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Posts Tagged ‘Inequality’

This spring, Teach For China teamed up with the National Football League to introduce American Football to several of our placement schools in Yunnan. Three Fellows–Will Keleher (Fellow ’11, Georgetown University), Ben Cutrell (Fellow ’11, Gettysburg College), and Wang Yaoming 王耀明 (Fellow ‘11, Zhongshan University)– have been hosting weekly practices for their students. Read Will’s report below on how students have been flocking to the game–and how it’s given girls at his school a rare chance to build life skills through sports. 

The NFL flag football progtwram we’re implementing at our school has already

Fellows Will Keleher and Tim Worm talk their students through the basics

impacted many students and brought a lot of happy memories. The amount of interest among students, and within the community in general, for football caught us by surprise. We’ve played with elementary students, our own middle school students, and have even played catch with local teachers who were curious about the strange ball. The level of excitement and enthusiasm is incredibly gratifying. Even though we’ve limited participation in our regular football practices to members of Classes 73 and 76, the two 7th grade classes at Heqing Number Two Middle School taught by Teach For China Fellows, the number of participants still far exceeds our supply of equipment. It’s a good problem to have!

We hold practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays between students’ two periods of

Ben Cutrell shows videos of American football to his students to introduce them to the game

evening study hall, as well as a longer practice on Sunday after they get back from visiting their homes and before their Sunday evening class. The program is still very much in its early phase, so we continue to receive new interested students and catch them up on the basics as quickly as possible. At each practice we generally spend a few minutes tossing around the football and working on basic technique, after which we run a drill that’s more similar to a real game. So far, we’ve have the students run routes with quarterbacks and receivers, played games of “tag the flags,” and done possession drills with two teams, a football, and the flags.

My favorite part about the program is the opportunity that it’s giving girls to participate in a sport. At our school, as in other parts of rural China, girls have few opportunities to participate in sports. The male students at Heqing Number Two

Flag football has given girls at Heqing Number Two Middle School a rare opportunity to participate in sports, building self-confidence and teamwork skills

Middle School dominate the basketball courts and the ping pong tables. Though many of the girls at our school are interested in playing basketball, would love to learn to play soccer, and would excel at volleyball, they are prevented from joining their male peers because of persisting gender inequality at the school. On a few occasions I have helped kick male students off the basketball courts to give the girls a chance to play, and they greatly enjoyed the opportunity. Apart from missing out on this chance to enjoy themselves, female students also miss opportunities to build important life skills like teamwork and perseverance that would boost their chances to succeed both in and out of the classroom. Seeing the girls running around, vying with each other to catch a ball, and doing their best to throw it as far as they can has been incredibly exciting for me. I’m really looking forward to working with the girls more and giving them the chance to compete in five vs. five games.

Our school’s flag football program is only a few weeks old, but we’ve made remarkable progress so far. At the beginning, most students and teachers had no idea what a football was, and we still attracted groups of perplexed onlookers whenever we hold a practice. We’re still working on basic skills, and have transitioned into short scrimmages between teams of five. I’m genuinely excited to progress onto full games and start to build a real sense of competition. One of the other Teach For China fellows implementing the flag football program, Yaoming, is also located in Heqing, and we’re already planning on having inter-school games. In the coming weeks we plan to screen game footage for students so that they can see what they’re working towards, and I can’t wait to start hosting full games between the students!

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Gareth Collins (Fellow ’10, University of Michigan) and another Fellow at Dazhai Middle School 大寨中学 in Yunxian, Yunnan recently visited the home two female students from their class. Because their parents work away from home, the two girls live alone at the top of the mountain, and must provide for themselves in addition to attend school. Read their incredible story here.

Tonight, Dazhai is lit only by the lunar eclipse and the countless stars (and the dull glow of my battery-powered Macbook), as we are once again without power. Usually I would be preoccupied with how much of an inconvenience this is for me, but I learned today that I have very little to complain about.

Gareth's student Zhang Xinghui lives alone with her cousins at the top of a mountain

A few hours ago, Richard and I returned from a very meaningful home visit. It’s one thing for students to tell you how far away they live, and another to quite literally walk in their shoes. For Cindy (张兴茴) and Isabel (张兴芳), two of our class’ brightest students, walking home means a three-hour trek up into the mountains. Today we experienced their weekly reality first hand, snaking our way up an uneven dirt road and taking shortcuts through steep, rocky paths. It was exhausting, but the beautiful terraced hills, plunging valleys, and gushing rivers more than made up for it.

We were lucky to have several students as guides and company. Riley, another of my top students, enjoyed racing to the front of the group with me, so we found ourselves chatting together much of the way up. After a year and a half as her first English teacher, I’m amazed at how far her English has come along. She can understand much of what I say, as long as I speak slowly enough and confine the words I use to vocabulary we’ve studied. Though my shoulder still hurt from briefly dislocating it earlier in the week, her youthful energy almost made me forget all about it. I taught her the phrase, “time flies when you’re having fun”, and before we knew it, we’d arrived at Cindy and Isabel’s modest home.

Gareth's student Zhang Xingfang lives alone with her brother and cousin at the top of a mountain

Cindy and Isabel are cousins, I learned today, though their similar Chinese names should have been a dead giveaway. They are only thirteen, but because their parents work outside the home, they’ve been left home alone to fend entirely for themselves and for Isabel’s younger brother. They live in a broken-down shack at the peak of the mountain we had just climbed. They do everything without the help of adults: cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, and feeding their younger relatives, which wouldn’t be so hard if they didn’t have to grow most of the food they eat, gather wood to burn as fuel to cook with, and hand wash everything, including themselves, using one ice-cold water spigot. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Westerners hear all the time about unspeakable hardship and tragedy the world over, usually from the comfort of our sofas or the distance of our computers and e-readers, but here I was, experiencing first-hand the difficult reality of two of my kindest and most successful students.

They were overjoyed to have us visit. I tried to reciprocate their happiness the best I could, but on the inside I was deeply saddened, not only by the unfairness of their situation, but by my own ignorance of the conditions under which they lived. I kept thinking of how my life had been at their age, and how carefree it had been by comparison. I had been self-centered and blissfully oblivious, as every kid deserves to be. I certainly hadn’t done anything special to deserve such a comfortable childhood. But what did these girls do to deserve any of what they got? They were born in the middle of nowhere, that’s it. And despite it all, they are thriving.

We said goodbye after a hearty meal–food always tastes better when you help to make it yourself; we brought a lot of stuff we had bought at market day up with us–and my head was swimming with thoughts as we meandered back down. A truck took a corner too tight and smashed its wheel on a rock as it passed us by. I put down my backpack to see if I could help but quickly realized the problem was much too serious for me to do anything about. Sometimes I feel that way about students like Cindy and Isabel and the adversity they are forced to face. The extent of the poverty here is truly daunting, and the world often seems too short on empathy to do much about it.

It’s easy to get stuck in that way of thinking, anyways. Afterwards, Richard and I spent an hour or so in the dark talking at length about how we could raise some money to help put these girls through high school and maybe even college. Obtaining a high-quality education would totally transform their lives and empower them to do anything that they set their minds to. That sounds like a trite cliché, but after spending hundreds of hours with these amazing young women, I know in my heart that it’s true. I will update this blog as our plans progress. I hope to have a convenient and accountable way for you all to contribute to this cause up and running sometime in the next several months.

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