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Local pioneers in educational volunteeringEnglish institute provides support for local children’s centers with help from volunteers
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승인 2014.09.03  09:28:23
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▲ Language Friends Youth Jeju founder Ginnie Ko hugs a child in Cambodia (above left); the author, Emily Baker, laughs with student mentors (top right); Scholar's Choice International owner Kenneth McLeod (above right) grills some sausages at a community event. Photos courtesy Language Friends Youth Jeju

Jeju resident Emily Jennings volunteers with Language Friends Youth Jeju, a local charitable educational initiative. Here she introduces their work - Ed.

Language Friends Youth Jeju is an educational program that promotes education and life skills for children at Jeju children's centers. The children targeted often lack both the resources and family support to receive adequate educational opportunities and the project, supported by local academy Scholar’s Choice International (SCI), fills this crucial gap.

The project was founded in 2006 by SCI teacher Ginnie Ko, who wanted to give back to the community after experiencing the immense kindness of a stranger following the death of her husband. Deciding to help children “who would otherwise not get the chance to study English,” Ko approached SCI president Kenneth McLeod, and Language Friends was born.

McLeod, an education professional of seven years before moving to Korea 12 years ago, has supervised education research projects for universities, colleges, school boards and the government back in his native Canada. He says he was “instantly attracted to the idea” of Language Friends when approached as it complemented his passion for alternative education.

"The [student] volunteers gain a positive attitude about controlling their own destinies and the children's center kids also gain skills necessary in our educational system. The adult volunteers also receive much satisfaction. It's a complex dynamic, but without it the system wouldn't work," he said.

It was Ko’s son, Kevin Moon, who first asked me to join Language Friends in 2012. Two-and-a-half years later, seeing the dedication, time and effort Ko and McLeod put into their work, I feel they are heroes in this community.

The group supports up to 27 (mostly elementary-aged) children through three Jeju children’s centers with a team of just a few adults, including expats, and around 50 student volunteers. The program stands out in the way it supports not only the younger, underprivileged children, but also fosters leadership skills among the older middle and high school volunteers.

The older-younger student mentoring system is a Language Friends hallmark. Volunteer students, such as Kevin, sacrifice their Saturdays to give lessons in English and society, and expose the younger children to situations difficult to experience otherwise.

The meetings are much like a camp, as the children's center children are taken to various locations around Jeju, enjoying scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, sports days, museum visits, or barbecues. The students not only learn a great deal, but really enjoy spending a few hours with an assigned volunteer, and cherish being mentored and cared for by an older student.

It takes a while for the students to be comfortable, however, with children at the centers having to adjust to a new way of doing things. For student volunteers it is also a learning curve. Yoo Na-Hyeon, a middle school first grader, said it took time to “show my feelings,” but then she “learned how to understand the children" to give them the help they needed.

The group is highly organized and every time I volunteer I see real progress. When I began, we simply taught English and played games every Saturday in Jeju City Hall. Since then more children's centers have joined and there are always new faces, including new expat volunteers who help expose the children to global society.

The group is aiming to get non-profit status so it can receive funding and keep up the progress that has been made over the last two years. Even though the student volunteers are in charge of planning every lesson and activity, Ko and McLeod are the key to the success of the group. It is clear that, for them, Language Friends is part of a needed change in educational philosophy.

“Education is going through radical transformations that reach far beyond our notions of the traditional classroom and I want to be in the middle of those changes,” said McLeod.

For more information email Kenneth McLeod at krmcleod@gmail.com.

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