Our ACE team is spending three weeks at the China Exploration and Research Society (CERS) Zhongdian Center, just outside of Shangri-La. CERS was founded in 1986 by Wong How Man, who has led countless exploration and conservation efforts throughout China alongside research director, Dr. Bill Bleisch. Dr. Bleisch plays a key role in the ACE program today. His background in biology and conservation enriches our experience and education, supplemented by the CERS museum of cultural items and expedition and research documents. In addition, the wealth of knowledge and experience from Dr. Bleisch and fellow program director, Tsering Drolma, provide rich context and insight into Tibetan culture.
Drolma played an important role in the connection of VIA and CERS and eventually the development of the ACE in China program. She grew up in a Tibetan village and in 2008 travelled to the U.S. to attend Duke University. After graduating in 2012, she began work at CERS in Shangri-La. At a 2013 workshop in Stanford, she met the VIA program director Patrick Arnold. This CERS-VIA partnership made possible the ACE in China program. Her Duke and Stanford connections made the ACE program even more fitting.
Drolma’s passion for education and working with kids led her to reach out to local village families through the CERS center. Before ACE, she helped the community in numerous ways. For example, she helped the local kids with transportation to school and providing solar water heaters through CERS. She also implemented English programs for the local children, running daily camps for dozens of participants. She saw the ACE program as a perfect opportunity for university student-athletes to lead these camps and immerse themselves in Tibetan culture.
As part of the ACE program, we hold this camp for about 20-30 local kids, who range in ages from 4 to 15. Our goals are to teach basic English and promote intercultural connection through sport. Each camp session has specific learning goals pertaining to different English concepts. Lessons are interactive and intertwined with games, sports, and crafts. Supplementing camp-wide sessions are small group work tailored to different English skill levels. Over the course of the camp, ACE team members get to know the kids better and our bonds grow stronger. The connection between the ACE team members and the children also strengthens the partnership between CERS and the community. Each morning we look forward to the kids’ radiant positivity and joy. Despite the kids wearing us down all morning in basketball, soccer, and tag, we still find energy to explore the vibrant surrounding city and breathtaking natural environment.