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China Daily Website

Keen and able

Updated: 2013-05-03 10:15
By Zhao Yanrong ( China Daily)

 Keen and able

Chinese volunteers Kang Chengfeng (center) and Jiang Junfeng instruct students in Uganda how to roll. Yang Kai / for China Daily

Young Chinese volunteers in Uganda are both teaching and learning about life as they turn stereotypes about selfish youth on their head

China's younger generations often come in for criticism from older people, with the common theme being that they are selfish, hedonistic and irresponsible. But Wang Guanghui, a 20-year-old student from Guizhou province, and other young Chinese volunteers in Africa are proving otherwise.

Wang won through against fierce competition in a field of 400 candidates for an opportunity to teach in Uganda.

According to an agreement signed between the Ugandan and Chinese governments under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, 15 youth volunteers, including Wang, arrived in Uganda in October last year, to teach Mandarin, sports and aquaculture.

The volunteers - mostly college students and young professionals born in late 1980s and early 1990s, and many of them single children - will stay in their posts for as long as a year.

For the majority, this is their first experience of leaving China, and so as much a learning experience as a chance to help.

Wang and her schoolmates from the Physical School at Guizhou Normal University teach gymnastics, kungfu and table tennis at four primary schools in Kampala and Entebbe. Every morning, a bus takes the volunteers, including others teaching Chinese, from their base in Kampala to the schools. To reach the farthest of the schools in Entebbe takes about two hours.

"I always wanted to come to Africa," Wang says, adding that she hopes to follow in the footsteps of her favorite international star, Audrey Hepburn, who was the UNICEF ambassador in Africa.

Wang and her fellow gymnastics teachers prepared a course before arriving in Uganda that involved using parallel and uneven bars, but on arriving found none of the equipment available. So they began from scratch and used what was available, teaching basic gymnastics, including forward rolls, to begin with before moving on to lectures.

"They often prepare for the next day's class after a whole day of teaching, and they try to prepare for classes that fit with the local environment," says Yang Kai, a broadcast journalist from Guizhou TV station, who is a volunteer Chinese teacher.

The Chinese volunteers expected difficult living conditions, but were pleasantly surprised by clean accommodation and friendly people.

"We are teaching the Ugandan students, while we are learning from their positive life attitude," says Wang.

Each class numbers around 50 students. Before beginning, the majority take off their shoes so they are either in bare feet or socks.

"I once asked them why," says Wang. "They told me that these are the only shoes they have and they don't want to wear them out."

But the poverty does not make the students feel dispirited, she adds. They are eager to listen and to show what they have learned.

"Their ligaments are quite strong. They are so interested in whatever we teach them in class and they always practice very hard. As long as we are patient, the Ugandan students can manage to meet all requirements," Wang says.

In October, when the program winds down and the volunteers return to China, Wang will be in her last year of college.

"I think I will face a lot of challenges when I try to find a job or start working, but I will keep the positive attitude I have learned from the African students in my life, and be passionate about life and work no matter what is in the future," she says.

Musisi Silas is the head teacher of St Thomas Bazadde Bweyogerere Catholic Primary School in Kampala, one of the four primary schools where volunteers teach. Although the first group of volunteers still has half a year to go, he is already worried that the program will end.

"The Chinese volunteers are all very good teachers who make the classes so interesting. You see the students are enjoying the classes so much that they don't want to leave after school," he says.

In July, the four schools will take part in a gymnastics competition and Silas is confident the students will have a happy day demonstrating what they have learned, especially with a set of mats donated by a Chinese company.

"With the help of the Chinese volunteers we shall win the prize, and we hope the volunteers stay here forever," he says.

Naggirinya Joselyne, a 13-year-old student at one of the schools, has been so influenced by the volunteers she now has ambitions to move to China.

"Having the classes with Chinese teachers makes me more interested in China," she says.

"They are very nice people and I think most Chinese will be very nice there. So I want to go to China to study there and then become a successful businesswoman in China."

The Chinese volunteer program has received strong support from the Chinese embassy in Uganda, which has provided transport and organized events for them within the community.

Zhao Yali, the Chinese ambassador to Uganda, says the volunteers have laid a foundation that will strengthen relationships between the two countries.

"I believe through their hard work there will be more understanding among our people, which will lay down a good foundation for cooperation between China and Uganda in the future," he says.


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