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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jeju Teachers Raise Funds for Indian School

Slap guitarist Alex Zimmerman holding the audience's attention at the Little Big Help concert. (Photo by Bethany Carlson)

Concert-girls: From left, Lindsey Lynch and fellow teachers Carolyn Husley, Jenna Collie and Bethany Carlson at the Little Big Help fund-raising concert. Lynch, Carlson and at least one more teacher will travel to Kerala in February, 2011, to deliver donated supplies and volunteer. (Photo by Lee Donghee)

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- When Lindsey Lynch arrived on Jeju Island in March to teach as part of the English Program in Korea, she found well-equipped classrooms with high-tech aids and a focus on long study hours.
Having previously spent a month teaching at a school for underprivileged children in Thailand and several months traveling in India, she was struck by the contrast.
Lynch decided to help less privileged children while educating her students about lives far different from their own on Jeju, a semi-tropical island off the south of Korea that is a favorite with South Korean and Japanese honeymooners.
"I love children and I wanted to do something for children that were underprivileged," said the 30-year-old native of Rochester, New York. "I knew that if I had enough people who also knew about this, I could also get them to help as well."
While in Thailand, Lynch met Lindsay Stoffers, a former teacher on Jeju Island who told her about the Our Home Charity in Kerala, India. Stoffers volunteered at Our Home Orphanage and Good Shepherd School last year and told Lynch about the shortage of the school's supplies.
"In India, the kids were just happy to have a pencil," Lynch said, "and even paper was hard to come by. But here in Korea, we have touch screens and computers and use a lot of media. In India, the teachers have no supplies to teach the kids," Lynch said.
"I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've seen half-used supplies on my classroom floor or in the garbage can," she continued. "I see lunches thrown away."
Lynch started an initiative she called Little Big Help, with "the overall mission to help underprivileged children have a better education and a better quality of life."
She sings with a nine-piece band called Lobster that is made up of foreign teachers and Koreans, and initially planned a small fundraising event.
That concept quickly grew to a concert in early September that also included a traditional Korean percussion group, a Korean ska band, a group of musicians from Senegal, three slam poets and a slap guitarist from Canada.
Local businesses donated raffle prizes, and concert-goers gave more than 1 million won (US$900), which will help the Kerala charity buy school shoes and medication for the 40 orphans it cares for and school supplies.
The second part of the Little Big Help initiative is to teach Jeju students about the school in India and encourage them to donate a pencil.
Lynch prepared educational materials for any teachers wanting to take part, and she and at least two other teachers will travel to Kerala in February to deliver the donated supplies. Students on Jeju are also encouraged to write cards to send to the students in India.
Lynch held a series of lessons for her students after Chuseok, the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving. The holiday, which fell in late September, is a time when Koreans hold traditional rites for their deceased ancestors.
At Shinrye Elementary School, where Lynch teaches a total of 72 students, the response was greater than expected, she said.
"One student wanted to give more than one pencil. Another asked, 'Teacher, how will they sharpen their pencils?' and wanted to donate a pencil sharpener."
Lynch knows she is limited by how much she and her colleagues can carry to India themselves, but some of those involved in the project have solved that problem themselves.
Sachin Mahajan, an Indian-born American from Chicago, volunteered with Stoffers at the orphanage in late 2009.
"That was my 10th trip to India," he said. "I've been going since I was young. You see so much poverty, you see so many problems there, and I've always wanted to do something to contribute in some way."
"As a teacher, I thought that this is my chance. Teaching kids in Korea is great, but they're privileged. Any number of people can come here and give them what I can give them, but the kids that we worked with don't have those same opportunities. When we volunteered there, I could tell it was special to them and personally, it was definitely special to me."
Mahajan works for the Wee English Zone hagwon on Jeju, one of the many private teaching institutes that flourish in South Korea.
"We have so much that goes to waste," he said. "I have a box of half-used pencils that nobody wants to touch. The kids in India were using pencils that were down to just a piece of lead."
The hagwon director, Ok Jin-guem, plans to collect supplies for the Indian school around Christmas and pay to ship them there at her own cost.
"Seeing the kids at that school (in India), I know they didn't have pencils, and most of them didn't have something to write in," Mahajan said. "So small things like that will go a long way."
It is for that concept that the initiative was named.
"It's called Little Big Help because even such a little thing as a pencil can be a big help to an orphan who doesn't have anything," Lynch said. "It was the same thing with the donations at the concert. You donate just 1,000 won because that's all you can afford, but it's going to be a big help to someone who really needs it."
Lynch plans to expand the initiative to include Jeju orphanages.

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