7 to 7 - By Sindhuja Sankaran

7 hours of sleep later, I started my day at 7am. Today we had the school teaching shift. I along with 3 other volunteers who were assigned to teach Farsi and Arabic children, English. Usually the teaching is done by teachers (who are also based in the camp) who speak English and their respective language to facilitate learning better. On Fridays however the volunteers will teach. Two (more experienced) volunteers took care of the advanced children and taught them how to read time and make clocks. Me and another volunteer (who is also my roommate) were in charge of teaching the beginners the concept of animals. That was a little bit more challenging as neither of us spoke Arabic or Farsi so communicating might be that much more difficult. 

The Farsi speaking kids arrived, 4 in total from Afghanistan and Iraq and while we were waiting for some other kids to arrive I tried to keep them occupied. They were fascinated by the world map and different flags. They were thrilled to hear that I was from India and that made me smile! We looked for different flags and I showed them different countries on the map. They wanted to see their own country and the minute I pointed out Afghanistan for instance, the kids exchanged smiles and looks. I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what nostalgia felt like. However, we had to get on with class and the topic for that day was animals.

We had a book open and we learnt animals based on the pictures from that book! Elephant, Lion, Zebra, Koala, Panda, Giraffe! So here was the challenging part. I had never taught kids before, leave alone those who I cannot communicate with in the same language. The youngest kids I’ve ever taught are undergraduate kids and a subject I’m very familiar with. Not like I don’t know animals, but teaching kids is NOT the same. But, I feel I already created a rapport with the kids when we were discussing flags, and for some insanely odd reason everything seemed to go very smoothly. I was ‘winging it’. I was just ‘playing it by ear’. I had no structure in mind (and for those who know me, you know how much I need and crave structure). I used basic cognitive principles of recognition and recall. I wanted to avoid rote learning and tried to associate the animals with sounds. Yes, you can take me away from my social cognition research but you cannot take the social cognition researcher out of me! The elephant has a huge trunk (as enacted!), the lion roars (as enacted again). My acting/theatre experience in Krakow also helped me think on my feet to engage in these exercises. We also worked on pronunciation, which indirectly facilitated repetition thereby better learning. At the end, I started drawing on the white board, the animals we learnt. I started with a cat (of course, as I’m obsessed with these little creatures) and the kids go meaaoooowww. And I said, ‘’very good, now in English this is CAT’’. Their association with the lion was the word ‘’SHER” which interestingly is the same in Hindi, so I was able to understand that and say NO SHER, in English LION. They got it! And in my enthusiasm, I screamed ‘’excellent’’ and one kid repeated after me. As I continued drawing, the complicated physical structure of the animal was indirectly proportional to my drawing skills. So, the giraffe looked like a long stick. The kids laughed at that, I joined in. It was a hoot! And finally, we finished our class making craft work with a fish that looked like something below. 

The kids were happy, I was ecstatic for two reasons, I absolutely enjoyed teaching kids (I never knew I did) and my fellow volunteers (who have experience teaching with kids) said I did a really good job – so that was a pat on my back! On reflecting on the teaching style, I incorporated, I think I tried to maintain a very casual environment with the kids, which maybe made it comfortable for them. I don’t know. But I cannot wait to teach these little kiddos again. The next session was taken over by the other volunteer colleague with Arabic speaking kids – 14 in total! And she did a fantastic job. Clearly she does this for a living!

My next session after lunch was English classes for adults. In this case, the teacher would be here and we would facilitate or help. Unfortunately, the Farsi speaking teacher did not show up for the beginner class, so my volunteer colleague took over, as we are expected to do (as she has more experience). It seems like it’s very common that they don’t show up, understandably as they might have gone for a medical check up or some other documentation procedure, which is undoubtedly the higher priority. While the adults were learning, we set a table outside the community centre and children could come and colour and I was supervising that. We were picking what kind of pictures they wanted to colour and they were told to then finish it and take it home. One of the uncles of the kids came by and wanted a crash course on English words from me while his nephew was colouring. In exchange he taught me some Arabic. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much apart from Balun which is Balloon in Arabic.

 After the beginner’s English class, we had the advanced English class but none of the teachers showed up and 4 students showed up. We had already started a conversation and decided to do that in class with a cup of tea. Two guys from Iraq and Morocco were talking to my volunteer colleague and two guys were Afghanistan were talking with me. Now, this conversation I had with them is something I will always remember. Both of them spoke very good English. We were discussing a whole range of topics, music, books, history and movies. One of them also teaches the guitar at the camp and he told me that he spoke Urdu (which is very similar to Hindi) and we had a quick chat in Urdu. He then asked me for my native tongue, which is Tamil and he said he knew a few words/sentences and I begged him to say that to me, but he was very shy. I hope I get to hear Tamil here! He said he was learning to play the Spanish guitar and I asked him to check out Paco de Lucia and he was very happy with that recommendation. He was also immensely fascinated by ‘’Bollywood’’ movies and I had to specially say that there are better ones. Then there is the Mr. Smarty, for instance I asked him where he was from and he said ‘’he was from the world’’…cheeky! And to that he got a reciprocal answer of ‘citizen of world’. He was fascinated by the Mughal Dynasty in India (the Muslim rule in India from Persia) and wanted to learn more about it, he wanted to know about Agra and the Taj Mahal. So he asked if I could read a Wikipedia article about it and if there’s anything he didn’t understand I could explain it. It was beautiful to watch him so engrossed in these details. He was making notes – the first king, who build the Taj Mahal etc. I could genuinely see that he wanted to know more. At some point our discussions with the two Afghan knowledge troopers steered towards understanding Brexit and good ol’ Donald Trump and how it might not be the best time to go to the United States for them. The conversation had to come to a stop but I can’t wait to see them again on Monday.

At the end of our shift at 7pm, we went home, freshened up and then went out for a freakishly cheap meal in the pouring rain and awarded ourselves with a fine glass of cocktail…and you would think we stayed out all night considering It was a Friday night?! But now….came home and as history would repeat itself, I crashed 😊

By Sindhuja Sankaran 


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