Clément Verdeil (Bethel)
Nineteen-year-old Clément Verdeil is a social and political sciences major at Sciences Po. He lived in Shanghai with his family for six years and graduated from the French Lycée there. For his third year of university, he opted to volunteer for Bethel, a Beijing-based NGO dedicated to helping visually-impaired children. Verdeil currently lives at the Doudian project site, where he teaches English and music to his young charges.
Tell me about your role at Bethel.
I have been here for nearly two months and plan to be here until the beginning of April. I am teaching the Chipmunk class, where the kids receive intensive English courses on top of the usual teaching provided by Bethel (e.g. fine motor skills, Braille, and crafting). Since I am both the only male volunteer and the youngest person in direct contact with the kids, I assume the role of the “male figure” and spend quite a lot of time teaching the kids things their nannies would not, like playing ball, climbing, or even wrestling. I play the guitar and I am really into music, so I give extra music classes where I encourage the kids to develop a sense of rhythm and creativity. While the kids tend to think that reggae is a bit too chongfu [repetitive], they are really into about funk and dig the JB’s (James Brown’s).
Tell me about the kids you look after.
The kids I am taking care of range from 3 to 7 years old, all of them are orphans who are visually-impaired. Every child has a different condition. Some are totally blind while others have a low vision, allowing them to see lights, colors, or even obstacles. Some of the kids I look after also have some autistic symptoms. If I could find two words that would suit them all, I’d say “beaming” and “witty.” The other day, Huamei – a little girl in my class – spontaneously told me “I love you” with a radiant smile. Considering I came here with the usual a priori that one has about visually-impaired children, you can imagine my surprise when I saw a 5-year-old jump on a bike and hurtle down the slope next to the school.
How did you hear about Bethel?
Knowing that I was looking for a NGO to volunteer with, a friend of my parents’ who used to do fundraising for Bethel told me about the association. It was the incredible story of the foundation and the vivid description of the kids that convinced me. The numerous pictures, videos, and exhaustive articles made me feel secure about the fact that Bethel was a trustworthy NGO.
What was the most rewarding experience you’ve had so far?
At the risk of sounding artificial, no day passes without its own share of rewarding experiences, but perhaps the most rewarding is simply to gain the children’s love. After volunteering for a month, I returned for a week to France. When I came back, exhausted from the trip, the kids shouted “Le Laoshi huilai le!” [Teacher Le is back!]. They all rushed towards me and jumped in my arms, grabbing my legs and laughing. I had a feeling I’d never experienced before in my 19 years, lighting a fatherly flame that burns brighter with each passing day.
What was the most challenging experience?
The biggest challenge was earning the kids’ attention and respect. As they see many volunteers come and go – guests who come here for an afternoon and then never come back – they tend not to trust newcomers right away. As an inexperienced teacher who also suffered from broken Mandarin, I was quite apprehensive during my first week. But as they slowly understood that I was planning to stay for a while, I quickly gained 15 adorable little brothers and sisters.
What surprised you about volunteering at Bethel?
I was surprised by the way things are organized. The kids do not live in a big orphanage dorm, but in seven small but cozy houses where each room contains a maximum of three kids. They eat breakfast and dinner in the dining room, carry a little school bag to class, and in the afternoon wait for their nannies to bring them back home. Everything is designed to recreate a family structure.
What impressed me the most might be the devotion of the teachers. The contrast between the children’s quality of life and the teachers’ poor material situation illustrates both their dedication and the organization’s will to ensure that spending goes to the welfare of the children – even this requires other sacrifices.
Have you gained any valuable professional skills as a result?
Mandarin! I could not hope for a better environment to engage in intensive, immersive study. In fact, the immersion is so good that I am starting to worry about forgetting my French. I also gained a priceless, uniquely human teaching experience. Not only did I sharpen previously non-existent pedagogic skills, I discovered a type of love that deeply changed me as a person.
What advice would you give someone who is considering volunteering?
Don’t fear the language barrier. Many non-Mandarin speakers have volunteered at Bethel and developed deep ties to both the staff and the children. The longer you stay, the better it is for you and the kids. Don’t fear inexperience. If you are willing and caring, you’ll learn day-by-day how to teach and look after these formidable children.
What’s the best way to help Bethel for those who cannot commit to a volunteering term?
Obviously, the best way to help an orphan is to adopt. But barring that, sponsoring a child is also an efficient way to grant them the quality of life required to flourish. I know that many people’s main concern is that not enough of the money is going to the kids, but all donations and sponsorships are rightfully spent here. As an outside witness who lives at one of the project sites, I can assure any potential sponsor that Bethel is a role model for honest spending.
To find more charity organizations and NGOs, search our Directories under Family Life.
Bethel China 爱百福
Office: Rm 5071, Zone B, Chaowai SOHO, 6 Chaoyangmen Waidajie (5869 2169, email@example.com) www.bethelchina.org 朝阳区朝外大街乙6号朝外SOHO B座5071室
This article originally appeared on pXX-XX in the December 2014 issue of beijingkids. To view it online for free, click here. To find out how you can obtain your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Dave PiXSTUDIO and Uni You