Guest Post by David DeGeest
“In China many families live in extreme poverty. This is especially true of the mountain villages of the Guilin/Yangshuo area of Guangxi Province where many farm families live a meager existence on a bit of land. They struggle to pay the school fees for their children to go to the local elementary school.”
–from the Volunteer English Teaching Program
China teems with travel wonders and travel woes. I had made plans with friends to head to Vietnam for the Chinese New Year and ended up, because of visa troubles, in Yangshuo, Guanxi province, home of the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat and the unbreakable Chun Li.
While the trip was a cascade of logistic mishap after mishap, the beauty of the karsts and the uniqueness of the people I met–from a Guangzhou leather factory owner to a crew of Dutch HKU students–all gave me reason to be thankful for my fiasco.
During my stay in Yangshuo, I had the good fortune to meet Laurie Mackenzie, a man who, like me, is an accidental expat: he decided to come to China on little more than a whim. A retired professor and former officer in the Canadian army, he’s been here for five years building a network of schools and volunteers to help poor villagers and children learn English skills. But he is not on a mission of religion, Americanization, or exploitation–he is on a mission of heart.
Yangshuo is dense with tourists almost year-round, and its offers of spectacular scenery, excellent mountain climbing and hiking trails, and good-quality, inexpensive food and lodging draw tourists not just from China but all over the world. By offering economically diasadvantaged children and families English lessons and opportunities for sometimes-shy Chinese children and adults to interact with foreigners, MacKenzie opens up economic possibilities for these families and children. MacKenzie also works tirelessly to secure donations that allow for these students to purchase the basic resources they need for school–pens, paper, books, and other supplies. “Poor schools do not have resource materials,” says MacKenzie on the Volunteer English Teachers website. “Classroom equipment is a sheet of plywood painted black and some coloured chalk. It is often impossible for parents to buy the note books, pencils etc. that every pupil needs.” MacKenzie, his wife, and his volunteer staff of Anglophones from around the world do everything they can to help these motivated children realize their potential.
Children at the VET schools learn oral English through games, songs, and activities like choirs (as seen above). I end this article with some words from MacKenzie about why he chose to begin this work and why he continues:
“The cycle of poverty can only be broken through education. Poor peasant farmers struggle to pay the annual school fees for their children to go to primary school but very, very few can afford the higher costs of sending the children to Junior Middle School or beyond. We know that if the children can learn to be comfortable with foreign visitors and speak some English they will be able to get work. Volunteer English Teachers are committed to helping these children realize a better future. “Asia,China Editorials,China Expats,Chinese New Year,Expats,Holidays,Personal Notes,Teaching in China,Yangshuo China,中国