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2009 Machik Summer Enrichment Program: A Volunteer’s Perspective

This post was contributed by Ian Anderson, Machik Intern and Summer Enrichment Program Coordinator

A mixture of excitement and uncertainty hung in the air as the volunteers for the Machik Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) met in Chengdu for the first time before students arrived and classes began. We were volunteer teachers and facilitators from diverse backgrounds: Tibetans, Chinese, Canadians, and Americans. We were high school, university, and graduate students as well as working professionals. Students came not only from the Chungba Schools and Litang County, as in the past, but from all over the Tibetan plateau. This was the first summer for the scaling up of the SEP, and this time the program incorporated almost a hundred volunteers and students in total.

With such a large number of volunteers, our programming opportunities were virtually limitless. Each of the volunteers had a unique background and skill-set. While some volunteers taught English and Chinese classes, some turned out to be expert seamstresses who taught students how to fabricate pillows and clothing in a North American style. Others shared their knowledge of yoga, painting or dramatic improvisation. I was lucky enough to be one of the leaders of a music section, where the students learned how to perform basic songs on the recorder. To teach this class was a joy. The students were excited and engaged, absorbing the notes and melodies with ease. By the time the end of the week came and our small group was ready to perform, all the students had obtained the fundamental skill of reading music and were able to transform the notation they saw on the page into something beautiful.

Teaching is not a one-way street. The students who arrived from various communities on the Tibetan Plateau brought with them different backgrounds and experiences that they were eager to share. Through day-to-day interactions and chats, visits to local museums, and Tibetan sites, the students took great pride in instructing us, the volunteers, in multiple aspects of their cultural heritage.

The students, who came from very dissimilar and often remote parts of the Tibetan plateau, would also often compare notes about differences among each other’s experiences, underlining the richness and variety of Tibetan culture. I think the magic of the SEP came from the sharing of these unique experiences. Volunteers and students alike forged friendships and new connections that not only enriched and changed how we perceive the world, but also created new channels to engage in the important task of talking and thinking together about how to create a better future.

What Machik does–and does well–is to open the door to a new and hopeful future by helping to build the capacity of communities on the Tibetan plateau. The Summer Enrichment Program is an important part of Machik’s efforts to help improve education in rural Tibetan communities, and will touch the lives of an even greater number of students as it continues to grow in the future. I’m so proud to have been a part of this amazing and important work.

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