Foreign teachers remain productive, optimistic amid epidemic
Foreign teachers at Soong Ching Ling Kindergarten and Soong Ching Ling School are also doing their part in the fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic in Shanghai, a city they call “home.”
Sonia Barghani, an American teacher at the kindergarten, has been producing cartoons with colorful animation and songs for kids to learn about the virus and proper ways to protect themselves. The first one is called “Being Healthy” and is about basic hygiene habits like washing hands.
“The whole idea of the videos came from wanting to help kids who are at home, whether in Shanghai or Wuhan or anywhere,” Barghani told Shanghai Daily. “I have been an educator for 10 years and my PhD is in Education and Technology, so I had the idea of making fun interactive videos that teach while keeping the students productive. By doing so, we are also preventing them and their families from having to go out. Shanghai is such a wonderful, innovative city; all my friends know I love Shanghai because it is so friendly, so safe and so welcoming. I just want to do my part.”
Her videos have been included on the kindergarten’s online education platform which was launched to teach children and families during the extended holiday.
Barghani said she and her husband had planned a trip to Krabi, Thailand, but then they heard that the Chinese government was encouraging people to avoid travel during the outbreak of the new virus. They asked the school for advice and ultimately decided to cancel the trip.
“We can travel later, now there are more important factors to consider,” she said. “We later learned the Chinese government had set up provisions to offer full refunds. That is a strong indicator that the government is doing what they should, so I can do my small part.”
The couple’s family had called them and asked them to return to the US for their safety, but Barghani said she had never thought about leaving.
She said: “I am not afraid. It is a virus; a new one, but a virus. The Chinese government has taken substantial steps to prevent it and I honestly believe Shanghai, and China, will be OK soon. I do what I can do which is follow good hygiene, avoid going out and wear a mask.”
But shortages of mask have become a challenge. She had tried to order some online but delivery was a problem during the holiday. The kindergarten got her masks 30 minutes after they learned about her situation.
As residents can register at the community where they live to buy masks, Barghani also registered. But when she got masks from the kindergarten, she gave up her quota and left it for others in need.
Barghani said the epidemic could happen anywhere in the world and she felt very upset “to see the unfair media reports that blame rather than recognize the enormous economic sacrifice and medical efforts that are happening here.”
As the winter vacation for local schools has been extended, Barghani said she will make more videos for children. She will also take this opportunity to study Chinese, try new recipes, watch movies and call her family.
At Shanghai Soong Ching Ling School, which hosts more than 60 foreign teachers and about 600 international students, a special team was set up on January 25 to help foreign teachers and students during the epidemic by recording their health conditions and sharing relevant information.
A total of 19 foreign staff are staying in Shanghai during the holiday, including Susan Gotthelf, its librarian, and William Hovey, a history teacher. They also shared the information they have with others.
Gotthelf shared a list of clinics that can help foreigners and provide free consultation, as well as advice on self protection during the epidemic. As the school is preparing for online learning for students due to the extension of the holiday, she also shared some online learning tools and materials with students and teachers.
Hovey from Zurich, Switzerland, said he will contact his students in Grades 9 and 10 via email and send them things to do and research.
“I teach history and global perspectives and some of the initial tasks will involve learning about the virus and related issues,” he said.
He said the global perspectives class will look at things from personal, national, and global perspectives, and he will ask students to write about the virus through those three viewpoints.
“We will look at it in terms of healthcare issues, the responsibilities of the state, and compare different nations' views,” he said.
The history class will be asked to research the Spanish flu of 1918 and the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.
Both Gotthelf and Hovey said they are relatively confident in the situation in the city.
“I’m worried in a general sense, but I’m trying to not get too stressed about it,” said Hovey.
He had planned to do a lot of things during the winter vacation, such as visiting Suzhou, Pompidou Museum, Thames Town and Chongning Island, but have to cancel due to the epidemic. But he does a lot at home, such as reading books, watching DVDs, walking his dog Rocky, listening to music and creating art works.
Gotthelf lives in Shanghai with her 15-year-old daughter, who is a student of Soong Ching Ling School. They did not travel during the Spring Festival holiday as her ex-husband Ignacio Gonzalez Cueto came to Shanghai for a visit from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This was Cueto's first visit to Shanghai, but unfortunately most of the city's tourist attractions have been closed. They had also planned to travel to Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province and other places, but they decided to stay in the city as it’s more important to contain the epidemic.
“But we have a lot of time to be together as a family,” said Gotthelf. “We’ve taken some great walks and been able to see scenes without crowds, which is unusual in Shanghai. We were at the Bund and Nanjing Road E. It was very, very empty. Everyone was being very careful and wearing masks, keeping their distance from other people. It’s just a different kind of vacation.”
She said she was not afraid, as the school has been providing the most current official information about prevention.
“I think if we follow the guidelines and good hygiene, we will be safe here,” she said.
The school said some foreign teachers who had left Shanghai for vacation are heading back to the city now and would like to provide support if necessary.
Christopher LeVasseur messaged on WeChat: “I wish everyone a swift recovery and that all remain safe. If there are any supplies I can bring from America, please let me know. I’d be more than happy to buy things in bulk for the school and bring them back with me whenever I can.”
As many direct flights to Shanghai have been canceled, the school officials are busy with helping them re-route their returning trips. He Meiyun, who is responsible for travel arrangements, has been checking information on airlines and designing routes.
“Some teachers in America have decided to go to Los Angeles first to take a flight to Shanghai, while some in Canada will fly from Montreal to Tokyo and then to Shanghai,” she said. “Spanish language teacher Yenny Li had re-routed three times but all the flights have been canceled. But she is still trying. A friend in need is a friend indeed. I’m really touched by the friendship our foreign teachers have shown.”