“If I were a heart…” a photo reflection by Yvonne Chan

心 (xin): Heart, Passion and Love

“If I were a heart, I will be loving people because we have to love each other so that we can’t have enemies. I love the word ‘heart’ [because] it means for us and if you don’t have heart how can you stay in the world[?] So I love heart and if you have heart, you will even love your parents, teachers, friends. So as I am love all of my friends, teachers, parents.”

– By Kabula from Arusha School

Out of all the students I have met in these two months, I build the strongest bond with my afterschool project students (they call themselves the Super Chinese Kids). Everyday from 4:30 to 5:30pm, I teach Beginner Chinese to 12 wonderful children. We started the journey with the basics of Chinese language: pingyin, phonetics, tones and strokes. Step by step, they began to acquire some basic vocabulary. Yesterday, at the end of our program, they performed four Chinese songs in front of 600 children and parents.

Having been working with LTP for the past two months, I tried to combine LTP with my Chinese class. One of the projects we did was the Chinese Pictogram Project. Pictogram (象形文字) is the earliest form of Chinese writing. These characters are stylized drawings of the objects they represent. In order to help my students better understand Chinese and have an easier time remembering Chinese characters, I decided to have them each pick a word with a pictogram origin. Then, they had to act out and use their body to represent the word they chose. Afterwards, I asked each student to write a story or a paragraph related to the word they chose. Without a doubt, my students enjoyed using their bodies to construct the word, but what I valued the most was the piece of writing they did.

As shown above, Kabula chose the word 心 (pinyin: xin) “heart.” Her writing doesn’t have the perfect grammar or fancy vocabulary, but it delivers such a strong message that one cannot ignore.

“We have to love each other so that we can’t have enemies”

What a thought that is needed in this unfriendly world! I am often pleasantly surprised when children are those who remind us grown-ups how the world should be. At the same time, this piece of writing reflects Tanzania’s peaceful culture-thanks to Tanzanian’s first president Julius Nyerere, who spread the ideology of peace, unity and family love in Tanzanian for 20 years. Some of the channels include education and the hip-hop culture – Nyerere encouraged rappers to include those ideas in their songs. It is not hard to see how his effort has eventually paid off now. Even though there is such diversity in the population, Tanzania remains to be one of the most peaceful countries in the Africa continent.

“… if you have heart, you will even love your parents, teachers, friends.”

Although we once had doubts about our children, all of us have grown to love and cherish our afterschool kids. We began to call them “my/our kids,” we began to know about each student’s personality, and we began to care for them as if they are our family. These kids found a position in our hearts. They were the anchors to my Arusha daily life and seeing them is what I l look forward to, no matter how terrible my day has been. They are the ones who introduced me to new Swahili words, to the school culture, to Tanzanian children games (“Mother in the Kitchen, cooking chapatti…”). At the same time, I was able to introduce a new language to them and provide them a haven to learn without worrying about exams and grades.

“… if you don’t have heart how can you stay in the world[?]”

In the end, we have given our hearts to each other. Like our favorite Arusha School teacher Mr. Rizone said at the closing ceremony today, “you all (the Duke students) gave your love [for different subjects] to us.” This afterschool experience helped me locate my heart for education, especially for teaching something I care about. At the same time, my students gave me their heart to learning Chinese. On the day we bid goodbye to our kids, my girls were all crying their hearts out. Although I was equally heartbroken, I find that morning very hopeful and calming. My children cried because they have made such a deep connection with the Chinese class, with me and with their classmates. It shows that they have devoted their heart to this class and that they have found someone they care a lot about. To me, I accomplished my mission here, knowing my kids have found something their heart would beat for.

With only 1 day left in Tanzania, how am I supposed to reconcile that I will have to leave all these loving children behind? My Super Chinese Kids, 你可以告訴老師嗎 (can you tell ‘teacher’)?

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