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Laurie Mackenzie and His V.E.T Program
    2007-09-10 18:13:47     CRIENGLISH.com


(Laurie and kids)


Laurie Mackenzie is from Canada. He was a business and MBA professor before retiring and moving to China with his wife five years ago. In 2004, he started up the Volunteer English Teachers program in rural Yangshuo in south-west China, dedicated to helping poor kids learn English. All volunteers in the program teach English for free. But in truth, they get much more than material rewards in return from their kind service. Our reporter Yunfeng has the story.

Eighty-two-year-old Laurie Mackenzie has been living in Yangshuo for five years. About three years ago, the retired professor from Canada initiated the Volunteer English Teachers program, dedicated to placing volunteer teachers in poor schools. There the teachers expose their students to the English language, different cultures and give them the opportunity to mix with people from all around the world.

"I always tell my volunteers you respect children, and children will respect you."

So what exactly did he see in the children to make him stay on and put his whole heart into helping them?

"Trust. The need for attention. I compare them to sponges. They absorb everything you say or do. You know you've touched these people. The children living in the villages make is so that if you go there, they grab your hearts like that."

Since the program is completely voluntary. Laurie doesn't get any money out of it. His wife is now the bread-winner of the family. More than that, she also helps to train Laurie's volunteers in the basics of Chinese culture and teaching methods.

"One of the first things that we do in a new school, is that we would do a simple exercise like, 'my name is Laurie. What is your name?', and we write it on the board. We say it four or five times. We individually go around the class. They have to say 'my name isWhat is your name?' We start very simply like that and then we build up. We are teaching vocabulary and how to use words. "

Laurie loves kids very much and he is happy to see them make progress.

"They are all over me, hugging me, and they talk to me in English. This little girl I would talk to her with my little bit of Chinese and English, she would just shake her head. Then about four weeks later, she was running across the playground, hugging my leg and saying 'hello Mr Laurie. How are you? I am fine. Thank you.' And then off she went. She wanted to show me that she could speak English. That's beautiful."

Anna Hua is a friend of Laurie's. She helps him to contact schools.

"I am moved by Laurie. He is in his '80s. So I support him one hundred percent. Since I used to teach in rural areas and have contacts with the principals, I will take Laurie and his volunteers to those schools in person. Their program receives positive feedbacks. Normally classes given by foreigners are very vivid, with singing and dancing. Interest is the best teacher. Those students that want to communicate with their foreign teachers in English will study very hard."

With the help of the V.E.T. program, English education in rural areas of Yangshuo has been considerably improved.

"Three of the schools that we go to have the highest standing of English in the district. "

Last year, Laurie's VET team consisted of 400 volunteers, doing 200 classroom sessions. Volunteers are from 19 to 80 years old.

"We have a very low budget right now. We use about 23,000 to 24 000 yuan a year. That covers our operating costs, our accommodation, food and transformation to and from the schools."

Teachers literally get no payment. However, for those who have participated in the program, they consider it a life-changing experience.

"It changes your life. I've had so many volunteers. This summer, I had 21 young ladies from Canada. I asked them to write about their experience. So many of them said 'it changed my life' because they are from rich families. They are used to having everything. And they come to see how somebody else lives, making them realise how spoiled they are. As a matter of fact, three of the group are now changing their majors. And they are going to be teachers, simply because they had that kind of experience. "

Naomi Cullers is a college graduate from the United States, she has been a three-week volunteer for Laurie's program, teaching in Fenglo Primary School in rural Yangshuo.

"I've got to experience China, not just as a tourist, but being more involved in the community. I have so many memories to take with me for the rest of my life, just to know that I've helped and lived their lives. They've also taught me different things. It's a great experience. I would never not have done this. I would never give it back."

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