Author: Saryu Parikh :  The Real journey of my volunteer  tutoring.                    


         When I first met my new student, Tian, at the Literacy Council office, I had been a volunteer tutor for five years. By that time I had tutored several students, but meeting Tian was a totally new experience.

     In February 2002, I had just returned from a trip to India. On my answering machine, there was an interesting message from the Literacy Council coordinator, Mrs. Peggy.  “Saryu, I would like you to meet a delightful young lady. I hope you will find time to tutor her.”  I was told that this student was hearing-impaired. I called her home and talked to her father to set our meeting time. I suggested for Tian to write one page about herself so that I could assess her English skills. I figured that she would need a lot of help. At that point I had no idea what I was getting into and how much I was going to learn!

        Tian’s application indicated that she was 19 years old and a  high school graduate. She was fitted with a cochlear implant to help her with her hearing problem not too long before. It was then that I came to learn about cochlear implants for the first time in my life and assumed that a deaf person could then hear and talk like any normal person. Was I wrong! I realized my ignorance within a few minutes of meeting her.

        At our first meeting, Tian came with her father. He explained that she needed to pass a special SAT English exam in order to attend junior college.  I turned to look at her beautiful smiling face. I slowly started to speak, but she signaled that she did not understand. I wrote in her notebook to show me her written paragraphs. Tian opened her book to show me that she had written about her ambitions to become a doctor or a nurse or a graphic Designer! Her writing skill needed lot of help, but her enthusiasm and eagerness were very touching. In sign language she told me that she liked me and even offered to teach me sign language!

      She looked like a Japanese girl to me but she said she was from Malaysia. I could not understand so I pointed at the world map. Excitedly, she found Malaysia on the map. She wanted to know where Afghanistan was and why the terrible war was going on over there. Why did people kill other people? She always had so many questions. 

      As soon as our class was over, I went to talk to the director of the Literacy Council. I gave her Tian’s general background. We both felt that if we could find a speech therapist for Tian, it would be of great help to her. With Tian’s good luck, we found Ms. Lynn in our volunteer pool. I was very encouraged by the prospect of having other tutor’s help.  The long journey started with a lot of patience and enthusiasm on all sides. Most of our communication had to be carried on in writing. It was never limited to one subject. The struggle to improve her English continued for about four months.

       That summer, Tian had to go to Malaysia with her family. We talked about her fear of flying. She was not very willing to go, but she had no choice. When she returned, she had a broken pinky finger. Some days she would write,  “I am upset today. The doctor has not done a good job, and my finger will remain crooked.” She was over-anxious about her little finger. I was thinking, “This sweet girl has to face so many big problems in her life and she is worried about this little finger! ”

       As time went on, she used to ask about boys, relationships and marriage. One day we were reading about Helen Keller. I was trying to emphasize her accomplishments in spite of her disabilities. One sentence mentioned that Alexander Graham Bell had recommended Helen Keller’s teacher to her. Tian got stuck there.

     She started writing, “How come Helen Keller was not married?”  “Why did she not marry Alexander Bell?” “Isn’t it a waste of her good genes if she does not have children?”  Her curiosity was hilarious.

     As a typical teenager, she would at times rebel against her parents about several things, including religion. Her mother had mentioned that to me. One day, as soon she walked into the classroom, she went to the blackboard and furiously started writing. She wrote,  “Jesus, the destroyer of evil.”

       I was surprised to see that because she was not raised in that faith. She sat down and our lesson went on as usual. At the end of the lesson she said, “I will leave whatever I have written on the blackboard so whoever reads it will have faith in Jesus.”  I went and wrote, “Krishna is a great God. Do you know about that faith? She said, “No.” I explained that to have devotion and faith, one has to have knowledge and understanding. She agreed with her lovely smile and got busy erasing the chalkboard.

      We worked very hard to make sure that Tian would pass the English SAT for special students. She was totally dedicated but overwhelmed with all of the subjects she had to study and really wanted my help. So many times after a long session I would prepare to leave for the day and she would ask, “why you have to leave?  I would write, “I have to go home and cook for me and my husband.”  She would then get up and give me a hug, wishing me a good evening and giving me permission to leave.

      I was impressed when she showed me her drawings. After seeing her talent I always encouraged her to take more courses related to graphic design. But before that she had to pass several other subjects. She had to write a five pages essay. I had written essays a long time ago so we both had to learn “how to write an essay!” Same time she prepared for the SAT test. She and her family were disappointed with the result because she had passed the Math part but failed the English part. Her counselor at the community college was tough but still let her continue with the second semester. She was going through some serious family crisis but Tian was very focused to her studies, thanks to her parents.

She used to attend the regular student classes with an assigned interpreter. She finished two years and received AA degree from the community college with lots of hard work wrapped with tears of trouble and joy.

         Tian had many friends and shared her stories of many birthdays and Christmases with me. She had some special friends.   One day she sent me an email, “please will you tutor my friend Teddy also?”
Teddy was also hearing impaired and was to get cochlear implant soon. He had recently enrolled at the community college.
Before I met Teddy I ran into Kathleen in the hallway of the LC Office. Kathleen said, “I met them. You would see how Tian’s face lights up in her friend’s presence.”

        He seemed like a confident young man. We three started different ways communicating, but funny thing was whenever Tian did not understand me she would turn to Teddy for explanation. I was amused by her style because she was with me for almost three years and Teddy had just started. They would get into their sign language game and forget rest of the world.
I had to tell them, “You both studying at the same time with me will not work.”
Anyway Tian took classes at three different campuses. I continued tutoring Teddy at the office and Tian at one of the campuses.

         The first important thing happened to Tian was, going to the college. The other big milestone was, she got the Driver’s license. She sent me the email, “ Dear Mrs. Saryu, I have good news that I have passed my road test. I am so happy about that.  As you said, I will have to be alert at every moment while I am driving. I am so glad that you would pray for me to be safe.”

         One day the phone rang and the operator said, “You have a relay call from Tian.”

I had never heard of that before. The operator explained to me that a relay call is a special service provided for deaf, hearing impaired or speech impaired people. They are provided with a device, the customer types the message and operator reads it to the listener and in return operator types, what was told to her, for the customer.

         In her third and fourth year of collage, Tian got too busy to meet me regularly. So she used to send her work for correction via e-mail. When first time she was planning to send her an essay, this is what she wrote, “Hello Mrs. Saryu, I will let you correct my essay. I have worked hard. You send it back as soon as you can.”

I replied, “Dear Tian, this is not a correct way to request for a favor, try again.”

Whenever, I pointed out the proper way to do things, I had noticed Tian followed it with the right attitude.

         That whole semester she sent me her work many times via e-mail. I adopted a method to correct it with Capitol letters and with brackets and sent it back. That method has worked for both the students.  As time went by, I could see the improvement in her writing skill. From the first day, after checking her written paragraphs, I had told her, “Write short and correct sentences”  and “Do not repeat your thoughts.”       

After every trip to Malaysia, her English skill would suffer. She wrote to me after one of those trips,

“Mrs. Saryu,
I just got back here already. I will be wanting to study English with you if I can. Right now my schedules are tighting and conflict.”

I corrected that long letter and sent it back. Our correspondence continued and soon after her college classes resumed I received this letter, I am sharing a small part of it,
“ Dear Mrs. Saryu,
Good evening to you. I have been so busy doing my schoolwork. Sometimes, I feel so overwhelmed about too much homework. At least, I am so grateful that my hearing friends help me with it. I’ve missed you so much.”
It was a well thought out very nicely written letter.
Every year my husband and I take a long trip to the places like, Red Wood forest, Yellowstone, Niagara falls, etc. I would assign Tian to look up about those places describing our tour routs. Upon my return, I would talk about the places with pictures.

When Hurricane RITA came, she and her family flee to Dallas. She kept on sending the messages about the hardship they were going through. At one point she wrote,” I hate this Hurricane. I can’t wait to go back home and sleep in my own bed.” She was reflecting the sentiment of so many people.

          Tian was taking The History of Graphic Design class in fall semester of 2005, withthree other classes. She had to drive far for the classes. She explained how she can study in the regular classroom.She wrote,” I have the CART service which means that an interpreter types down on the CART for me what professor had said so I can read on the laptop. I prefer this to the American Sign Language.”

           One day I wrote down detailed directions to my home. I was very worried, “ How would she call if she got lost or her car broke down!” Well, she showed up to my door without any problem. After that she did not find time to come for several weeks.

           It was a cold dark Saturday night, one week before the Thanksgiving. We had just finished our dinner. The doorbell rang and to my surprise Tian was there holding load of papers and books. She had come to my house only once before in daylight. We could not believe that she made it at the nighttime to our house, which is not easy to find. She explained to me by talking, writing and with signs that she had to give ten minutes presentation in her classroom. She had to prepare the index cards and slides and her teacher will help her with the reading part. We spread all the papers and books on the dining room table. She had done basic research about the subject. She had selected to write about the famous Russian Graphic Designer E. Lissinsky. We spent more than two hours reading, writing and deciding about slides. She said, “She would finish during the Thanksgiving holidays and would show me. At about ten o’clock, before leaving she admired my husband’s paintings. We both felt that Tian is someone special.

          I waited for her to show up with the final draft of her presentation. Three weeks had passed and one Tuesday at five thirty she came running. She had only finished the first page. She had to leave at six fifteen to pick up her mother. I looked at her work and helped to put it in some order. But finally I had to say,  “ This is too late. Now you are on your own.’

 She gave me a hug before leaving and said, “ I will stay up whole night and will finish it.”         
In two days I received an email saying, “ I had stayed up whole night to finish my presentation. My teacher praised my work and I got an A for that. Next time I will show more discipline.” I was happily surprised. For her final grades she did not do that well but she passed all the subjects.

         I had asked her to come during the Christmas holydays to talk about some of the things other than her schoolwork. As a typical youth, I did not want her to forget the care and concern her parents were offering. She exchanged the gifts. I gave her a card, which said, “ Treat your family the BEST,

              Treat your friends BETTER,

                Treat the world GOOD.”

She understood what I was trying to tell her. I told her that I was very proud of her and her progress was the best gift of all. Her graduation was one and half years away but she invited me anyway and I gladly accepted.

             Than on, she was very comfortable coming to my house. Whenever the doorbell chimed unexpectedly, we knew  “ Tian is here!”  During holidays she diligently read about Helen Keller, Princess Diana and JFK, She wrote pages about Helen Keller and JFK but forgot the rules of writing an essay. I was frustrated. I reminded her about the rules of Timeline and explained the best way I could, and asked her to rewrite the assays.



        The spring semester of 2006 started and there was a lot of pressure on Tian. One thing she was very excited about was, her new red car. She kept on sending messages that she will stop by but she could not until end of the February. In the mean time, her friend Teddy had joined the community college and requested me to tutor him. His English improved within a few weeks.  I recognized his abilities when he had to write an essay about “ Write about a person who has influenced the most.” I suggested him to write about a teacher. The next time we met he showed me the essay written about her Grandmother.

He had expressed his thoughts about his recently deceased Grandma very well. I did see that he had abilities to think independently and creatively.

             By now I knew him well enough to ask him to come to my house for the classes. He had tendencies to be very brief. One day I got a relay call. The operator asked me, “ Miss Saryu, can I come tomorrow morning?” I said, “No, I am busy, come after 2pm.” “ I will be there at 2pm.” And goodbye. I kept on wondering, “ Would that be Tian or Teddy?” I had to conclude that Tian would never be so brief, that must be Teddy and yes, I was right. Tian and Teddy continued to be very good friends.


             Tian continued on with her surprise visits. One afternoon she showed up carrying half a dozen books and her heavy file. I told her,” I have only one hour then I have to go to the Women’s Center training workshop.”  We set to work and prepared her Resume, selected one novel by Virginia Wolf and designed business cards. I had to run when my husband reminded me of the time! The next day there was a long sweet letter on my email saying her teacher liked the work and she will come on Wednesday or Thursday. Lucky for her that most of the time she caught me at home.


             I did not see Tian for the whole month of March while I was busy with my daughter’s wedding.  After I sent her a message, she came to see me a week before her finals. The Book report, her Portfolio, her all other assignments were due. Her instructor had returned her Book report with many discouraging notes, which were justified.  The following year she might be graduating as a Graphic Designer. We all felt somewhat frustrated.

           She was applying for a scholarship. I prepared a recommendation letter. Which said, “I have tutored several students but I have not seen any one else as hard working and focused as Tian, all through her family and financial crises. She is dedicated to her education.”  She needed to be more organized. As a parent I could understand her family’s concerns about her driving home late at nights. 

         I said, “ It is dangerous to be on the road at late hours in the night.”

         Her question made me laugh. Innocently she asked me, “ How do you know?”

         I said, “ I read in the papers.” I had to relay some stories.

 She agreed but I didn’t know how much she would put in the practice.

         Somehow she completed her portfolio and received good response. She showed up at 8:30pm. on one Thursday night, when I had just comfortably settled down to watch my favorite show. She also sat and enjoyed my Indian show reading the subtitles. We worked till ten thirty. Due to the good report of her portfolio she was in cheerful mood. She went to my calendar on the wall and wrote under 25th of May, “ Tian’s birthday. She will be 23 yrs.”

         It was Tuesday in the week of her final exams. Her father called and said,” Tian had come home about 5am the previous night and last night she did not come home.” I was frantic with worries. I informed him that she had to submit one more paper on the following Friday so she must be busy working on that, but WHERE? I sent her an urgent email message. The whole day passed but no news. Hesitantly, I called her father in the evening and he told me that she had called. Now I was upset with her. The next day her message came telling me to calm down!  I could not believe that she can be so irresponsible. Her email said that she was looking forward to her birthday party with her hearing and hearing impaired friends. Again her whole family went to Malaysia for the summer.

        During summer we had couple of email exchanges. I wasn’t very surprised when in the second week of August I received her email. She was very happy to be back in US. Her family had to go through the strict security checks after the latest August 2006 threats. This time her English had not suffered after the long summer visit.

     She wrote, “Hello Saryu, I want to let you know that I got back home from Malaysia yesterday, Thursday night at 11:00 p.m. I was exhausted because of jet lag. I hardly slept because of different times. I will be getting used to follow the time in U.S.A. real soon. I will hope to see you at your house again. I don’t know when. I will let you know if I will be visiting you at your house as soon as possible. HCC opens on August 28th, 2006. I will have to register the five courses soon. My summer vacation was great. I went to visit my cousins and relatives. I enjoyed spending more time with my older cousin. That was fun. We went to the movies, beach, shop, and somewhere in Port Dickson (PD) in Malaysia. What did you do for the past summer time? Tell me about it, Mrs.Saryu. The TSA was very strict that we had to throw away the beverages, liquids, shampoos, etc. See you soon! Tian.”         This year’s tone was quite different than all previous years. She used to feel that her cousins were not treating her right .May be, this is a good sign that now she is self confident and wiser.

         Friday 7.30pm, the doorbell rang. There she was smiling and hugging me. The fall semester had already started and she was carrying around heavy stacks of papers and books. She excitedly handed me a gift. I was able to understand that she had gone to Singapore during her trip to Malaysia and got these earrings from there. I put them on to show her. She had signed up for four classes. She was taking Belle again, interesting!

 She said, “I will have to take one more class in spring semester and I will graduate in July 2007!!!”

She wrote, “ It is difficult to look at the professor, pay attention to the Interpreter and later read what she had written on my laptop.”


            Before she left, I wrote down three suggestions in her notebook.

  1. Bring your GPA higher, which is absolutely necessary in finding a good job.
  2. Try your best not to stay out late at the nighttime and if you do, let your family know.
  3. Get organized.


            After a few days, the doorbell rang at 10 o’clock night. Tian was ready to walk in as soon I opened the door. But I was annoyed for two reasons; one that it was late and second, she was staying out so late in spite of my strong recommendation.

 For the first time I said, “ No Tian, it is very late, you go home.”

She was surprised, but without any complain she hugged me and left. Then following Friday, she came at about three o’clock in the afternoon and I was helping her till six. When I wrote, “ Tian, I am tired.”

 She being a young lady could not realize that I can get tired! She said, “ Thank you.” And gathered her things and left.

                   This year we took a trip to Colorado in the month of October. When Tian came that Sunday evening, she did not have time to say, ‘hello.’ I was talking to a guest.

Tian went straight to the Dining table, sat down and started writing. So, like every year we did not talk about my trip. The subject, ‘Communication’ seemed quite difficult for her. So I suggested repeating it next year but she was inclined to finish this year. I asked her to read the chapter while I finished cooking my dinner. The book was well written but she had problem following.

                   The following Sunday, around six in the evening I was telling my self, “ I better start straightening out the kitchen and start dinner.” I put away the book I was reading and started some work in the kitchen. The doorbell rang and there she was with a smile asking me, “ How are you?” We started on her multiple questions homework. She just wanted me to check her answers. It was close to seven thirty so, I told her to go home. She wrote, ‘I have to write my report about the Belle. Can I sit and write? You come back after cooking and please correct it!’ She wrote seven pages about the belle ‘Emerging’. Previous Saturday she had gone to see that belle as a part of her homework. She was thrilled to watch and also to hear the music. With the cochlea’s aid she could hear the orchestra. –She enjoyed the sweet name rasagoola offered by my husband, Dilip.


              Lately Tian showed up on Sunday afternoons.

It was October 22 2006, our hindu’s Diwali-Newyear day. I was planning to go to an Indian Classical music concert. Good for Tian, I did not go. My husband was quite amused when he saw Tian’s red car pulled up in front of our house. He said, “ Now I know what made you stay home. She shows up without calling but she has yet to miss you.” 

             After her last visit I had sent her a message. It said, “ Early to bed and early to rise, makes Tian wonderful. Please set your alarm clock 12 minutes earlier and start your day with a peaceful and pleasant smile.” I was curious to know if she had implemented any of my suggestions! But we got so busy I forgot all about it. After more than two hours, I positively had to coax her to gather her papers and hugged her goodbye.

          It was December 2006, and last three weeks of her Fall Semester. Tian sent me email about her Instructor. I had seen her comments about Tian’s earlier work. The teacher had complemented Tian about her total work and her getting good passing grades.

She wrote,” I was worried in the beginning that you will not be able to complete this course. You have worked hard and you have done it.” With that happy note she sent me several pages to correct. I received that report in the evening and my husband suggested, “ You better finish that first, I will wait.” I was glad I did that because next day early Saturday morning I got a relay call from her inquiring about it. She had to finalize and prepare the power points.

           The next email came was a shear joy. She wrote, “ I have secured two As and two Bs and one C. I will be able to graduate in July 2007.” Her GPA was very decent.

            I wrote back, “ I feel like I am also graduating!”


           The Holiday wishes included her desire to come by to see me but she never showed up. In January I got invitation from Literacy office for the annual volunteer appreciation Brunch. I started thinking that this is a perfect time for Tian to express her appreciation to the teachers and to the Literacy staff. I suggested her name as the ‘student speaker’ to Ms. Kathleen. She liked the idea very much. I sent the email to Tian and explained that if she would agree to come than it involves a short speech and two hours of fun time on the third Saturday in February. She agreed to come. So her name was printed on the program list.

            It was a day before the event. Tian had not stopped by or sent an email of her speech. Ms. Kathleen and I were concerned. Right after my class, Ms. Kathleen inquired about Tian. I was embarrass to say that, “ I haven’t seen her speech”. I called my husband and he told me that Tian had called and she will stop by that afternoon. She came prepared. I showed her my introduction. I rewrote her speech and we were excited about the next day.

          The event was held at a nice Country Club. Tian enjoyed the food and the attention very much. When I read her speech and she expressed in signs, there were tears in many eyes. My friend Dorothy and Ms.Kathleen were thrilled by the presentation. This event was very necessary for her parents to see Tian as a mature individual. I can recognize the nervousness of her parents, when Tian announced that she wants to move to Dallas for further study. 

            Our picture came in the News Paper. I felt good that I was an instrument to be there to make a change in someone’s life. People were impressed that I continued to help Tian for so many years and I was impressed that Tian asked for my help. Tian was looking forward to graduate in about five months, July 2007 with Major in Graphic Design. Five years ago, which seemed like a naïve dream, will come true.

     SARYU-introducing TIAN. Good morning! I received a message from our Mrs.Peggy, ” Saryu, I want you to meet  this delightful young lady. I hope that you have time to tutor her.” That  was more than five years ago. She had graduated from high school and  needed to improve her English to go to college. Miss.Lynn, who is a  Speach Therapist, Tian and I started this difficult journey with lot of  patience and persistence. Our tutoring, has continued at the Literacy  Office, at the campus and at my house. Whenever the doorbell chimes  unexpectedly, my husband says,” Here is your Tian!”  The tutoring  has covered not only English but many other subjects. Her parents’  support and Tian’s hard work are exceptional. In her first writing sample she wrote,” I will become a doctor or a nurse  or may be a Graphic Designer.”  ‘Wow’, It seemed like a naive dream  but I am proud to say that this delightful young lady will be graduating  from the University of Houston in July 2007, Graphic Design as her  major, in spite of her physical challenges.  Here is Miss Tian Ong.       

 Tian speaks- Hello everybody. I am Tian Ong. (I will read and Tian will sign.)

 I started coming to Literacy Council when I was 18 years old. There I  met my wonderful tutor Mrs. Saryu Parikh for the first time. I was  introduced to Mrs. Lynn the next week. I saw many students trying to  learn English and so many kind teachers were helping them. After a few months with my teachers, I was ready enough to be  admitted at the community college. With their help and my  family’s support, I have been stronger and successful. All these years,  Mrs. Saryu says, she has learned a lot from me. The real reason is, she has helped me with many college classes. She is so awesome.  I do know that I will have to use sign language rest of my life since I am  hearing impaired. I appreciate Mrs. Lynn’s help. I will not have  accomplished much without Literacy Council’s help.  I want to thank my parents, my tutors and Miss Kathleen. I feel very  proud and honored to be here. I plan to improve my skills all my life. I  encourage other students to see what one can do with the support of the  kind helping hands. Thank you      

April 2007

The day before Tian’s Graduation day, the doorbell rang and Tian showed up to invite me for the Graduation ceremony. I had other plans. She regretfully wrote that she was just confirmed to be successfully completing all the required courses.


I was glad to see her email in July 2007.

 Hello Saryu,How are you doing? I am doing fine. I am sorry that I haven’t had time to visit you before I left for Malaysia. I will be back in USA around August 10, 2007. I want to let you know about my good NEWS…..I got accepted by Texas Women’s University (TWU) so I will be studying graphic design to get a bachelor of arts (BA). I will be gone to study there for 3 years in Denton, Texas. I will miss you and I will try to see you before I leave for TWU. Take care and I will send you my graduation pictures here. 🙂Miss you lots,

 This will be a bigger challenge. Tian will live in the dormitory   In Denton.Texas, about two hundred and fifty miles away from her family. 

Life goes on, let’s see what future brings—-

I was glad to see her several times last year. Like many other times, I was pleasantly surprised with one more

 Hello Saryu,

Date: Sunday, May 16, 2010, 3:09 AM

Hi Mrs. Saryu,
             I am on a short break time for nice vacation in Austin, Texas since I was arrived here last Friday night. I am at the hotel with my fiance, Max, now.  I would like to visit you at your house.  I hope you do receive this e-mail and I always think of you and miss you. I am getting tired and I should go to bed. Have a good night!
            They both came.  After three and half hours and about fifty pictures they left. I was deeply impressed with Max. He had moved near Dallas so they can meet in weekends. Tian will gratuate in Graphic Design next year and they want to move to Houston, near their parents. Still she is full of ideas. At one point she asked for my opinion about becoming a professional photographer after she is finished at Denton!

———END,  for now.———

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