Cynthia spent two months of her summer teaching English at an afternoon program at Astor English School, located in inner Mongolia. She taught in two classes: one for grades 2-4 and the other for grades 5-6. Her students, understandably, could not speak English very well because of their circumstances and the weak educational system.
Given the short period of time, she tried to focus on improving the students’ pronunciation, an aspect that she believed to be the most helpful to the younger students. Above all, Cynthia said that she strived to make English more interesting and approachable by combining enjoyable activities through teaching songs and reading children’s books aloud.
This was Cynthia’s second time visiting Astor English School – she first went there the summer after her Third Form year to serve as a teaching assistant. She recalls feeling sorry for the children she met there and realizing how privileged she was after her first visit. “This time,” she said, “I felt like they were really well off. They were perfectly happy about where they were. You don’t need things to make the difference.”
Manjari also taught English, but at a government school in India for two weeks. Then, during her third week, she visited Ashajyothi USA, an orphanage for the disabled in Hanuman Junction, a rural town in India. This was a follow-up to her visit to the orphanage the previous summer, and this year, she assisted the physical therapist at the orphanage and participated in making crafts with the children.
At the government school, she taught a sixth grade class of 65 students. Taking advantage of her dual language ability, she was able to communicate with her students, who only knew the basics of English, and teach them in an innovative way. During the first four days of teaching, she concentrated on delivering a few of Aesop’s fables including “The Hare and the Tortoise,” “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and ensuring that her students fully understood the stories. She would translate the story in Telegu, their native tongue, to help them understand it better and would give occasional vocabulary tests as well. After the fourth day, her students started preparing for a puppet show based on the scripts Manjari created for the stories she had taught. Her summer course ended with her students’ 30 minute puppet show
presentation in front of the entire school, which was a huge success.
Manjari expressed her surprise for the students’ aptitude; she was not expecting much, but they turned out to be very bright. She says, “There were no desks, and rats were scattered all around the floor. And the teachers never showed up. So whatever I told them, they just started writing it down.” This school, located in Hyderabad, Gowlidoddi Village, was poorly supervised. Teachers not showing up to class and leaving the students to sit in an empty classroom was a common occurrence.
Recently, however, the school was adopted by a non-profit organization called “Move the Wheel Foundation” and is planning to rectify its curriculum. Manjari worked with this foundation to establish a gifted and talented program, planned to begin from the next school year. Furthermore, she plans to conduct fund-raisers both at her town and in Groton for this school. She added, “I can’t believe that we, who are going to Groton School, are complaining about the work load when there are kids who would do anything for this opportunity. We have everything but just can’t appreciate it.”
Shangyan Li ’14 spent three weeks in Jiangpu Monastery, which is in a Tibetan town called Chamdo. He had two major goals for the project: the first was to help build a water supply system for the monastery and the second was to make people learn more about the culture of Tibetan Buddhism. Before Shangyan started his project, the main temple of the Jiangpu Monastery had sporadic access to water supply, and its retreat center, located around 300 feet higher in elevation, had none. Therefore, fresh water had to be carried by foot to the retreat center every day, which was a huge inconvenience to the monks.
With funding from the Sunflower Organization in addition to Groton’s Lawrence Global Scholars Fund, Shangyan took a role in leading the construction of a water reservoir at the bottom of the mountain the monastery was located on, so that the water could be directly pumped to different parts of the monastery.
Apart from building a water supply, Shangyan also focused on observing cultural aspects of the Tibetan Buddhists. As he spent his time at the monastery during Xiazuo, a fasting period which allows the monks to immerse themselves in scriptures and debate, he had the opportunity to learn a great deal simply by attending these debates. Although he could not fully understand the debates because of the language barrier, he was able to broaden his view and understanding on the religious tensions between Tibetan Buddhism and mainland China. He said, “I used to fully accept the Chinese propaganda about Tibet, but I was able to look at the issue from another viewpoint after this experience. I now understand the Western, Chinese, and local Tibetan perspectives on this contention on religious freedom.” Shangyan plans to visit the monastery again next summer to help the Tibetan Buddhists, who are currently facing opposition from the Chinese government.
Service continues to be a subject greatly emphasized around the Circle. The experiences of the Lawrence Global Scholars Fund recipients once again remind the Groton community the importance of service as an opportunity not only to give, but to receive priceless lessons from others.