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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blessing Hands Receives Humanitarian Award


Betty Cutts recently received an award from the Provincial Government of Guangxi Province for her humanitarian work with the students of Yangshuo and Qinzhou, China. This was a great honor, since the award had never before been given to a foreigner.

Zhou Xiaodong, the Yangshuo Bureau of Education Chief, presented the award while Malan Cai, Blessing Hands administrator, translated for the presentation ceremony.

Carolyn Franzini of Morehead, who was in Yangshuo with the Sister Cities Summer Youth Delegation, accepted the plaque for Betty who was in Taiwan at the time. The nomination was submitted by the Educational Department of Yangshuo County, where Blessing Hands gave educational support to 260 students in 58 schools during the last school year.

Five college scholarships were also given to Blessing Hands students last year. You can find out more about the mission of Blessing Hands at http://blessing-hands.org.

Teaching English at Xing Ping

July 4th, 2007

Today we visited Xing Ping Primary School, where I taught an English lesson for Andy Liang's third grade class. I was slightly anxious about the lesson, since I had no information on the class (other than the grade level) or the students' English capabilities beforehand.

I entered the classroom and presented Andy Liang with a gift. Then, I walked to the front of the room. As I went to my place, the kids yelled a robust "Hello!!!" I, of course, returned the greeting. After asking them as to how they were doing, I began pulling out various 8X10 pictures I had. The first one was of my mother. Pointing, I said, "This is my mother." I then wrote "mother" on the board with the phrase "This is my _____" above it. I had them read the sentence with me. I repeated this format as I showed them pictures of my father, sister, grandparents, and dog (supplementing the list with the words "brother," "cat," and "family"). To finalize this portion of the lesson, I pointed to each phrase and word on the board, while the students would say, "This is my mother," "This is my father," "This is my dog," and so on. I pointed out to them, however, that when inserting "grandparents" into the phrase, the sentence should be "THESE ARE my grandparents."

I wrote on the board, "Do you have a _____." I went around the room, asking various students simple questions like "Do you have a brother?" The student would stand up and politely respond, "Yes, I do" or "No, I do not." Then (while pointing to myself), I told the students, "My name is Megan." On the board I wrote, "What is your name?" and had the kids read this phrase. I went around the room, asking various students this question. Finally, I wrote, "The name of my ____ is" on the board (which they read aloud), and again I asked various students for the names of their brothers, sisters, etc.

Next, we played a little game. I actually had to quickly modify the game a great deal (which I had assessed upon entering the classroom), as the classroom had very little extra space and the desks were all in tight rows. I took out a ball of yarn and walked to the student at the end of the front row. I asked her, "Do you have a sister?" To which she replied, "Yes, I do." I handed her the ball of yarn, instructing her to turn to the next person to ask a different kind of question (using the terms and questions from the day's lesson). This pattern would continue throughout the whole room, row by row. Some of the kids were very shy about their English skills, while others were pretty confident. The students were very quick to help a struggling peer. With each passing of the ball of yarn, the giving student would say, "Here you are!" and the receiving student replied with "Thank you!" (Note: they did this all on their own! Such polite students!). Every once in a while, I would help the students make small corrections with the way they worded a question. For instance, one child inquired, "What is the name of sister?" I gently corrected him by remarking, "What is the name of YOUR sister?" Each student from then on was very careful to include the "your" part.

At the end of the lesson, the youth delegates from Morehead, along with Laura Franzini, graciously came to the head of the classroom. The students were given time to interact with them, asking them questions such as, "What do you like to eat?" and "What did you have for breakfast?" Each person from Morehead would respond and then return the question to the student. After each child had given an appropriate reply, we would present them with a small gift (namely, tattoos donated by MSU Athletics and stickers). The students were very excited to receive such gifts).

I was pretty pleased with the lesson, especially since beforehand I had had no idea of the number of students, the classroom layout, and (most importantly) their knowledge of and ability to use the English language. The children were extremely attentive, eager, and polite... and were very quick to catch on! While the material may have been a little below their level, I think it was appropriate in order to raise their confidence levels when interacting with an English-speaking person.

Next, we headed to an office to meet with the principal and the Blessing Hands students. As I climbed the staircase to the correct floor, I saw about 30 smiling children at the top of the staircase eagerly waiting for me. As soon as I reached the top, they started to excitedly thrust various drawings into my hands, saying, "Here you are!" A flurry of artwork flew in from all directions! As I watched the chaotic stack of drawings pile up in my hands, I laughed and repeatedly said, "Thank you! Thank you!" The artwork had been created by some of Xing Ping's students for their Sister School in Morehead. This moment is probably one of my favorite parts of the trip.

I presented the principal with a present, then gave the Blessing Hands students some small gifts. They were all extremely grateful. We got a photo with these students. After the meeting, we handed out gifts to the students who had created the artwork for the Sister School.

The students then rushed out to the courtyard, where Matt Collins gave a skateboard demonstration. The children were mesmerized as he deftly jumped, flipped, and zoomed past them on his skateboard. After showing the entranced young students what could be done with a skateboard, Matt then offered for the children to try their hand (or shall I say, feet?) at skateboarding. Out of the huge, excited crowd of kids, one little girl bravely stepped up to bat. Matt held the board steady as she climbed on, then guided her by holding her hands as she rolled along the concrete. All of a sudden, everyone wanted a turn! The children rushed to snatch a good place in line, in the hopes that they too might get a ride. Matt's demonstration was definitely a hit!

To close, I would like to take this time to thank Carolyn Franzini, who greatly helped me in planning the English lesson... and even provided the ball of yarn! She has such a great source of knowledge and support.

That concludes this day's school adventures! This trip was our last school visit.



Students at Xing Ping

Monday, July 30, 2007

Learning More about Chinese Education

Hey everyone! Sorry for the brief hiatus in blogs... I've been out of town. Now, to continue with the trip:

July 3rd, 2007

This day was extremely busy. We visited 3 schools: Putao Primary, Putao Middle, and Yangshuo Middle School. At each school I gave the principal and the Blessing Hands students gifts. At Putao Primary School, we gave them the English books sent by McBrayer Elementary School as a way to invite them to become Sister Schools. Putao Primary was very interested in this opportunity; they actually had tried to send an e-mail to the Morehead school, but the e-mail was returned... the principal thinks the problem stems from the computer itself malfunctioning. We told them that we understand, that we will be sure to let McBrayer's principal know the situation. Hopefully, McBrayer will be able to send some penpal letters to Putao Primary. Later that afternoon, we made steamed dumplings at Putao Middle School... and they were delicious!

Tomorrow, we will go to XingPing Primary School, where I will teach a 45-minute English lesson. It's going to be very challenging for several reasons. #1 - The little kids are shy to speak English in front of foreigners... and #2 - I'm not sure how much English they already know. However, I think it will be a great experience, especially as I am an education major!

During this trip, I have really enjoyed learning about the Chinese education system. Their school day is VERY different. First off, they get a really long break in the afternoon (in the summer it's from about 12:30-2:30) after lunch for nap time, as it is so hot here. They finish school at around 5-5:30. Secondly, the school is set up very differently. Even in the primary schools, it's more like a college campus. There are gardens, basketball courts, lakes, dining halls, dormitories (some kids live too far away to travel every day), various classroom buildings, and so on. At lunch, the children all bring their own rice bowl to the lunch lady, and she cuts out a square of sticky rice from this large pan and plops it in their bowl (along with meats and vegetables). All the kids wash their own rice bowls after eating. They also are responsible for keeping the school itself clean, and I often saw children with brooms and buckets walking around the schools. Imagine if American students were responsible for cleaning their schools! Finally, the kids are outside MUCH more, playing basketball, running around, and so on. This goes along with the Chinese philosophy of maintaining a healthy body.

Well, tomorrow it's off to Xing Ping... along with a boat ride on the Li River and a viewing of the famous Yangshuo Light Show!

The Blessing Hands students at Putao Middle

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yangshuo Experimental Middle School

JULY 2nd, 2007 (again!)

On the agenda for the day was a visit to Yangshuo Experimental Middle School, in which we would all stay for an entire school day. Please note, while the title says "middle school," it's actually a combination of our middle and high school.

The school was a lengthy walk from where we were staying. As we walked the small slope up to the school, we were greeted by a good-sized banner that made us feel very welcome. JK and Matt's "mother" (Jessica), the honorary principal, and a few selected students showed us around the campus of the school. During the tour, I was extremely impressed by the beauty of the school. To give you an idea of the campus, picture many buildings (including a dining hall, auditorium, dormitory, and classrooms) making a half-moon formation around basketball courts and a garden with winding stone paths. The waving trees and blankets of green grass were a perfect foil to the stark school buildings. Yangshuo Experimental Middle School was gorgeous.

After the raising of the flag and a short speech by the principal, our group gathered in a meeting room with Jessica, the principal, the honorary principal, and (at my request) the Blessing Hands students. I seized the opportunity to give the principal and the Blessing Hands children gifts donated by businesses around Morehead. They were very appreciative.

Throughout the day, we had many different activities, including a lunch at the school, a basketball game (as they put it on the scoreboard, "U.S. vs. China"), tire races, and music/drama/dance performances by the teachers, schoolchildren, and our group. Mr. Franzini led our group in a singing of "My Old Kentucky Home." The day was punctuated with several photographic opportunities.

At the end of the day, the honorary principal and principal sent us away with some nice gifts. We were tired but very pleased.


Tomorrow: Putao Primary, Putao Middle, and Yangshuo Middle!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dilemma

July 2nd, 2007

Beginning on July 1st, Mr. and Mrs. Franzini and I (along with the help of Steve Barker, Malan Cai, and Johnny Lu) have been interviewing candidates for the Blessing Hands scholarship. We completed a few more interviews today, with a grand total of fourteen hopefuls (BLOGGER'S NOTE: We ended up interviewing one last scholarship applicant later on in the trip). Choosing our top picks for the scholarship was extremely difficult. And eye-opening.

The stories were heartbreaking. Some of the children had only one parent, or lived with a friend or sibling. With such situations comes an immense burden on the most capable of the family - be it a grandparent or even an older sister - to have a well-enough-paying job. During the summers when school is not in session, these students work in farms, bakeries, factories, and so on in order to supplement the family income.

In America, we do not realize how wealthy we are. Even I, as a "poor college student," have more money than an entire family of one of the candidates we interviewed. Wow. I could not believe it! This family makes only 800 yuan a year, which translates roughly into 100 DOLLARS A YEAR.

When asked the question, "If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?", many children gave sobering answers. One student said, "I would like to have a different lifestyle - to relieve the burden on my family." Another noted, "I would like my grandpa, who is crippled and has been in bed for two years now - to be able to walk again."

However, these children were not complaining... nor were they looking for sympathy. They were very matter-of-fact, while their kind hearts were evident. Many of the students' reasons for going to college were enmeshed in their desires to make money for their families, in hopes that they might have a better life. One boy even said he would like to be able to make enough to support his younger brother in receiving a college education. Amazing.

I wish all of these students could receive a scholarship, a college education, and a new chance at life.

Unfortunately, a few of the students have national test scores that quietly urge them to return to high school for another year, in hopes of raising their test score so that they may attend a better college (the better the college, the cheaper the tuition). Yet, another year in high school means more money, since the government does not fund education at this grade level. For poor students with lackluster test scores, this decision is a toss-up: "Should I raise my test score but pay for another year of high school... or accept the test score and go to a lower, more expensive university?"

I am so thankful that I am not the one choosing who will receive the scholarship. My heart goes out to all of these children.


While these children are not the current scholarship applicants, will they be able to afford college... and the chance for a better life?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'm Back!

Hello Everyone!

First, I would like to apologize for not being able to access the blog while I was in China. Now that I am back in the United States, I would like to share some of the experiences I had as a Blessing Hands intern in Yangshuo (and in the surrounding towns). I will try to break these stories (which were written while in China) down into different blogs for easier reading.

July 1st, 2007
Today we hosted our "Friendship Art Day" in Yangshuo. As I walked past the building where the event was to occur, I noticed many sights that demonstrated how the event had been highly anticipated in the area. Those who were hosting the event had hung a huge red banner at the site, letting everyone know of the "Live Painting Show" with the Sister Cities of Morehead and Yangshuo. Outside the building, many children (carting various art paraphernalia) were waiting calmly beside the locked entrance doors until the event would begin. Too, Gloria Wei had informed us that many students - those who were unable to be in attendance today - had sent in their artwork for the show. Already we were off to a great start!


As the event unfolded, about 50-60 students (ages 13-18) piled into the courtyard and began spreading out their art supplies onto the sun-speckled wooden desks. No student seemed at a loss as to where to begin; each had a specific idea of what to create and remained very focused on the task at hand. The children were engaged in all types of media, from oil paint to pencil. I was fascinated to observe how their meticulous brush strokes transformed into amazing pieces. At one desk, huge pink flowers blossomed... at another, a gray and black eagle perched, commanding his territory... at another, two painted geishas giggled surreptitiously in a corner... at yet another, a smiling child held hands with the Earth, proclaiming a love for peace.

I was extremely impressed with the talent pouring from such young hands.

The Art Day schedule was highlighted by the presence of Mayor Li, as well as by the beautiful demonstrations by several talented artists. These artists were four painters from China, Dr. Bob Franzini (who chose to create charcoal portraits for the event which would remain in Yangshuo), Taral Thompson, and Matt Collins. The Chinese students were all very interested in the demonstrations.

In short, the event was a melding of East and West... an open exchange of centuries-old techniques, well-constructed comments and praise, and flowing gradients of color. Everyone - from the young artists to the virtuosos, from the Chinese to the Americans - was very pleased with the event. I would definitely call it a success. I am looking forward to sharing the best of these impressive works with all of you at the Art Show in Morehead.


Until next time,
Meg