La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
September 2008 Newsletter
Greetings from La Salle Study Centre, Changjiao, China.
Peace and Joy is within you.
As usual, this September report is mainly about the popular 4 weeks long Summer English Reading Programme. In my last write-up I mentioned that I was apprehensive about long stay visa for overseas volunteers for our Summer English Reading Programme 2008. The stricter visa control for visitors entering China was because of security reasons in connection with the Beijing’s Summer Olympics. Thank God, the letters of invitation from LSSC, countersigned by our local Political Secretary seemed to be sufficient proof of authenticity for British and American volunteers. The Wangs, our three times Malaysian volunteers were given only 30 days. However, a high up local government officer took up the case and an extension was approved.
Last year, there was much confusion, disappointments and general mayhem during registration days as students and parents gathered very early at LSSC in order to get registered. This year, we decided to stagger the registration time. I interviewed and took in our local and weekend students at the end of June. Then on Saturday 5th July, registration was opened only former summer programme students and out-of-state students whose grandparents and relatives register on their behalf. Finally on Sunday 6th July, we interviewed and registered new students. To make sure that there was minimum confusion, we pre-issued fixed time registration forms that were numbered. I took note of requests for places in June and on 29th June after I registered our local and weekend students, I personally distributed the registrations forms to all who had made request.
On the whole therefore registration days were more orderly and easier for my students who were helping me to control the crowd. I must admit that our local Political Secretary Mr. Liao Chow Kooi had his hands full as he was responsible for verifying the identity and eligibility of students who are not local. I thought by pre-issuing registration forms I eliminated would the problem of “false declaration” of the family name Liao and “relatives” recommended by local villagers. Well, later on I learnt that I was out maneuvered by some who obtained the forms for eligible students (Primary 5 & 6; Junior High School 3 and all senior High School and university students) but passed it on to others who are not eligible. I cannot verify this but I was also told a few forms were “sold” as it was in great demand. So, when I issued registration forms for the weekend lessons last week, I make sure each form already had the name of the student for which it was issued.
I kept reporters and TV crews at bay till the beginning of this year when our Political Secretary persuaded me to relent as the city of Dabu wanted to feature me on state TV because I was proposed by the city as a candidate for a government sponsored county award. Letting in one TV crew led to another and reporters followed in their wake. This summer we were disrupted even more as we had volunteers from England and the US and they are news worthy “items”. The reporters and TV crew even followed us around during the weekend when we organized the “teaching staff” to visit places of interests in Dabu-Huliao. LSSC was featured on the Guangzhou Yangcheng Wan Bao on 5th August and front page feature in the Meizhou Ribao (Meizhou Daily) on 7th August 2008 and uploaded onto the Meizhou Government Website on the same day. We were also on Dabu TV and Meizhou TV many times as LSSC was in contention for the honor of an exemplary public social service in the county of Dabu.
Publicity is double edged for while it opens doors and makes it easier to deal with government departments, it also increased student intake problems. At another level, top internal security officers also came to investigate. They asked for my teaching materials. I showed them our Handbook but they could not make any sense of it. Then I showed them our Reader for this summer which is all about the Beijing Olympic Games and the text taken solely from China’s Official Beijing’s Olympic website. They were duly impressed and were satisfied.
I was greatly relieved when our veteran couple, Mr. Wang Chee Seng and his adventurous wife Ms. Ho Poh Lin from Penang, Malaysia, turned up in early July. It was their third summer coming to LSSC as volunteers. Immediately after their arrival, we began our final preparations as we huddled together to work out the distribution of students, the grouping of the volunteer teachers, the design of the handbook. We are indebted to the local Dabu government for printing and binding our handbook (30 pages) and reader (16 pages). We are also indebted to the PTA of La Salle College who sponsored a heavy duty printing machine and good quality printing papers which gave our teaching materials a touch of class. This year we decided to attach name tag onto the plastic folder file issued to each student to serve as personal identity and also helped them to identify their own file.
We had problem scheduling the summer programme because of three weeks difference in holiday schedules of the primary schools, junior middle schools, senior middle schools and university. As a result, the first week beginning on 14th July, we were unable to go full steam ahead as we would like to because some students were still in school and consequently some of our local volunteer assistant teachers had not reported for duty. Thank God, with the experience of Mr. Wang in scheduling and time-tabling our classes took off smoothly from the very beginning. Students control and general orderliness under the hawk-eyed supervision of Ms Ho and her team of four assistants received accolade from parents, many of whom are teachers, for the way discipline was maintained. A villager whom I address as uncle Jit Meng volunteered to take charge of traffic control. With an official name tag hanging from his neck, he did a marvelous job of keeping traffic flowing safely and smoothly. I was determined not clash with the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games on 8th August so our programme this year kicked off on 14th July and ended on 7th August.
Tighter control of the registration enabled us to keep our student population below 450. As for our assistant teaching staff, we had three volunteer high school students from London, England, and one from Houston, US. From Hongkong, we had five boys from La Salle College, Kowloon, and a girl from Marymount Convent, Kowloon. A former student of LSC Mr. Pierre Wong, a professional translator, also joined us for a week and ran 5 evening classes on the rules of translation. A total of 10 local university students including a former student of LSSC who is now a graduate teacher, returned to assist us. A total of 15 other assistant teachers were senior middle high school and junior middle high school students. We also included three primary six students as assistant teachers for the very weak students.
Unlike previous years when each assistant teacher was assigned two to four students to tutor, we decided to organize the tutoring staff into 4 teams. Each team of 6-8 was assigned between 20 to 30 students. They organize and share the teaching activities among them. At the end of lunch each day, each team meet for half an hour to prepare a report for the group staff meeting that follows. At the meetings the teams learned from one another and proposed ideas for follow-up. At the meeting, Mr. Wang who supervises the tutoring activities draws attention to strengths and weaknesses he observed and proposed appropriate follow-up actions. The clearest benefit from team teaching is the bonding between the team members and the students. The use of team approach was also very useful for extra special tutoring and the organizing of the evening activities from Monday to Thursday. All in all, we were very please with the effectiveness of this team teaching approach.
Preparations for the summer began much earlier. Last year, we had to borrow two houses to handle the small group tutoring activities. This year, we managed to keep all teaching activities within the confines of LSSC. A dinning hall and kitchen space was created by adding railings to an open space at the flat roof top. Extra space was created by adding awnings to the corridors of the old house. A huge tent over an open space next to the washroom created a makeshift classroom. The weather was very kind to us with rains confiding itself to weekends and late evenings.
We were very impressed by the commitment of students and their parents to attend classes on the two mornings when it rained. It put a lot of pressure on us as sheltered space was very limited. Thank God, with the co-operation of students and creativity of the staff, we could run our lessons with the least amount of disruption even in bad weather. Once the programme got going, it gathered momentum by the day. The intensity of the lessons in the morning did not seem to tire out the students as some returned in the afternoon for extra lessons while many returned in the evening for the evening socials. Soon it was time to say goodbye. The Hongkong volunteers left a week earlier on 2nd August and the British and US volunteers left on 7th August. As usual many gifts and mementoes were given and received, email addresses exchanged, tears shed and hugs shared. I thank God that another incident free summer mission concluded successfully.
This summer, apart from having to deal with the press and TV crews, we also had to accommodate to requests of the local Information Department and the Overseas Chinese Relations Department to pay an official visit to LSSC. They did not want to be left out as they also aware that LSSC was a strong contender for an award for exemplary public service. They too want to be able to say they know about LSSC have honored LSSC for offering reputable public service to the community. They wanted to present us with appreciation banners and asked for students to be gathered around for the purpose of taking photographs. I would not allow them to come in when classes were going on. At the end, our political secretary suggested that they be allowed to make the presentation 10 minutes before the end of my last lesson for the day. They waited. I relented.
The local education department did not want to be left out either. They invited me, our political secretary, Mr. and Mrs Wang and the four overseas volunteers for lunch at the best restaurant in town. I declined and I let them know in uncertain terms that I was very disappointed because their invitation ignored the contributions of my local volunteers who were the mainstay of our summer programmes all these years. Our political secretary tried to convince me to reconsider and not to be so stubborn but follow the local custom of respect. I stood my ground. Even though some local volunteers told me that they did not mind not being invited, I told them that I would not budge because we work as a team and everyone is important. Well, much to the surprise the political secretary, the education department reconsidered and decided to invite everyone. We had a great lunch in grand style.
I must put on record for this report the involvement of La Salle College, Kowloon this summer. To Mr. Chan Tong, Mr. Robert Wong and their team of teachers, I extend my thanks for looking after our four overseas volunteers Amanda, Yanting, Sarah, Will and their parents in Hongkong, for arranging for them to be accompanied to LSSC and for their choice of the five LSC volunteers who easily integrated with overseas and local volunteers and contributed greatly to the success of the programme. I want to thank Mr. Thomas Wong, the President of LSC PTA for visiting us this summer and taking a very personal interest in the progress and development of LSSC. I also want to thank Mr. Joseph Lee, Past President of LSC OBA and his wife Mrs. Josephine Lee for coming to visit us and for allowing their daughter Alecia of Marymount Convent to be our first female volunteer from Hongkong.
I accompanied the overseas volunteers back to Hongkong on 7th August leaving behind the Wangs to organize the clean-up and store away activities. I had to return to Hongkong as I was reaching the end of my 90 days limit visa restriction. I returned to Changjiao 5 days later. The Wangs already left for their holidays touring the Fujian province to the north. After a few days of lunches and dinners with some students and their parents, it was time to settle down to prepare for a 10 days English Reading Programme at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Meixian. Bishop Liao of the diocese of Meizhou had often invited me to teach the local Sisters and run an English Class for the parishioners. It turned out that because of a priests retreat I was only given 7 days instead of the proposed 10 days.
Anyway on 17th August I set out for Meixian accompanied by two junior middle three and two junior middle two students. I hired a small van as I had to bring along my computer, LCD projector, loudspeaker system, printing machine, reading materials, booklets and printing papers. I am very proud of my four students as they did a good job helping me teach for 5 hours a day for 6 days on the trot. They made great impression as they spoke English with me all the time and I gave all my instructions to them in English. They interacted very well with the adults as well and the youths and formed bonds of friendship that continued after the programme. They talked so often of the experience that other students are pestering me to take along for future out-reach teaching missions.
Schools re-opened for the 2008-09 academic year on 1st September. I decided to sponsor the local kindergarten as the village was unable to finance it because they only had 5 students last year. Without the kindergarten the local primary school will surely have to close down within three years. I decided to throw it a life line after consulting with two LSC–OBs in Hongkong, who agreed to assist financially. Word soon went around that I was taking a personal interest in the kindergarten. This year the kindergarten opened with 9 students with a new teacher. I now have added duty to help guide her.
I end this rather lengthy report on the happy note that on 18th September I was awarded the honorary title of大埔县道德楷模 in a rather elaborate ceremony at Dabu town Hall where 5 of us were honored as exemplary comrades and 5 others were honored as good comrades of Dabu County. The Political Secretary of Dabu County and most head of departments were present. We were invited to a county sponsored lunch after the two hours long ceremony which included cultural dances and big screen presentations of all the awardees that had been aired on TV since July.
care and God bless. Please keep me in your prayers as I have to
seriously re-think how to take LSSC to another level now that LSSC is
locally recognized as an exemplary public service centre.
As always with love in the service of youth and nation in DLS,
p.s. Here I attempt to translate 大埔县道德楷模. Roughly it is “Dabu County Moral Example – Exemplary Comrade”
All good things must
come to an end...