Volunteering Lite

by Annalise on November 13, 2009

I refer to my work in Nepal as volunteering-lite. I’ve maintained my primary responsibility in ensuring Robin manages grade 8 and looking after house and home in this new environment. All the same, my volunteer work is engaging and fantastic fun!

Three times per week I go to one of two schools to engage the teaching staff in English conversation. This involves both formal sessions with a classroom type setting and making opportunities for informal conversations as well. Most schools in Nepal provide their instruction in English and the teaching staff are adept at working with their subject content in English but their interactions and instructions are most often in Nepali. While the vocabulary is there, many are reluctant to converse in English. It is my role to be available to them and help bring up their confidence to speak in English.

I started with introductions and understanding the origins of their individual names. Many are related to Hindu gods or to the elements. These conversations have helped me tremendously to connect face to name but also inspires such talk; who doesn’t love to tell the story of their own name (you mustn’t get me started)! They are eager to engage in this and even the quiet ones do overcome their shyness to contribute to the topics, exercises or conversations. Already, I’ve had the privilege of learning from many the stories of their families and home communities, their aspirations, their career journey that has found them teaching in Kathmandu and with some their hobbies and passions. The English is not perfect but they are warm people and as eager to share their stories as any I’ve met.

Many have family or older children studying or working abroad. This is always coupled with the anticipated date of their return or a plan to visit when possible. Several come from India having been married to a Nepali and come to live here. Two of the women I’ve met grew up and studied in Calcutta and told great stories of their love of the teachers they had and how they were encouraged to share in the holidays and festivals of all the faiths present in their youth. They could still share with me the Christmas Carols they could remember. As we sat there singing Silent Night and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, we vowed to have a Christmas event of some sort at the school. I also met a teacher who, along with two Tibetan friends, started a small school in a rural district where students have not previously been served. He shared his anguish and told of the officials who shut down this school after several years of successful operations in a move of political chess over support in the region. He teaches now in Kathmandu but that experience is a huge part of his story.

Another great facet of this work is being invited into the classroom to work with the students in English as well. The classroom protocol is quite formal. Each time I enter a classroom, all students rise and in unison, say “Good Morning (Afternoon) Madam”. I reply with my greeting and if I ask how they all are, again in unison, the response is “very well Madam, thank you”. Although formal, it is not delivered without cheer. As quickly as they are once again seated, they are keen to ask individual questions or respond individually to my questions of them. Between classes also, they come in small groups to visit more and come up with all kinds of questions. In talking with one class about their favorite English speaking musical stars, one grade 7 boy stood and after asking his teacher if he would be allowed, sang his version of his favorite hit. I’ve forgotten the artist but the boy did a brilliant job of the song.

I was asked recently to contribute to a grade 8 social studies class as they studied North America. It is most interesting to see what is provided in foreign text books about your home continent and country. Their teacher is a geography buff so he was thrilled to have someone talk first hand about the different geographical regions in Canada. At his request, I also talked about Canadian agricultural and how they differed from the agriculture in Nepal. I also shared about living in the arctic and sub-arctic regions and Canada’s climate zones generally. That particular day, it was about 22 degrees and as this is approaching their winter also, all students were wearing the sweaters that are a part of their uniform; many were also wearing toques and scarves. I stood there in my slacks, sandals and a short sleeved shirt explaining why this was not cold for me.

Tomorrow I go again this time with Robin in tow. They love to have Robin visit the classrooms. He provides the teenage English example full or new idioms and current slang. Inevitably their conversations depart from their school topics that brought us there and move onto common interests and off they go – facebook, current movies, music, etc. and then the English really starts to flow!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

LeeAnne November 14, 2009 at 2:10 am

What a terrific learning experience for both you and your students of all ages. I knew Robin would be an excellent teacher as well. Your conversation on climate reminded me of John and Shannon in Houston. When it gets down to 20 degrees there, the locals wear their winter clothes as well. Little Annalise gets cold quite easily not having lived in a colder climate for very long.
Very interesting :-)

Ria November 14, 2009 at 5:51 am

Hi Annalise,

I so enjoy your stories of how things are going. Wow! You are really getting involved and I think that when the time comes, the Nepali people are going to miss you dearly. How nice that you can be involved in their learning of our country!

Keep up the good work and Robin – how great that you can help out as well. Good on you, guy!

Have a great time and God bless you all!

Love, Ria

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