EF Reach is a non-profit volunteer initiative focusing on providing quality educational experiences to those in China whose accessibility is limited due to ability, finances or familial reasons. Reach has been running for over 3 years now in Shenzhen, serving 3 schools that help students with learning disabilities. Reach as been such a rewarding program on so many levels. I encourage any EF teacher, staff member, parent, and student to get involved!
As a teacher, I share Jed's sentiment that giving back to the community is our responsibility and a necessity. Spending time helping students with special needs increases our sensitivity to students; it's amazing how the experiences at Reach impact our empathy, sympathy, and patience with our students at EF! I know the experience has made me a better teacher!
Even with the demands of being a DOS, I still find a way to attend weekly. Reach is literally a way to build community, especially with other EF teachers and staff. Through this program, volunteers have been able to network and establish relationships with awesome people in Shenzhen! Within my own school, it has been amazing to build relationships with people that normally I wouldn't get a chance to, like the CCs (course consultants), PAs, and parents as well! But the ultimate benefit is having quality shared experiences and positively impacting children's lives.
One of the most pivotal times in Reach's history was when we decided to take a stand. In the past, we have encountered parents, grandparents, and even employees at schools that have taken a harsh tone with students or used corporal punishment. Somewhere along the line, we came to the realisation that something had to be done; as the old adage goes, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” We developed a protocol for intervening when such behaviour presents itself. We have taken it upon ourselves to educate adults on the negative impacts of hitting children. And as a part of our program, we have informed our volunteers of the possibility of encountering such challenging moments. To the credit of our volunteers, we have kept positive and have not turned away from such unnecessary behaviour. We are proud that we have taken on this task and hopefully, we will help change this cultural behaviour.
Of course, the benefits of this program don't just reach the volunteers; it's all about the kids! I am so grateful we have been able to be a part of so many special kids' lives. During this period, we have seen students like Zhuang Zhuang (pictured above), a lovely girl that when we first met her, could barely speak nor move her limbs and fingers like other children her age. But over the years, we have seen and been a part of her remarkable development. One amazing memory was Christmas two years ago when we gave her a present and she ran to us, teary-eyed and said “thank you” so clearly. I nearly cried.
And so we continue our mission, week after week, year after year, because as educators, this is our duty, and I firmly believe that. In order for society to evolve and improve, we need to help the least able amongst us, especially children. Why am I writing this? Not to send the reader on a guilt trip or cheaply elicit sympathy, but simply to share about a program that has made a world of a difference not only in my EF career in China but in my life. I am writing this because I feel so proud that Reach has been purely a homegrown collaborative effort amongst EF teachers and staff in Shenzhen for over three years now. We have done so much good, and I thank you all for keeping it going and inspiring me every day!