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A Summer at Bethel: The Joy of Giving Back

August, 2011
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When our mom first told us about going to Bethel for the summer, we thought it would be really boring. We would be two hours away from our house with no computer and no TV. We would have to eat Chinese food every day, and most importantly, no shopping!

Our mom, as a teacher at International Academy of Beijing (IAB), has been working with the people out at Bethel for the past two years doing Service Learning, which is all about both groups using the best of their resources to help each other.

Bethel is a foster home and training center for Chinese children who are either blind or have visual impairment. It was such a big deal to her that she decided to drag us into her work, thinking it would make us better people or something like that.

When we arrived at Bethel, it was really hot. And we were not supposed to complain. Turns out, we didn’t have to; luckily, we got to stay in one of the 7 cabins right next to the kids. They are cool; a cross between a log cabin and a Chinese building. We didn’t always have hot water for showers, or air conditioning, but it was not bad. And my mom cooked, which was definitely a bonus!

At Bethel, we did things everything from teaching English classes to decorating rooms and organizing boxes. We also helped one of the older kids translate books into Braille for their library. We cleaned and painted pots for my mom to plant herbs for the classrooms and library. We made tons of friendship bracelets to sell at the store there, and helped with cooking class – that was probably our favorite part. Well, maybe taking the kids on walks in the afternoon – or playing with them in the afternoon on the trampoline was our favorite!   The days were long and hot, but it was worth it because at the end of each day we looked forward to going to the little boys’ house to play with them before they went to sleep.

Being at Bethel gave us many experiences that we were able to bring back to our everyday lives. Our Chinese improved a lot, and we now feel more confident about using it. We learned how to interact with kids better, and gradually became more comfortable around them, even though they are Chinese, younger than us and have different levels of ability. We also experienced what REAL Chinese food tastes like from eating the meals (most of them) at Bethel everyday. Overall, Bethel was an experience worth remembering.

As time went by, the things we did at Bethel felt more like a vacation, and less like work. We learned so much from our time at Bethel. My mom says that we learned that serving others can be a fun way to spend the summer. We learned that teaching is HARD! Working with kids takes a lot of energy! We got to see a small part of “Real China”. By the end of the summer, we felt pretty comfortable in the neighborhood around Bethel. It wasn’t so bad – there was a big street market every other day – so there WAS some shopping! We also learned a little bit of Braille. We learned about a lot of different kinds of jobs: Matt is a volunteer coordinator, Julie is a Special Education supervisor, Joyce is in charge of daily operations, Fang Laoshi is the head of school and Zhang Laoshi does such a great job teaching the little kids. We became close by the end of the summer.

The summer was definitely not what we expected; it exceeded our expectations in every way. We’re so glad we were able to go. Our teachers at school are always nagging us to minister to “The least of these” and to “give back to our community.” I don’t know if that’s what we did this summer, but, whatever… we had a lot of fun!

When we left we were really sad. We are already making plans to go out there for a weekend soon.


By Abigail & Emily Lesh 

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