A Week at Eden – a story by Anne (visiting teacher)

When I think about what my now 14 year-old daughter and what I can do and where we can go during our vacation time, I like to find places where we can be a part of the lives of the people we meet. Although I love to travel, I do not always like to be a tourist. I have been looking for ways we can go somewhere, stick around for a while and help out in any way we can. A few years ago we lived at a Mongolian Yurt camp for a few weeks where we went to ride horses and do what we could around camp. One year we went off to a tiny West Sichuan village with a friend to look for a young woman whom he had met two years before and with whom he was perhaps a bit smitten. We stayed with a family in a traditional Tibetan home but went on our way the next day. We found the girl’s village, but she was gone, working in a restaurant far away. We have stayed in tree houses and been tourists in different parts of Asia; we have stayed in family home guest houses and made many friends, but going to Eden felt like we were going home to friends who were expecting and waiting for us. I was excited to have the opportunity to work as a substitute English teacher for a week with some of the girls from Qinghai, who over the years I had seen dancing and singing with Captivating, but had never really met. Cyndi and Dale and their 15-year old daughter Ruth and all the girls from Qinghai, were gracious hosts and my daughter Mya-li, our dog and I felt welcomed from the moment we arrived. In this way we truly got to meet new friends only a short distance from our home in Shenzhen.

Cyndi and I chatted like old college roommates and Mya-li made friends with Ruth and all the other girls. Mya-li also made friends with three adorable new puppies at the school. The ice breaker for all the girls was walking to the town square for an informal basketball game with all the household dogs, the three puppies and our shy city dog. It was great to be out of Shenzhen for a while and just off the beaten track in a whole new quieter and slower place than our apartment compound.

I had the pleasure of teaching English for a week to several of the girls from Qinghai, who live at Eden. All the girls go to the local public school for the first year they are in Guangdong for a year of Mandarin immersion. Then they study full time in the very small school that is a part of Eden and shares the buildings with them. I got to work with Cara, Abby, Sophia Jenny, Anthea, and Emily as well as three students from the local section of the school, Jacqui, Kyle and Mike. I also had the pleasure of working with Ruth.

The students – except for Ruth who spent the week working on writing a difficult compare/contrast essay on Jane Eyre and Romeo and Juliette – spent the week learning the story of Tom Sawyer Painting the Fence. Tom Sawyer famously gets all his friends to paint it for him in exchange for treats. The girls performed the story after reading and learning parts. Cara and Sophia summarized the story in English and Sophia, now near fluent in both English and Mandarin, translated it in to Mandarin for the Mandarin speaking audience. Everyone had a part. One of the shopkeepers in the village gave us a straw hat for Tom Sawyer. The girls worked hard learning the story, memorizing lines, practicing entrances, exits and acting out the parts as Tom’s friends come along and paint his fence for him. On the last day, we performed the play for everyone at the school. It was a lovely inter- generational gathering that included the older couple who cook three meals a day for everyone at the school, all the teachers, including two babies, the local students, the four Qinghai girls who attend public school this year, and Cyndi, Dale, Ruth, my daughter and myself.

Cyndi and Dale have created a warm, loving home for these girls who are so far away from their communities. They have created a structured environment where the girls can get the education they need and learn skills that will allow them to go back to their homes and find meaningful, empowering work. We were happy to be a part of Eden for the week and look forward to staying connected in the future. In any case, I will follow through on my promise to get more books from the series that included the classic story of Tom Sawyer Painting his fence.

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