The 10th annual CWEF and Ember Summer English and Leadership camp was held in Deqing, China from July 8-10, in which volunteers from Hong Kong worked with girls scholarship winners to strengthen their English skills and engage in empowerment activities. This is our group picture moments before we said our goodbyes after a meaningful and memorable weekend together.
In 2006 a small group of students at Hong Kong International School heard about a group of girls in the southern Chinese town of Deqing who had passed their high school entrance exams to attend the best school in the area but, due to financial difficulties, had to work instead. In response, the students and CWEF (Concordia Welfare and Education Foundation) created a girls scholarship program in Deqing that has supported more than 300 girls to receive a high school education over the past ten years.
Three of this year’s participating HKIS alumni – Jenn Wu, Jaime Shih, and Charmaine Kwan – also started their own organization called Ember to support these students, a commitment they have maintained over the last decade, even while working full-time jobs in Hong Kong. Every summer since the inception of the scholarship program, a group of Hong Kong volunteers has held an English and leadership camp for the girls. This year, the 10th summer camp, a group of 21 high school, college, and working age volunteers from Hong Kong traveled to Deqing from July 8-10 where they were eagerly met by 40 scholarship winners.
Over the next three days the Hong Kong team led a series of English activities through videos, songs, games, brainstorming sessions, and group discussions. A special focus of the curriculum was teaching empowerment, encouraging the girls to consider how they could take on personal challenges in their families or social issues in their communities. Inspired by a TED talk by Indian educator Kiran Bir Sethi, students encouraged each other throughout the weekend to get infected with the “I Can” bug, repeating the slogan, “I can! You can! We can!” The empowerment message inspired the girls to not only continue to pursue their educational goals, but also prompted them to think about how they can act now on behalf of others.
On Saturday evening we did the “Into the Fire“activity in which everyone shares what are the most important people, objects, and values in their lives.
One of the weekend highlights was having one of the graduates of the scholarship program, Ocean, share her story with students. After overcoming a series of personal challenges throughout her high school and college years, today Ocean is a well-established and much loved Chinese teacher at a primary school in the nearby city of ZhaoQing. She shared how she wanted to be a teacher for more than twenty years, encouraging the girls to never give up on their dreams. Ocean has been extremely committed to the English camp, participating every summer over the last 10 years.
Ocean sharing with the girls her journey from being a year 2 high school student to a successful primary school teacher.
At the end of the third day the Deqing girls offered their final reflections on the weekend activities through a presentation. Many of them shared their dreams for the future: to be a psychologist, teacher, translator, emcee, Chinese medicine practitioner, doctor, and many more. Other groups discussed the personal and social issues that they focused on during the weekend: family struggles, water pollution, and educational reform in China. The teary-eyed goodbye between the girls and the volunteers provided evidence to all of the opening of hearts that grew wider and wider as the hours and days of the summer camp progressed.