ETA4: Founder Victor Wilson’s Thoughts on Starting an NGO

The following blog article is written by Victor Wilson, a young social entrepreneur who founded his very own non-profit organization dedicated to the development and implementation of innovative English summer camps in Southeast Asia. You can find out more about ETA4 by visiting their website. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

The world has never been closer together than it is today. Humans have the ability to, with a single mouse click, connect with people and places that would have been nearly impossible just 50 years ago. Our interconnectivity, interdependence, and interaction have never been more prevalent.

Because there is such a desire to connect across borders and boundaries, the value of being able to speak the current “global” language has never been higher. Both academically and professionally, being able to speak English has a multitude of advantages, and in some instances is a prerequisite to development of an education or a career. Governments across the world recognize the advantages an English education gives their populace, and so have either made English a compulsory subject in school, or at the very least offered it to students eager to learn.

But there is a problem with this method. If you treat English (or any language) like any other subject, many barriers to learning that language arise. Languages are meant to be used in a way that the traditional classroom environment doesn’t reach. They are meant to be spoken loudly, with conviction, not hidden in a thick coursebook; they are meant to be sung, not only written down on a piece of paper; and they are meant to elicit a response, spark a discussion, and foster greater understanding, and not just be a repetition of words or phrases.

One of the things I am most proud of was that the ETA4 team recognized this right away. The most effective way to teach English, we determined, was to interject it into the daily life of the student – a life that undoubtedly includes songs, movies, sports, games, art, poetry, books, and actions. While our curriculum doesn’t ignore the benefits of a traditional academic approach to teaching and learning, it also cultivates a holistic view of the language – and, as it turns out, makes it a lot more fun for the student.

Since 2009, ETA4 English programs have been held each summer, often in multiple locations. What started as one small program in Hue, Vietnam with only 350 students has blossomed into 8 total programs in 2 different countries (Vietnam and Taiwan) over 3 years, with our last program teaching over 950 students. This past summer, we taught our 4000th student, a milestone of which I am immensely proud!

Although the program is only 5 weeks in length, one of the benefits of the approach that we take is that it inspires students to continue the learning process far after the volunteers have left: by showing them that English can be fun, they take it upon themselves to incorporate it into their daily activities. Our goal is not to teach the entire language from A to Z, but rather to give the student a starting point and an inspiration to continue studying a subject that will be of immense value to him/her in their future.

As great as the impact on our students has been, I believe the summer programs have had as equal an impact on our volunteers. Everything that we do is driven by the desire for “cross-cultural connection”, because being able to understand and learn from each other is truly what will continue to drive the world forward. Some of our volunteers have never been out of the country; some are seasoned travelers looking for their next adventure; and some are returning to their parents homeland for the first, fifth, or tenth time. By the time the program is over, though, they share a common trait: after embedding themselves in the culture and traditions of their students, they leave with an enhanced understanding and connection with hundreds of people they spent their summer interacting with. I won’t speculate why many of the volunteers re-apply for second and third years in the program, but I’m confident this is one of the (many, I’m sure) reasons.

Our goal is pretty straightforward – to provide students with a life-changing ability while giving volunteers a life-changing experience. I believe that so far, we’ve accomplished this, and am looking forward to many more years of growth that even 5 years ago I never could have imagined. The world gets a little bit smaller every single day – our goal is to just bring it a little closer together.gyg-logo-teal-transparent1