cousin of mine from Tanjong Malim was present. A collection was made and a sum of RM$3,000 was handed over to the young man to be given to me through the political secretary. When the political secretary eventually handed the money to me (it was more than his whole year’s salary) he asked seriously, “Are there people in Malaysia who will give you money?” I answered, “Didn’t I always say that it is my former students and friends who are supporting me to do voluntary teaching here in Changjiao?” “Yes,” he replied and added “but we never believed you!”
Since returning to Malaysia, I have been taking courses in handling computer hardware and testing English language software. If all goes well, I will begin setting up an English Language and Computer Literacy Centre in Changjiao in the middle of February 2003 (just after Chinese Lunar New Year). It will be equipped with 8 English Language Audio Stations and 8 Computers that are loaded with Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) programmes. The computers will be used for self-paced English lessons and for the students to undergo a basic computer literacy programme. It is designed to equip them with the skills to do word processing in both English and Chinese, emailing, and basic skills to handle accounting packages and the use of electronic spreadsheets. I plan to have it up and running by May. This will enable me to trouble shoot and test the system with the students that I already have. I can then take in the next batch of students by August.
Before I end, I want to put on record that this project will not be possible without the support and help of many. I thank the Brothers who give me this opportunity to render education service to the children of my ancestral village. I want to thank Br. Peter Foo, Visitor and Br. Patrick Tierney for their support and guidance. I want to thank my community at St. Joseph’s College Hong Kong, Br. Alphonsus Br. Thomas Favier for their care and concern for my health and safety for they keep in constant contact with me while I am away in Changjiao via telephone calls and emails. Finally, I want to acknowledge the generosity of all who contributed financially so that I have the funds to launch the proposed English Language and Computer Literacy Centre this year. In particular I want to mention Br. David Brennan Visitor of the District of California, my family members and the Liao clan in Tanjong Malim Malaysia, Brothers’ communities and individual Brothers locally and abroad, my former students of St. Francis Institution Melaka and La Salle School Petaling Jaya, teachers of St. Joseph’s Institution Singapore and some of my personal friends. Your support and your contributions are signs to me that this is what the Good Lord wants me to do at this time of my life. Keep me in your prayers.
David Liao FSC
La Salle Provincialate PJ.
6th January 2003.
All good things must
come to an end...