Written by Zoe Huang, Winnie Su
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Diana Chang, Adriana DiBenedetto
Shuanghu Elementary School, located in Qimei Township, Penghu County, Taiwan, was established as an independent school in 1949. Due to the long distance from the main island of Taiwan, they face a few challenges obtaining resources, and while the population of Qimei Township is approximately 4,000, the number of students in the elementary school is only 34. With these circumstances in mind, the Tzu Chi Youth Association (Tzu Shao) in Sacramento reached out to the school. The result of this collaboration between young people was the development of a fun and engaging three-month English learning program online.
The program ran from December 27th to March 28th, 2020. During this time, Tzu Shao members prepared presentations via Google Slides as a key medium for learning. They additionally incorporated helpful vocabulary into conversations and games to encourage students in the fifth and sixth grades at Shuanghu Elementary School.
Working Vigorously to Prepare for Every Detail
The Tzu Shao members chosen for the program are enrolled in high school, have a flexible schedule, bright personalities, and are fluent in Chinese and English. In the end, twenty Tzu Shao members were selected to mentor four fifth-grade and six sixth-grade students from Shuanghu Elementary School. Students and mentors in this program were divided into ten groups of two Tzu Shao members per elementary school student.
To promote a smooth learning process, both the elementary school and Tzu Shao members tested their internet and Google Meet connections in advance. And indeed, the energetic voices and warmth of Tzu Shao members were able to travel seamlessly across the ocean through their screens to Penghu County’s Qimei Township.
To help guide the Tzu Shao team, Nancy Ku, a volunteer coach for Tzu Shao, invited two Tzu Shao graduates who currently study at the University of California, Berkeley, to join in. Thus, Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association members (Tzu Ching), Selena Wong and Estella Wong, led discussions with Tzu Shao members regarding themes, content, and teaching materials via online meetings, and encouraged brainstorming activities.
Pay It Forward With Love
Tzu Shao members diligently prepared for the class every Sunday afternoon (Monday morning, Taiwan time). In addition to the twenty-minute lesson, the Tzu Shao members gathered fifteen minutes beforehand to confirm that everything would run smoothly before starting the course.
In the afternoon, the sun had shone brightly, and Tzu Shao members smiled just as warmly into their webcams as they provided their encouragement. Despite the brevity of the lesson, it was also extremely fulfilling for both students. Afterward, each group shared their progress via Google Meet. If concerns arose or the course did not run as smoothly as expected, everyone would contribute to the discussion and suggest ways to improve the next class.
From chill winter days to spring’s first blossoms, time seemed to fly by in a rush, and before the students realized, three months had passed. During this period, laughter and surprises abounded, and challenges were swiftly overcome.
At the beginning of the virtual course, the students were shy and hesitant to add their voices to the conversation. As Tzu Shao members established a friendly and encouraging rapport with students, a far more relaxed environment was achieved. When students encountered words that were difficult to pronounce, Tzu Shao mentors took care to slow down, and guided students syllable by syllable. Tzu Shao mentors adjusted the learning material accordingly when classes were expected to go over or under the expected time. Some even used their free time to plan individualized teaching methods and interactions.
The exchange helped both students and Tzu Shao members expand their skills and provided a great deal of new insight. Tzu Shao mentors expressed their joy at meeting the younger students and being there for them as they progressed. They additionally explained how they felt the program strengthened their sense of responsibility and their capacity to work well with others.
With Gratitude and Sincerity
The event successfully concluded in early April, and Xiao Auyang, the principal of Shuanghu Elementary School, expressed her appreciation with a heartfelt smile during an interview.
“Thank you to the brothers and sisters from Tzu Chi and Tzu Shao for being willing to accompany the children in our school,” said Principal Te Shiao Ou. “Due to the influence of the northeast monsoon in Qimei Township, traffic would be interrupted for half a year, so we here in Shuanghu Elementary School not only lack resources but companionship. We sincerely thank Tzu Chi for being willing to accompany us for such a long time, and to learn and grow together.”
Principal Ou also arranged for a second program with Sacramento’s Tzu Shao to continue this activity until the end of the school year in June.
Justin Wong, a Tzu Shao mentor, reflected upon the program, saying, “I joined this program because I enjoy teaching. During the event, I learned that everyone plays a key role in the team, and communication between peers is even more indispensable. Thanks to everyone’s good cooperation, we gradually developed a teaching method suitable for all students. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to communicate with people thousands of miles away within a short span of time. For me, this was a really great activity.”
“During the program, Tzu Shao members have benefited a lot,” shared a parent named Soo Ching Mak. “I see my children grow, gain self-confidence, and improve their sense of responsibility. They are willing to spend time preparing teaching materials because they believe that this event is meaningful. With the help of technology, they have the opportunity to accompany children in remote villages, study together, and cultivate their love and patience. I am grateful that Tzu Shao still has the opportunity to offer their kindness during the pandemic.”
Another parent, Emily Tseng, gave positive feedback after the event as well: “When I learned about the program, I encouraged my two children to participate. Because we love Taiwan, we want to use actions to support Taiwan so that the children from Tzu Shao and the children of Taiwan can communicate and share their experiences. It was of special significance. I also saw my two children make their own teaching materials and hold meetings every week for reflections; I felt that they have gained passion and responsibility as well as realized the joy in giving over receiving. I hope that there will be more teaching events in the future so that children in America can give through love and action.”
At Tzu Chi, we believe that love and care know no borders, and indeed, these Tzu Shao members exemplify this sentiment. Even though the program has since been completed, the beautiful memories created during this time will continue on in their hearts.