Today we are continuing our young leadership series bringing you an exclusive interview with a high school junior who is looking to make the world a better place. Alex Han is a junior of Chadwick International, founder and president at Piece of Talent, a nonprofit organization founded in 2018 offering free, online tutoring to underprivileged students from children’s welfare facilities and orphanages in South Korea (www. pieceoftalent.org). Composed of high school and university student volunteers from all over the world including South Korea, China, many states in the United States, Singapore, and Germany, her organization delivered over 20,000 hours of free tutoring so far. These efforts were recognized with several awards from the Incheon City Mayor, Seoul City Mayor, and Prudential Spirit of Community Award.
[Photo: Alex Han, zoom interview]
What inspired you to start this project?
Since I was young, I could ask my mother for tutoring or lessons for anything I didn’t learn in school or needed help with. However, I’m aware that I’m in the minority when it comes to this opportunity. At the age of fourteen, I set out on a mission to help children who did not have the same opportunities that I had. I started tutoring a group of kids at a community children’s center as a volunteer project. My overarching goal was to help the children I was tutoring to better understand their schoolwork and improve their own opportunities in life as a result – but I soon found that group tutoring sessions with many kids simply weren’t much help. Each of my students had a different learning level, so they needed different levels of support and care, and I just couldn’t offer this individually while keeping the other children engaged with 1:5 or 1:10 sessions. I tried one-to-one sessions too – but this just ended up taking five times as long, and I found myself unable to commit the time, no matter how much my heart yearned to support the children. I tried to find a better way, and online tutoring was the answer I found. It would save a huge amount of time traveling, allowing me to do what I loved and support the kids in their studies. It is how it all started.
So you started free online tutoring even before Covid 19?
Before Covid19, online tutoring was not that prevalent in where I live. I worked tirelessly to develop an online tutoring framework that would allow me to have one-to-one tutoring sessions with the students more frequently. In fact, the welfare institutions were not well equipped with the necessary devices. I worked part-time and held the fundraising event, collecting used laptops and tablet pads for donation. Only after we raised the funds enough to buy suitable devices, we could donate them to the centers and start the online tutoring. It was all worth it. The results were great, and the caregivers of the children’s welfare center where I served were just as thrilled with the online solution as I was.
How could you reach out to volunteers and children in need of tutoring?
We actually started very small – only 3 volunteers, me and my two friends. I would say it came from the needs. The caregivers at the children’s centers and orphanages loved what we did, so began sharing the concept with other institutions – and all of a sudden, we were facing bombards of applications from those institutions, asking to help children under their care, those who could not keep up with what is taught by the school, or those who eager to learn English outside of the school but just didn’t know where to start due to the lack of the resources. I started to recruit more volunteers, but it was not easy at first, and most of our volunteers joined by word-of-mouth. However, as time goes by, volunteers felt very good about what they were doing, and they also started to spread the word. It reached our friends in the United States – California, Washington, New York. etc. and other countries and they were also willing to help, and brought more volunteers. Now we have more than 100 volunteers, have affiliated with 7 orphanages and welfare institutions, with more than 500 students. We are continuing to recruit volunteers since the requests for tutoring are just non-stop.
[Photo of me and my friend tutoring kids at the children’s center – we started very small]
It’s great that you were able to create a space to show what good things you wanted to do for the world. What was the most rewarding part of this project?
Many people ask if students’ grades improve through our tutoring. Of course, it is really rewarding to see a student who couldn’t read the alphabet at all and was sleeping in the back seat at school learning the alphabet, learning phonics and finally reading a chapter book. I believe, however, one of the most rewarding and important parts is the trust and story built between volunteers and students. Even if they are from different backgrounds, they can eventually communicate and emphasize as the younger generation living in the same era. The story of each person is very precious to me. I am fascinated to hear about the students’ personal struggles and overcoming and to be able to watch and be with them through their growing process. Our tutors say it’s very satisfying to be able to see that they’ve really made a difference. It is a personal joy for me too, to be able to tell the tutors that they were the ones who made the real difference.
What was the most amazing thing since you started this initiative?
I think the growth itself is quite crazy. As I said, at first, I thought I could only help a few children near our school. Instead, dozens of hundreds of people wanted to help and wanted to be helped, especially with the Covid19. We ran everywhere to recruit the tutors. I was constantly surprised by how far we came. It is always amazing that volunteers are willing to take the time to help even in their busy lives. Another fantastic thing is that our volunteers are not just in Korea, but scattered in various countries such as the United States and China. It is surprisingly wonderful that they are helping a child in an orphanage in a small village in rural Korea overcoming a distance of hundreds of kilometers.
[Our volunteer gallery is full of hundreds of video classes – we have about 20 classes going on every day]
Now your organization is not just providing free tutoring, but doing a number of other Initiatives, right?
This is also one of the rewarding things. Thank you for asking. As our organization worked with orphanages and child welfare institutions, we became conscious about what they lacked. First, the most urgent thing was the devices needed for online classes. I heard that some companies regularly replace laptops used in their offices for security reasons. I sent out emails to companies’ social contribution departments, explained what we do, and asked for sponsorship. The replies were small, but finally, we could find a sponsor. 3M Corporation in Korea contacted me and said they plan to dispose of used laptops to replace laptops with new ones and they would dispose of the used ones, not because they are not working but just because they cannot find where to send them. Eureka! This was such good news for us. With the help of the company, we were finally able to donate about 50 laptops to the welfare institutions. Students are taking classes from us with the laptop that has been donated.
One of the important activities we do is an orphan sponsorship program. We connect a sponsor with a child, mainly to raise the necessary fund when the child is required to leave the institution later at the age of 18. Many parents of the volunteers were willing to help. So far, we have been able to connect ties to more than 30 children.
In addition to the fundraising and donation activities described above, we also do art-related activities. Art-loving members draw and sell digital portraits and donate the proceeds to a fund to purchase sanitary pads for young girls who cannot afford them. We also organized and held anti-discrimination art exhibitions, online and offline, participated by artists in Korea and California. All proceeds from the exhibition were also donated. (Online exhibition link: https://www.pieceoftalent.org/blank-page ) Currently, we are creating fun Science textbooks so that our volunteers can use them for tutoring, which will be published as well. We will have to set another time to talk about these other activities we do, as each has its own and interesting story!
What final words do you have for all of the supporters?
Visit our homage www.pieceoftalent.org and follow us on Instagram @pieceoftalent to find out about where you can find us as we grow!
We really hope it all goes well for you. Thank you so much for today.
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