Tuesday, April 19, 2011

First Impressions and thoughts

I wanted to officially welcome Tal as our new volunteer at the school. He is from the USA and will be teaching English to the 5th and 6th grade. I had asked him to write something for the blog about his first day and his impressions of the school, which I added below. Thank you for volunteering your time and I am sure it will be just as rewarding for you as it will be for the children.
Tal in the classroom.
"I had been to the temple courtyard that adjoins the school before but I had not the slightest idea that there was a school here. There was no sign or banner announcing it. At the time I saw a few children in uniforms playing around what looked to be a construction (or demolition) site. So of course I was a bit surprised later upon arriving on the first day after the students' exam break to see that indeed this was the location of the school and not a condemned building in the midst of being torn down. Quite the opposite, it's as lively a place as any other school building, brimming with activity and morning vitality. I knew beforehand that the school's resources were extremely limited but one really has to be there to appreciate the reality of that situation, and what it means to the students and faculty there. On the first day back there were no classes being held, as only a trickle of children (perhaps a quarter of the student body or fewer) were in attendance, and the school was awaiting a new delivery of government-provided textbooks, expected in a matter of days. In lieu of class, students socialized and frolicked in and around the classrooms, while my over-protected American sensibility caused me to cringe at all of the potential safety hazards: the high, rickety railing comprised of a wooden beam held precariously in place by a length of rope tied at either end; the stacks of loose bricks; the four-storey drop from the open-air classrooms and the cement below; etc. But, as I had seen countless times before in Nepal, the children played, unsupervised and either oblivious to or coolly aware of the dangers there, managing to magically avoid catastrophe. I would see groups of kids clustered together - the older ones offering a shy greeting, the middle grades shrieking and unabashedly piping up in English, and the very youngest going from silent self-containment to spontaneous dance parties within the span of a moment - and greeted them as I walked by and looked into the mostly bare rooms. I spent much of the time that first day crowded into the faculty lounge while the teachers talked, ate chow mein, and read newspapers. Since I had been expecting a ceremonious greeting during which I would have to give a speech, I was a bit thankful for being more or less ignored for a while. A few of the teachers who spoke some English introduced themselves informally, and the others were polite but less outgoing. I spoke for a while to the vice-principle, trying to get an idea of how a typical class is conducted at BVS, what the children's routines and expectations are like, and what I could possibly have to offer, coming from a different culture and way of doing things. He stressed the fact that many of the teachers tend to stay very faithful to the exercise books, often teaching from them verbatim. I left our conversation with the feeling of being in a place where the pedagogical models, educational objectives, and notions of discipline are often very distinct from those to which I have been familiar, and I admittedly had some serious doubts that my own perception of how school should be might run into some difficulty in finding compatibility with the way things are done here. I think and hope that I can overcome such trepidation in the long-run because I feel this place, these people, and my assignment (5th and 6th grade English) are worth it. One need only set foot on the small courtyard of the school to see that it is in need of all the basic things that even the poorest schools back home take for granted. Indeed, looking at the crumbling and half-finished building that houses BVS, it seems a place that is naked of most qualities that we in the West consider necessary for a functioning school. Most, that is, except the mutual enthusiasm and energy of the people there, adults and children alike, things that I saw very much in evidence. The school has people who care and want to be there to accomplish things together, and thus the place has an unmistakable inner glow to it - in addition to all the natural light."

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