Volunteering in Tong’an Village: Volunteer Thoughts

During the week of July 27 to July 31st, a small group of Stepping Stones staff and volunteers visited Stepping Stones’ new site at Tong’an Cun, a small village near Xiamen. Two Stepping Stones volunteers, Sam and Vincent, volunteered at Tong’an Library for a week through Stepping Stones’ Rural Individual Volunteering (RIV) program and taught English to migrant children, receiving a lot of positive feedback from students and teachers there alike. Read on for an account of their experience and what they gained from volunteering!


Sam: We travelled to Tong’an and then to the village area. The classroom was set up and some students awaited us; they were eager to learn and not overly shy. As it was the first class, we spent some time playing passing games and students answered some personal questions about age and nationality. Vincent and I have a similar approach to teaching where we want the students to have fun and be engaged. We had a look around the library that Miss Sun has set up, and I hope we can get them some English books, as that has been her wish for a while! It was nice to chat with people who are passionate about teaching and education and gain some more insight into the work of Stepping Stones.

Vincent: On the first day of class at the community center in Tongan district, Xiamen, I was excited and looking forward to meeting and teaching my new students. But at the same time I felt a bit anxious and worried that I won’t be able to connect with them and even felt I might be unwelcome there. We have two classes each day: one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Each class is made up of about thirty students. Thankfully, I have a partner in crime helping to co-teach and manage each class. Although my co-teacher and I speak a bit Chinese, we speak English only throughout the class in order to promote an environment where the students can practice speaking English more.


Sam: In the morning, the topic was “Bugs”. The class is engaging, and we had fun at the end setting up a bug craft to make and finish for HW. We try to start and end with an active game or activity, and today, students made some funny and creative items of clothing from newspaper to recap their learning about seasons and weather. Students had fun, and we were pleased even the boys got involved. We spent some time before going home speaking with Miss Sun: she is very passionate and inspiring, having set up the classroom and library because she sees the need for better education and a safe social space for students. We decided to take a wander around the local community at lunch time and found some tasty noodles! We met some other children who were not coming to our classes, Miss Sun explained that this was due to there being over 3000 migrant children in the local area! It is really nice for us to have the experience and time to spend with Miss Sun and learn more about her specific school and local community.

Vincent: Today, I got a better sense of what the students are like, and they were getting more comfortable with my co-teacher and me. I tried alternating my voice volume when asking them to repeat the words or sentences after me. I got a sore throat after class from shouting the words out a bit too loud; however, the high volume voice energized the crowd and they seem to enjoy it, so it’s worth it. Today’s lesson involved some craft making. One student from the Grade 3-4 group made some pattern from a craft paper and gave it to me. I was quite touched because it is the first gift I received as a teacher. The kids had so much fun during the craft making session where they had to use their imagination to make apparel using newspaper.


Sam: The topic in the morning was a boat story, and two keywords were “float” and “sink”. We decided to bring these to life with a real-life application. We made paper boats and tested how many coins they could hold before they sank. The activity had students busy and being creative. Students had made some multi-coloured bugs, and we displayed them in the classroom. Students are now more in tune with our expectations. We carried this on into the afternoon: we recapped and retold the story from the previous lesson. We found it best to split one story over two days so it didn’t become stale. Pictionary proved to be lots of fun to recap the vocab we had learnt so far! It was surprising some of the boys were very reluctant to participate but we found ways to include them.

Vincent: Yesterday we gave the Grade 3-4 class a homework assignment to make a beetle for their craft activity. Today I was very surprised; most of the students came to class excitingly waiting to showcase their artwork to us. Some of them were quite cute and creative. They really did a terrific job. Today, I also taught them two greeting songs with some goofy and silly dance movements: one for saying good morning/afternoon in the beginning of the class, and another one for saying goodbye at the end of the class. They laughed and found it fun. During break time, some of the students surrounded us and wanted to interact with us; they were wondering what we were doing and wanted to talk to us. I believe when you are friendly to and have genuine interest in the students, they will reciprocate that.


Sam: The majority of students are quite settled now and picking up vocab well. We played a super energetic game too early in the class today! This was a lesson learnt: keep the fun until the end of class, as excited students are quite difficult to bring back down once they are excited. We played an alphabet game for spelling practice, where students had to sort out letters and race to complete words. In the afternoon, we recapped and played an old favorite, Bingo, and recycled the morning spelling game. We split the story PPT into two classes again, with half class focused on instruction and input and half the class focusing on games, producing lots of language and fun. Miss Sun took us for lunch and told us about her varied and wide family connections in Tongan.

Vincent: Today, I introduced two new games to the classes, and they were very well received by the older groups; all the students happily participated and were very into it. The games were also engaging and suitable for the younger group. However, I executed it at the wrong time, and I also overhyped it by exerting too much energy, which caused most of the students’ energy level to go off the roof, resulting in a mayhem. They were talking and not listening; it took us quite some time to get them to pay attention. I was worn out emotionally and physically. Fortunately, my co-teacher was there to lessen the burden and helped to lead the rest of the class. Today’s class was exhausting, and I learned my lesson not to do any superactive games early in the class, not to go a hundred miles per hour with the kids, and how to save up my tank.


Sam: The last day! It feels like this week went by super fast. It was a lot of fun, but it was also tiring. However, seeing the students much more open and willing to participate and join in has been worthwhile. We received various cards and gifts from the students, and it’s warming to know we had a small impact in their lives making English fun and accessible. The aim of the week was to introduce the students to a more fun and open way to learn a new language. From the students’ and volunteers’ feedback, I think we did well, and some students left with a new and improved attitude to learning. The time spent talking with Miss Sun and the other volunteers there (using Vincent’s excellent translating skills at times, big thanks!) about their experiences and life in Tong’an has been a really insightful and enjoyable part of the experience for us. We would love to go back, and we will continue to see how things develop and if we can cooperate in the future. Thank you to Stepping Stones for setting everything up! It was great to teach alongside such a passionate educator and ball of energy, Vincent – Best of luck at your new school; they are lucky to have you! Until next time, see you!

I was very touched by Miss Sun’s love and generosity for her community. She is very generous with her time and energy to make her community a better place. I can feel her love for the kids when she talks to them, and the kids in return pay much respect to her. Her noble act motivates me to continue to volunteer and validated that I made the right decision to come to teach at her center. I also admire her continuously learning attitude. She just sends out good vibes and is the person that people would want to be around with to do good together, so on the last day of class, it’s a bit sad to say goodbye to the students and to her. She invited us to come back to her center. I really found it very rewarding from this memorable experience. I also got to meet some of the most amazing people like Miss Sun and my co-teacher from volunteering at the center in Xiamen. I would definitely come back to visit and volunteer at her center again.

P.S.: I really love the handmade cards that some of the students gave us as an appreciation gift at the end of the program. They are adorable with very creative design, and their words are beautiful and touching. I will miss them!

If you’re interested in Stepping Stones’ Rural Individual Volunteering (RIV) program, please click “here” below for more information!