VOLUNTEER | Updates from the Field
MADELINE FOK, International Volunteer
Originally from Toronto, Canada, Madeline has been serving at the Hengyang Care Centre as a volunteer since 2011 as a computer and maths tutor. We have recently caught up with her to hear about her work with her students.
Children learn to type with Pinyin
“When I first began working at the care centre, my students were around eight or nine years old. Initially, we thought that we would teach them to use the computer to draw or play. But during the lessons, I found out that most of them had difficulties writing or holding a pen. Since they had started to learn “pinyin” (a method of spelling mandarin through roman letters), I decided to teach them to use a Chinese keyboard. Because this would, first of all, reinforce their pinyin skills, and secondly, enable them to communicate through typing, which was an essential skill for them to have.
Using mobile apps to assist children’s learning
While teaching her students to type Chinese, Madeline has been using her professional background in software development to introduce new programmes and apps to assist young people in their learning.
“There are many accessibility tools, games and apps that are available for people with disabilities. However, most of them are in English and are not available in simplified Chinese. So this limits the things I can do with my students who have special needs.
“I have created a little programme on a tablet that would read out the pinyin characters to help them type. Because each student has different needs, sometimes I will develop simple apps to help them learn better.”
“The students can now do searches on the internet, play games, write letters, do their sponsorship reports or progress reports. For the student who manages a shop at the care centre and another who is working at the Little Ark, they can use Excel spreadsheets to calculate their sales and profits.”
Communication for young people with speech impairments
Recently, Madeline has been looking for mobile apps for her students with speech impairments. Their disability often creates a social barrier, making it difficult for them to communicate with others. “There is an app that has just become available for testing on iPad or iPhone, which seems to address part of this problem. But I do not know how good it is and whether it works well for the Chinese language. I hope to have some time to try it out.”
While Madeline continues to help her students learn, she shares that one of her most memorable moments as a volunteer has been seeing her students use their new skills to connect with others in ways they haven’t been able to before. “I left a few days ago from Hengyang for Hong Kong. Just before I left, I created email accounts for a couple of my students. Within two days, I have already received four or five emails from a student who has a speech impairment. Because now he has the tools to communicate, it shows how much he loves to connect with people. It’s great to see that he can use what he has learned to reach out to others.”
Madeline is due to leave for Canada but hopes to return to Hengyang soon. We are immensely grateful for the work she is doing for our young people in Hengyang.