By Sirui Shao
Fan Yang began her Heart Touch project this semester with the aim of enhancing cultural competency and to contribute to greater understanding and knowledge of other ethnic groups.
Heart Touch connects primary school students between America and China by providing opportunities for them to communicate through writing letters as pen pals.
"I hope each student who takes part in this project can understand different cultures and get some knowledge about different countries," said Yang, a School of Social Work graduate student at The University of Alabama, who added that knowing different cultures is really important for personal development.
This project collaborates with Tuscaloosa's One Place, a family resource center, which assists people in achieving their full potential. The center provides resources to promote self-sufficiency, strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect improving the quality of life for all members of our community.
So far, Heart Touch has about 100 fourth grade students from each country and 30 volunteers who oversee the project. Most of the volunteers are graduate students at The University of Alabama. However, there also are two or three undergraduate students involved.
The program has a six-week curriculum, with the first three weeks focusing on presentations given by Yang and other UA Chinese student volunteers. To promote the program, Yang and her volunteers visited Tuscaloosa's One Place four days a week for one semester to conduct classes. During the class, students ate foods provided by Lailai, a Chinese restaurant in Northport.
Afterward, Yang taught the American children about Chinese culture by telling them stories and other interesting things related to China, such as the Chinese New Year, Chinese foods and Chinese names. Yang and her volunteers also teach them life skills related to safety.
Yang selected a primary school in Hunan, China as the cooperating school for the pen pals because Hunan is where she received her bachelor's degree. Therefore, she was familiar with the province, which made it easier for her to connect with schools.
Letters arrive every two-to-three weeks via email. After receiving these emails, Chinese student volunteers scan them before translating them from Chinese to English or English to Chinese. They then give the emails to the Chinese and America children. Children respond to the letters they receive in English or Chinese, and then volunteers perform their translations again and the cycle repeats itself.
"I will continue doing this project at least one year," said Yang. "I hope I can expand it into various countries. We need more volunteers."