“A Spirit of Cooperation and Mutual Support: On Teaching Creative Writing to Female Refugees and Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong” by Kate Rogers

As part of the Cha Writing Workshop Series, in partnership with the Hong Kong Poetry Festival Foundation and supported by the English Departments at CUHK and HKBU, I have now taught nine 90-minute creative writing workshops for female refugees affiliated with the Christian Action Centre for Refugees.

I have used poems by Maya Angelou, George Ella Lyon, Ghalib, Darwish, Renato Resaldo and Aaliya Zaveri, among others. The lessons begin with listening to the poet reading his or her poem, if possible. Then we read the poem together (usually one of the more advanced students does that willingly). After that, we discuss idioms, slang terms and concepts from the poems, so the participants can share their knowledge with each other. Then the group does vocabulary and picture matching to find the meanings of more concrete nouns and verbs. After taking up the answers, we look for metaphors and similes and discuss various possible interpretations. Finally, the students use a close version of the poem with missing keywords to help them create a poem of their own “after” the model poet of the day.

I am learning a lot as I teach this group about how to tutor them more effectively. Listening, repeating back and other trust-building responses help foster a safe and comfortable learning environment. Women who attend have IELTS levels from 4 to 8 in writing, yet the group’s spirit of cooperation and mutual support means there is a lot of peer learning.

I would say these workshops with female refugees and the workshops I have begun with the group “Minds at Wok” (with domestic helpers in Hong Kong) are the most rewarding I have developed and taught in several years. As grade inflation at college and even university becomes the norm and teaching at those institutions becomes more and more about satisfying students and their parents as “customers,” and, as students at those levels read less and less, it is very meaningful to teach students who are motivated and eager to learn. I am grateful for the opportunity and very glad to give back through my teaching to people who are often relegated to the margins of society.

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///// The Cha Writing Workshop Series: We plan to hold one to two writing workshops every month, for local school children (all levels), as well as economically and socially disadvantaged groups. If you’d like to suggest an idea, please contact the organisers, Tammy Ho (t@asiancha.com) and/or Eddie Tay (eddie@asiancha.com). Click here to see a list of past and future workshops. And click here to read instructors’ reflections on the workshops. ///// 

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