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September 1999 - Issue No. #36 (p.14 - 15)

English for Charity: Teaching for Humanitarian Purposes

by John Small

Nagasaki Jr. College of Foreign Languages

Teaching for Charity

My American friend's Japanese wife likes to remind us how good English speaking foreigners have it in Japan. She's right. A foreigner is a link to a world many Japanese hear so much about but have little access to. We are often given preferential treatment or far more attention than is warranted. The fruit lady always throws in extra fruit for me; the doctor gives me gifts of tea and sweets (my friend reckons the value of these exceeds my cost for the visit). My landlord gave me his old car, which runs just fine. Finally, I have a super job teaching here in Nagasaki.

Although my life has challenges, too, I think it's natural to want to give something in return. There are ways for English teachers to put their money-making potential to use beyond personal gain. While living in Nara, I read about a Save the Children program where foreigners taught English once every other week but received no pay. Instead, student fees went directly to charity. Here in Nagasaki, I've arranged similar classes.

Last semester, I taught an English for Charity EFL class. Students came when they wanted, and paid what they wanted, with the money going to charity. I gave everyone the chance to suggest a charity, but we ultimately went with the Patcharaporn Thai Education Fund (PTEF). A British man living in Thailand started this with hopes to help poor Thai girls -- who often end up in Bangkok as prostitutes -- get an education and a better life.

PTEF has built a dorm, paid for school books, and taken care of the basic needs of over 30 female students for several years now. It's presently working to save a young girl from sexual slavery; her drug addict mother is trying to sell her daughter to support her own habit. If allowed to enter the PTEF dorm, the girl will not only escape a bleak, scary future, but have a chance at an education. PTEF also helps finance a Thai hill tribe village school.

A month after my charity class, I had the chance to visit PTEF and its founder, Graham Enwright, in Chiangmai, Thailand. I saw that Graham and his wife devote large amounts of time to the girls and pride themselves on character building teaching the girls to take care of themselves rather than handing them everything. They also pay for materials and a teacher's salary so that underprivileged hill tribe children can get an education. Graham invited me to stay at the school and teach for a week, but my schedule didn't allow it.

The Bigger Picture

Anytime an individual makes a contribution to a charity, she or he feels a certain level of satisfaction. In Asia, many consider alms-giving a way to make merit for future births, but the immediate benefits of philanthropy for people, animals, and the earth are easily apparent. We make a tangible connection with those outside ourselves; we look beyond personal issues and problems; we put into practice a root teaching of all religions: to help others. When a class comes together for a humanitarian objective, not only can money be raised, but everyone can become more aware of global problems.

A charity English class is also the perfect venue for peace education. While Peace Education focuses on a wide range of issues -- environment, human rights, war, etc. -- its essential aim is to utilize the classroom to make the world a better place.

While my class wasn't devoted exclusively to peace education topics, we did respond eagerly to deeper issues of education, child / spouse abuse, and death. In one class, we read an interview with a prominent American Buddhist dying of cancer. This prompted discussion about Buddhism in Japan and America, and attitudes towards death. And just by paying the class fees, students were actively involved in alleviating suffering in Thailand.

When trying to decide on an organization for the class, I considered the fact that PTEF is not a registered charity a positive. Unregistered charity organizations can more fully utilize donations; big organizations often have high administration costs. I read newspaper articles about PTEF, and corresponded with a person in Japan knowledgeable about it. After this, I became convinced that the organization was legitimate. Since that first class, finding small, worthwhile charity projects has become something of an individual project of mine.

Guatemala Village Hospital

Last week I finished my second "English for Charity" class, this time for a project to build a hospital in a poor village in Guatemala. In class, we talked a little about the hospital early on, but I felt our purpose had an effect throughout. The eight students' English levels were quite mixed, but the lower level students made a big effort to learn. The most interesting class for me was when we did a "Values Auction". Students had $1,000 to spend on 18 different values, such as a good marriage, unlimited chance to travel, love and admiration from friends, and a world without war. One rather shy girl saved all her money to be in a position to buy the last one on the page: a world without poverty. I thought this a wonderfully appropriate attitude for this class.

These classes were a great pleasure for me to teach. I can honestly say that I learned a lot, too, and felt touched by my students' kindness and concern. One adult woman later joined my college Current Topics class while an extroverted high school boy shyly told me, "I'm really gonna miss you." I believe the purpose of the class (charity) gave us all a sense of meaning beyond ourselves.

The Possibilities are Endless

A friend of mine has done something similar. While traveling in Indonesia, he met a young Indonesian man and decided to help him fulfill his dream to earn a university degree in Indonesia, something the young man couldn't possibly afford. My friend has been financially supporting this youth's university education with money he earns from teaching a private student. In April, he hopes to teach a class with all of the proceeds going to this young man's education.

For teachers interested in designing their own charity class, I have a few suggestions:

  • Ask for a set fee, ideally for a month's classes. Students like the clarity of this arrangement better than asking for an unspecified donation. If students only pay when they attend, it's easier to skip a class; absences, of course, interrupt the flow of the class (and the cash flow as well).

  • Try to find a good venue, ideally free (community center, Lion's Club, YMCA...)

  • Finally, arrange to have students pool their donations and send this to a trusted charity organization that the class chooses.

Teaching my class, then visiting the charity in Thailand which we supported was an enriching experience. If the teacher can visit the organization, the financial contribution can open doors for wonderful experiences. I caught glimpses of rural Thailand that would have otherwise been inaccessible. Someday I'd love to visit our Guatemalan village.

A future idea involves teaching a charity class, then bringing the class to the donee for hands-on volunteering (and English practice). I hope to arrange this in spring 2000 for a US "Giving Away Gardens" project. Volunteers set up gardens for the poor, elderly or handi-capped and teach them how to tend them.

I like to think of this sort of class as a joint gift: the teacher's time and energy, and the students' generosity helping those less fortunate than ourselves. If anyone would like more information, or has experiences to share regarding "English for Charity" classes, I welcome your e-mail. I've recently connected with an American with a similar vision - Wade Nichols - who donated his time and energy to teach English to orphans in Korea. He's started the Banyan Tree project - a network of English teachers who use their money-making potential for charity.

Teaching for Charity: Reference Books

Everett, M. (1995) Making a Living While Making a Difference. New York: Bantam Books.

Gershen, H. (1990) Guide for Giving: 250 Charities and How They Use Your Money. NY: Pantheon.

Hollender, J. (1995) How To Make the World a Better Place. New York: W.W. Norton.

Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation. (1998) Kokusai Kyouryoku NGO Dairekutorii
[Directory of Japanese NGO Concerned with International Cooperation]. Tokyo: JANTIC.

Walls, D. (1993) The Activist's Almanac. New York: Fireside.


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