“Youth, Excellence and Service” (Y.E.S.) is the motto of the IFT Volunteer Circle, a student group dedicated to the betterment of the wider community, particularly the younger generations.
The initiative was launched by students in September 2013 with the help of IFT Lecturer Mr. Stephen Sayers. He teaches English language courses at the Institute.
Mr. Sayers says the vision of the Bahá’í Faith – a religion that emphasises the spiritual unity of all humankind and the 2-fold purpose of individual and collective transformation – influenced his effort in helping to establish the IFT Volunteer Circle. Through community building activities over the past 25 years, he has been actively engaged in a wide range of community service projects.
“My experience of community building was not so much in charity; it was in learning to build capacity, especially in the area of the education of youth and children. In serving others I found myself growing in capacity, so I thought we could encourage IFT students to serve the community and, through that, enrich their education too,” he explains.
About 20 to 30 students were involved with the IFT Volunteer Circle in the second semester of academic year 2015/16.
The group has partnerships with 2 local non-governmental organisations. Members can volunteer for the Moral Empowerment through Language Programme (MTEL), run by the Badi Foundation: the scheme aims to assist teenagers between the ages of 12 and 15 to improve their language skills, while helping them to develop a sound moral framework.
IFT Volunteer Circle members also can join the Best Buddies Programme, run in Macao by the Fuhong Society. It pairs students 1-to-1 with intellectually challenged people, in order that they can all share interests, experiences and activities.
Additionally, the IFT Volunteer Circle is looking to build links internationally with other, similar, organisations. It already has close ties with Asia University in Tokyo, Japan.
In March, the group joined a National Research Forum in Tokyo for student volunteers and their supporters. The IFT Volunteer Circle was the only non-Japanese university group invited to take part in the activity, which was attended by more than 600 people from 150 universities.
From music to English teaching
Mr. Sayers was born and grew up in New Zealand. His first university degree was unrelated to English language teaching: it was in music, at the University of Auckland.
“My father loved music,” Mr. Sayers explains. “I learned violin but I don’t play so much any more.”
Music has had an important role in his relationship with Macao, a city Mr. Sayers visited for the first time in 1989.
“I had taken a year out of my studies and I was travelling with a group of friends,” he recalls. “I was in Hong Kong and we were meant to come to Macao just for a weekend but I ended up staying for a year. While here, I taught some English and I played in the Macau Sinfonietta.”
English language teaching eventually won out compared to music, becoming Mr. Sayers’ career path. He specialised in it, with a master degree in teaching English as a foreign language.
It was during his first stay in Macao that Mr. Sayers also made his first visit to the People’s Republic of China. “I went to a minority arts festival in Guiyang; there were about 5,000 minority people there,” he says. “For a young, 23-year-old guy, it was a very fresh experience to see something like that.”
Mr. Sayers returned to New Zealand, but in 1992 he headed overseas once more. After teaching English language in Taiwan for 5 months, he returned to Guiyang and stayed there for 5 years.
It was in Macao in 1989 that Mr Sayers met his future spouse. They kept in touch for 5 years before marrying in 1994 and moving to Guiyang together. In 1997 they returned to Macao to live and work. Mr. Sayers has been here ever since, joining IFT in 2008 as a lecturer.
Despite the changes the city has undergone over the past 2 decades Mr. Sayers has no doubt: it has become home to him.