Friday, 11 March 2011

I-to-I day twenty-one: Possibly my last blog

Friday 11th March 2011

MP3 track of the day: Time to say goodbye – Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli

Weather: Hot

I hurriedly headed downstairs, arms full of shopping bags. After my usual 'pancakes with sugar and lime' breakfast I boarded, for the last time, my tuk-tuk bound for 'Library two'. Sandy was finishing her book and so I took the opportunity to study the surroundings, and the crazy morning driving, one final time. Once at 'Library two' I took my party stuff straight into my classroom. You see, there are three classes within the school, and I didn't have enough stuff for all students. My students wished me a good morning and I did the same. They were giggling more than usual. Before the party could commence I had to do a 'health and sanitation' lesson which went very, very quickly. In fact it went something like the below...

Teacher – What am I doing?

Student – Washing your hair?

Teacher - Why?

Student – To keep it clean.

Teacher – what am I washing it with?

Student – Shampoo

Teacher – Great now let's move onto the party.

As I began to hand out cups (full of Pepsi), biscuits, cakes and sweets (which, each time I gave them a new food item, they thanked me) my students kept on laughing and looking towards the roof of the classroom. I followed their eyes but they then shouted “... don't look! don't look!...”

I looked.

Within the classroom decorations my students had hidden paper necklaces, flowers, drawings and small parcels (basically paper stapled together). Having noticed that I had seen the objects my students then pulled said gifts down and handed them to me in a flurry of activity. Within ten minutes I had six paper necklaces around my neck, four parcels, three drawings and a flower. Other students came in from other classes to give me more gifts; I felt a little guilty as I didn't have anything for them. All-in-all I had accumulated one big bag full of colourful paper decorations and gifts. I said thank you and I then got on with the party.

It was quite weird to see my students not eating the food in front of them. I tried many times saying 'you can eat, you can eat' but they just didn't get it. I think that, due to not having much at home, they have been taught to save what they have. However I still had loads left within my 'bag of goodies'. I put two tables together and laid out flash cards face down. My students started to play 'Cambodian pairs'. I put all the remaining sweets into a bowl and put them within the middle of the 'pairs' table. I had to activity demonstrate (by eating a sweet) to show that my students could help themselves. Eventually they all seemed to relax, get into the flow of the game, and freely eat whatever was in front of them.

After the break we moved onto songs. We first sang 'Old Macdonald' exchanging 'cow' for 'sheep', 'dog' and 'pig'. Once many verses had been sung, at a deafening level, we moved onto 'twinkle twinkle little star'. As all my students knew this song backwards I spiced it up a little. I would call out either 'loudly', 'quietly', 'quickly' or 'slowly' and they would sing the song either 'loudly', 'quietly', 'quickly' or 'slowly'. Much fun was had. After all my students were exhausted we went through three word searches, on the whiteboard, before finishing off with a little 'beat the clock' (I lost 3-0). I handed each student (and the two Cambodian teachers) a copy of the class photo I took on Monday, before announcing break. The morning had sprinted along and I said farewell to my morning class for the last time.

During my lunch break Sandy and I walked – due to the tuk-tuk driver having to perform another job – to the new 'Library two' for our weekly check on the construction. More work to the roof had been completed. More wooden roof beams had been erected to form a 'grid' above each classroom. These new wooden beams were just as thin as the others, however at least there were more of them. I was a little more happy that the proposed roof would now hold, however I was still concerned about Kim-Lee's plan of adding another floor.

Once back at school I ate the left overs from the mornings party and played patience. A few students, who had turned up early, paid patience with me. Some were very good and I awarded them sweets for helping me out with my game. My afternoon class filed in and we went through the same lesson plan as the morning class. Well almost. As there were only five students in the afternoon we substituted 'Cambodian Pairs' for 'Snakes and Ladders'. The students wanted me to join in too, and so I accepted. Snakes and Ladders is quite confusing, for young non-English speakers, due to the way the numbers snake back and forth across the board. Quite a few times a student was actually moving their piece backwards. I ended up coming second in the first game and forth in the second game.

After break I received further gifts; the class and I set to devouring what was left of the Pepsi, cakes, biscuits and sweets. The time went so quickly that 3pm was soon upon me. For the first time all my students left the class very quickly after I had called 'time'. This was quite odd, however all became clear when I had picked up my stuff, and gifts, and headed towards my tuk-tuk. Outside the whole school, plus teachers, were there to wave me off. I got quite a few hugs and it was a very special moment ... I did manage to hold back the tears. As we pulled off I waved through the back window until I couldn't see anymore students. I sat back down a little gutted.

Traffic was terrible. At one set of lights we witnessed them change four times before getting through. To add more time to the journey Sandy wanted the tuk-tuk to stop, and wait, as she went into a local gym to inquire about costs. She said that she would only be five minutes. Twenty minutes later Sandy came out to announce that she was staying to attend a fitness class. As the tuk-tuk driver and I pulled off I wasn't annoyed, Sandy had come with me to the post office yesterday so all was fair.

Once back at my guesthouse I plonked all my stuff within my room and surfed the internet. I then re-packed my bag for crossing the Cambodian – Vietnamese border before heading out to 'The pumpkin' for my weekly treat. I would have loved to have kept all the gifts the children had given me, however it just wasn't feasible. I took a large proportion of them and prepared them for postage when I arrive in Ho Chi Minh City. The rest, unfortunately, got binned. Finally I finished the day off by getting an evening meal of noodles and chicken.

So here I am and I can't believe my three weeks of teaching are over. I have thoroughly enjoyed my voluntary work and I hope my class has enjoyed it too. The children have been amazing, totally amazing and I shall miss them all. They have been as good as gold, always smiling and ready to have a go at anything I asked from them. All the children are so appreciative of the foreign assistance and they truly understand the importance of education. I would recommend to anyone who either enjoys teaching, or wants to help, to do some voluntary work within a developing country. It's very tiring work but it's extremely rewarding. However, apart from probably your first voluntary experience, I wouldn't recommend I-to-I.

I-to-I are great for first time volunteers who are a little worried about organizing it themselves. However, with a three week course costing over £700.00, its very expensive, especially when meals, or transport, aren't included. On top of that only 5% of your money goes to the project itself. That's right, only £35.00, out of £700.00, goes to the project. The only other costs I-to-I have to cover for me, was my accommodation (£90.00 in total), my teaching English course (maximum of £150) and insurance (which I didn't need however I suppose it would have cost around £40). This leaves over 50% for profit and to pay for I-to-I's UK call center. I wouldn't have minded paying £700.00 if more money went to the project; however, knowing what I know now, next time I'll just 'Google' voluntary teaching English + my destination and try to organize it myself.

However, there is a problem with giving more money to projects and that's how they use it. Firstly the resources for teachers, at our accommodation, are none existent. A bookshelf with textbooks, paper, computers, printers and a photocopier would be very handy indeed. The resources at each actual project were unbalanced. At 'library two' we have hundreds of books, pads of paper and pens but little in the way of paints, printer cartridges and games. I must point out that most of the resources at 'library two' are donated and not purchased. I think most of the money, at the moment, has gone on the new school.

To round-up I would recommend anyone wanting to volunteer to teach English (A minimum stint of three weeks is preferred so you can build a relationship with your students) in a developing country should do so. The benefits for you, and your students, are great. However I would recommend doing it on your own and then using the money saved to get resources that the project actually needs. Also try not to get bogged down with any miss-management you witness. Within three weeks you can't change this and it will only get you upset. Concentrate on your teaching and you will have a rewarding experience.

Now why is this post called 'possibly my last blog'. It isn't because I'm fed up of talking to you lot. It is because I'm heading into Vietnam. Vietnam, being a sort of communist country, has blocked certain websites. I know that Facebook is blocked and I hope 'blogger' isn't blocked too. I won't find out until I cross the border however, if it is blocked, then I'm sure China would have followed suit. Don't worry though, I'll try my best to keep my blog going. I have a piece of untested software that hides your computers IP address (basically it tricks the internet to think that you are in a different country) and if that fails then I'm sure I'll find a way around. Just keep your eyes peeled on the screen; this otter is still around the world, somewhere. For now I have to get ready for my coach tomorrow to Ho Chi Minh City.

Toodle Pip!

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