Couple help solve a Chinese puzzle

PUBLISHED: 11:40 27 December 2006 | UPDATED: 13:42 04 May 2010

Pat, John and their students with books donated by Ely Library and shipped with money from Wilkinsons.
Photos: SUPPLIED.

Pat, John and their students with books donated by Ely Library and shipped with money from Wilkinsons. Photos: SUPPLIED.

ENTERPRISING Witchford couple Pat and John Hook are forging links between east and west, setting up a library in one of the poorest parts of China with the help of friends and family back home. LESLEY Innes found out more about their work and their lives

Pat with the Chinese student librarians.

ENTERPRISING Witchford couple Pat and John Hook are forging links between east and west, setting up a library in one of the poorest parts of China with the help of friends and family back home.

LESLEY Innes found out more about their work and their lives spent globetrotting to help others.

PAT and John Hook have spent most of their working lives overseas.

Almost two years ago they waved goodbye to their daughter and her young family in Ely and set off for their latest adventure to one of the poorest provinces in China.

Their mission is to set up a library and teaching resource for students at a school in Tianshui, an area rarely visited by foreigners.

Second-hand books have been contributed from family and friends and donated by Ely library and shipping costs paid for with donations from Ely store, Wilkinsons, and the Isle of Ely Lions Club.

Now 350 students use the library and five act as librarians, running a simple borrowing system using home-made cards and tickets.

"They are a great help to us," said Pat. "They are very enthusiastic and are also gaining much valuable experience in taking responsibility for the running of this new student facility. Our little library has proved to be extremely popular.

"It is always very satisfying to see the students in the library. Although it is still very small it is always busy and the students obviously enjoy both the books and the experience of using and running the centre."

Pat, a teacher, and John, a forester, are employed by the school but work through Voluntary Services Overseas.

The charity places teaching volunteers in the poorer provinces of China to train teachers who come from the small villages and will eventually return to teach in rural areas.

"One of the great things about China, apart from the food, is - the people," added Pat.

"This may be partly because foreigners are pretty rare in this neck of the woods, so we do have a novelty value, and when we walk through town, people often come up and say 'hello', just to be friendly.

"For most of our students we are their first contact with westerners, and they are very curious about western life. They are also invariably polite and well-behaved, although they certainly don't lack spirit.

"Even when travelling around China, we have had perfect strangers come up to us and go out of their way to be helpful to a couple of foreigners.

"For our part, we are terrible students, and after two years, have only 'survival' Mandarin, but people have always been patient with us in our halting attempts to communicate in their language."

On Saturday evenings the couple show English language films for the students, whose average age is 20.

Pat and John have worked in Zambia, Jamaica, The Bahamas, The Seychelles, The Maldives and Vanuatu in the South Pacific among other places.

After finishing their contract in The Seychelles in the early 80s they stayed for a further year to undertake the major repair and refit of an historic Norwegian sailing vessel which had ended up as a wreck in the harbour.

Once finished they and their young daughter joined another couple and their children to sail the boat back to the UK via South Africa and the West Indies.

More recently they have spent three years teaching in Slovakia before arriving in China in February 2005.

"It's been a wrench leaving our daughter and her young family, but they, and the rest of our families have become accustomed to our lengthy absences," said Pat.

"When we started our wanderings, communication of course, was by snail mail, but now, with virtually free telephone calls, webcams and emails, home doesn't seem quite so far away.

"As for future plans, we are still working on the most interesting way of getting back to the UK in the summer - should we go via Australia or take the Trans-Siberian Railway? We have definitely not yet thought about getting a 'Dunroamin' sign for the house.

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