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Joanna Lally, a third year B Ed student at St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, shares here experience of the VLM Summer Volunteer Programme in Bulbula, rural Ethiopia.
“Teaching in Bulbula has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life to date. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher as I am training to be a primary teacher in Saint Patrick’s College however after this experience it confirmed for me that there will be no other job for me.
The first day we got up that morning, I was very excited to see the children however I was nervous as I knew this would be a new teaching context that I will have to adapt to. We had a wonderful Sister, Sister Elsa who would be taking care of us for the four weeks we were there and also was the principal of the school which we were very grateful for. We started walking over to the school, and the first thing we saw was bright smiling faces as we approached the school running towards us. They hugged us and the feeling of appreciation that we were there to teach them was evident. At that moment I knew there would be no better feeling.
We walked into the classrooms and divided up the children between the four of us. I had a class to myself and so did one of the other girls, so at first I felt nervous as the ages ranged from juniors to 4th class. Fr. Stephen the chaplain in my college, St. Patrick’s Drumcondra, came to Bulbula also for a week and he took a few photos of the children and me on the first day. As soon as the camera came out they were very excited. They wanted to see the photos as they wouldn’t have the opportunity to have photos taken of them, only when volunteers came to the school.
I introduced a parrot puppet to the children. The children loved it! I had fun with them and I wanted them to feel comfortable with me. The juniors especially were excited about the parrot puppet when I squeaked its beak. Small little things like this can make any day enjoyable for the children.
I found when I was teaching the younger children in the junior classes the resources like pictures worked well for learning new words and using your hands to show different actions and words worked best. For example I had pictures for prepositions of ‘teddies on the table’, ‘under the table’ etc. The language barrier can be difficult at times but these small resources can make a difference. When you’re teaching juniors and seniors even always think exaggeration is key. I wasn’t afraid to be silly, like when I was teaching opposite words I exaggerated every move I made, this made the children laugh and enjoy the lesson however it also made them learn the words as they pictured me doing the action and they were doing it too.
With the older classes I taught they were so interested in learning and they wanted to learn as much as they could off you. I focused on grammar and things they wanted to learn in grammar. This will all help them in their grade eight English exam which determines whether they go on to secondary school. I think this is very important to remember to think about what the classes want or need to learn for the future. We had four weeks so in the four weeks I wanted to focus on things the children needed to learn and that they thought were important for them to learn.
However we didn’t forget that this is a summer school! We ensured that the children were having fun like in the physical education classes and play lessons as well. One of my cases was packed with footballs and a pump, and items to play games with like tennis rackets, bouncy balls etc. They loved getting the chance to play with these things as they rarely get football or things like that to play with. However when we were giving items to the children it is important to place value in getting the items back, to ensure the children understand that if they return the items they can play with them again and again over a long period of time.
Every day the relationship I built with the children grew stronger. They knew you were their teacher but they also treated you like their friend. Every day you could see small things they learned from you which gave you a very proud and gratified feeling. No matter how small of a step the children make, and no matter what they learn you are still making a difference. It is still one step in the right direction. I think this is very important to keep in mind.
The last day of school was very difficult. We had to say goodbye to these amazing children that I know I could never possibly forget. We had a coffee ceremony and the children sang. We said our speeches that we all struggled to finish because as everyone knows goodbyes can be very difficult. As I was looking around the room at these smiling faces looking back at me I couldn’t believe the four weeks was up, I wanted more time with them however it was time to go. We gave the children sweets as a gift and we gave our final hugs goodbye. One of my students came to the house however to say one last goodbye the next morning which was very nice to see him one last time.
Then as we drove out of the driveway and said goodbye to Bulbula there was many children that me and the other girls taught in the school waiting at the school gates to say goodbye. We drove away waving out the windows and shouting our goodbyes. Tears trailed down our cheeks but it was a moment of sadness saying goodbye however it was a moment I will be grateful for as I realised I would never forget Bulbula and the people there and the image will always stay with me. Hopefully I will get to return and teach there again!”