2015/2016 winners reports
Goodbye from Honduras - Aled Evans
It is coming up to the end of my time in San Juan Pueblo, Honduras. During the last few months I have been involved in teaching at two schools. And have taken part in various festivals in the calendar of San Juan Pueblo. Getting to know my schools and my community better and better has brought me many new friends and students, a new array of challenges, but as well, most importantly, the ability to overcome these.
Weekday morning I teach at the Mercy Christian Academy, the MCA. This job has seen pressure mounting, not least due to the enormous term length but also the need to teach a very large curriculum.
Whilst the MCA is a bilingual school, English textbooks can prove to be quite difficult, especially due to the advanced vocabulary in Science and History classes. But that is a given. What has been a particular challenge to me is that my pupils, the oldest ones in school, are in the middle of puberty. Many times I found myself staggered by the apathy and the behavior some of my teenagers showed. Had I been like that their age? I dare say, maybe!
Within a few weeks of a long term lack of interest, disrespect and continual distraction turned into quite a problem. In one particular instance I had spent a lot of time preparing a science experiment involving fruit, only for a ninth grader to throw the fruit everywhere.
Faced with bad classes I had to consider my options; first, give up and leave. I did not feel like I could do my job here and not everyone is born a teacher. Being away from home for 7 months already, I was done. But my pride and sense of duty made me refrain; second, I could follow the example of the other middle school English teachers. Many taught English in Spanish and were rather nonchalant if a pupil did not understand or wasn’t receptive in class. But that obviously was not the option. I am here to teach English after all.
I took my third option in March. I decided to make my classes as interactive as possible. Reading games, crosswords, mystery objects, PowerPoint presentations, videos, poems and dramas were all marvelously effective in interesting my pupils in Science and History. My first few months of teaching had clearly been modelled on what I had received and most clearly suited my learning style. I am very happy reading a book and answering questions. Auditory and visual, rather than kinaesthetic. However, only by incorporating these methods was I able to teach everyone effectively and change my classes for my pupils’ better and my better.
School life in the MCA continues until the second week of July, but classes are often reduced for rehearsals for the end of school concert. After the end of school there will be a camp! So far in 2016 we have seen successful Mother’s and Father’s Day celebrations in March and May respectively. We played games, saw dramas and each year group performed dances and songs. I had the role of moderating a part of the Mother’s Day celebration in Spanish. Scary, yet still a great honour.
My obligations in the MCA end at three in the afternoon. Thereafter Hugh (my partner) and I walk twenty minutes to reach the República de Honduras primary school. There I teach English to years 1 to 3 for an hour each week ever since February. From teenagers to six year olds is quite a large jump. At first, I had no idea about how to teach them, nor even what! English is a very broad topic, especially without a book.
This is when I noticed the need for interactive classes at a basic level. I soon had my pupils there screaming and singing to Old MacDonald, If You’re Happy and You Know It and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Previously, I had tried to teach year one the days of the week in English. Their classroom teacher, pitying me a little no doubt, confided to me that they weren’t even sure what day it was in Spanish, lesser even in English, yet alone what a day even was! How foolish I was!
And though I am by no means a perfect teacher, I am glad to have grown into the role I assumed. I have a lot of affection for all my pupils, even for the moodiest teenagers in my class! It will be a shame to finish this school year in two weeks’ time.
My last day at the Mercy Christian Academy
Goodbye party with the teachers
My 8th Grade – We celebrated a birthday!
Goodbye photo with the 3rd. Grade afternoon class
Goodbye photo with the 1st. Grade afternoon class
Venezuela Trip - Natasha Pentin
Dear Neil Mason,
This is Natasha Pentin and you awarded my a scholarship some months ago. I am so sorry I have not been in contact sooner. I am currently in Venezuela and have not had wifi until now. I just wanted to thank you. This is the most incredible trip and it would have not been possible without your generosity. There are many things I want to address in the report that I will write. Here are some things I thought you'd find interesting. The country is suffering from an extremely high inflation rate so you have to take a sack around if you want to take more than 20 pounds with you. There are queues that are endless where people are waiting for food or gas. You can actually fill up an entire bus for only 10 bz which is around 10p. The police are also extremely corrupt,you even see them drinking beers while working! I will go into more detail about that at another time. I would have loved to have send you postcards but it is not a possibility. Their post service takes forever and it can often cost up to 200 dollars just to send a postcard. In regards to the projects we have already helped the community in many ways. We built a baseball arena for the local children. This was an amazing accomplishment as the captain of the baseball team, who was 15,was incredibly emotional when he saw the final product and we played a baseball game against them. We refurbished a disabled school where we repainted the playground and hosted a party for them. We have given several speeches to school children in Caripe about conservation. All the children wanted to know about our country and asked intellectual questions about our opinions of the EU etc. That same week we also made a nursery of 100 baby trees and planted many trees during our reforestation project. Our latest project was redecorating the local community centre which I will send pictures of again at a later time. The last two weeks we were in Gran Sabana where we climbed Roraima in 5 days, hiking almost 60 km and absolutely killing our knees!
There have been some incredibly funny moments. The whole time we were working at the disabled school they all thought I was deaf because I could speak Spanish but not really understand it , they just couldn't grasp that I was English! Experiencing Caracas airport was another. We'd been warned over and over by our parents about all the dangers of the airport as there are many kidnappings each week.While we waited for our Jakera club leader to pick us up we were like sitting ducks with every taxi driver possible swarming around us and people asking us questions in Spanish.We got so paranoid to the point where everyone seemed suspicious and we ended up embarrassing ourselves . After taking the wrong exit into the wrong arrivals and feeling all disorientated a man started calling out to us and grabbing Megan's trolley. Thinking he wanted money , our luggage or to give us a taxi ride, we ignored him and carried on. When he did not give up we eventually realised he was actually just in charge of taking the trolleys back ...
We have Spanish lessons every week and our first day was funny. Megan, the person I am travelling with and Kaylan, one of our closest friends at the camp, didn't know any Spanish . When Kaylan saw the question " what did you used to do when you were younger " she thought it meant " how many boyfriends do you have". Megan when asked how old she was replied with " tengo diecinueve anos" ,pronouncing the anos wrong . Flaco, the Spanish teacher was so confused because Megan was saying " I have 19 bums" . He replied with " I think you need to go to hospital " . 2 weeks in we were awoken at 5.15 by Kaylan saying " girls grab your stuff and your shoes an evacuation alarm is going off" . We quickly got out of bed and sure enough this loud fire alarm / air raid alarm was sounding. We were thinking of the worse case scenarios , tsunami's , raids , anything!
However , turns out it was just the village celebrating their victory in the baseball match. They started playing loud music too which went on and on at 4 in the morning. A massive group of supporters rang on our doorbell and they had a black fake coffin with the oppositions name on it. They were running down the streets shouting , singing and drinking. It was definitely a culture shock!
I consider it a shame that I had to leave Morocco, even after such a long time spent out there. For three months, from late September to early December, I had the privilege of working out in the country as an English teacher at different yet equally rewarding schools and establishments. Having just finished my A Levels at sixth form and only reached the age of eighteen not two months before I left, it seemed at first quite a frightening prospect to leave my family and friends for the months leading up to Christmas and depart for a volunteer project on my own. More so was the knowledge that I’d have to find enough money to fund this adventure abroad, and therefore special thanks goes to the Bulkeley Evans Fund for their generosity before I departed.
Walking through the airport terminal in Casablanca was a daunting task at first; completely alone in a foreign country with naught else but my suitcase, backpack, and a good level of French to help me get by; however, it was not a difficult challenge to become acquainted with the Moroccan culture and find it easier day-by-day to make my way around. Many complain, fear, or warn of the horrifying “Culture Shock” which countless travellers and tourists tend to experience when venturing into foreign lands – Culture Shock? Struggling to get accustomed to the way of life out there in Morocco where money, language, food, behaviour, and society were all different? Well, I count myself fortunate to have been subject to the entire opposite of such a dreaded thing. I practically threw the idea of ‘Culture Shock’ out of my window – one which boasted a splendid view onto the Place El Joulane where one can find the largest church in Morocco – and embraced the culture wholeheartedly.
I found that Moroccans are naturally hospitable in their social nature, for many a time was I invited to a friend or students’ house on a Friday for couscous, or to come drink tea for the afternoon, or, on one rare occasion, to meet a certain friend’s elderly grandparents in the medina who had never met somebody of Caucasian origins. Luckily for them, I fulfilled their grandparents’ goal within a few weeks of arriving in the country. Morocco quickly grew to become something of a home to me where everybody, whether it be the local shopkeeper or people on the street, acted in a welcoming and friendly manner. The host family I stayed with acted akin to my own parents, despite being considerably older and with much different lifestyles. The family were Muslim, and while being an atheist myself, there was no bridge between us. Habib (the host dad) and I shared lengthy conversations about philosophy and the differences in religion, points about our own cultures, and general discussions of things we liked and entertainment – which, I must say, was undoubtedly helpful for my French as he didn’t speak a word of English, and I was pushed to test my own ability in challenging vocabulary which I’d rarely used beforehand. The mother, Nezha, was endearing and caring, and acted as if I were her own son (her actual one being away in Poland to study) by treating me to delightful homecooked dinners and visits to the local café and gardens. Even now I see them as something of a ‘second family’ and hope that I may get the chance to stay with them once more, if only for a week, to spend time with them and have a good catch-up.
My project in the heart of Morocco was as equally rewarding for my social habits as it was for language. I was positioned in the city of Salé, across the Bou Regreg river from Rabat, where I worked in separate places: At one point as a teaching assistant for men and women in a small, local culinary school, and the majority of my time in a fantastic institute for primary and secondary school children. In summary of the culinary school, I can say with confidence that my grasp over French grammar and fluency improved tenfold while I communicated with people from a wide range of backgrounds (Berbers, Spaniards, a handful of immigrants from the Ivory Coast). It was quite an easy beginning to my project, but attendance was sadly low and so I chose to start at another school where I’d have more time to do my work.
In truth, I found that during all of my teaching project the Egyptian Insitute in Koas, Salé was my most favourite place to visit. The school was far different from any of the dusty and litter-strewn education centres I’d witnessed in some towns and cities across Morocco, instead taking on a much more modern education system with well-trained teachers, an abundance of resources, and books aplenty for the children to work with. Not to mention, the school held a vibrant and lively atmosphere with the young students rushing about to play beneath the trees in the yard, and most, if not all of the kids possessing a true excitement about learning and working in their subjects. I sat in on classes with the older range of the primary school (ages eight through to ten) and the first year of the secondary school, providing the students with access to a natural English speaker.
I am glad and extremely happy that I chose to visit Morocco for this sort of project in knowing that I truly helped people learn English as I could see the results of my work first-hand. Despite the fact most of the children already spoke either a small amount of the language, or had a fairly good level of English for their age, I felt that I managed to give them the chance to practice and perform with somebody who wouldn’t stick to the simple stuff. Yes, I admit that I did cover introductions, colours, and all sorts of vocab more times than I can count, yet I was there for the children to talk to about matters and subjects which mattered to them. I will thus not tell you how many times I discussed the success of different football teams in the World Cup or how much I enjoyed watching Shrek the first time, mainly because I feel like I really have had enough of it over twelve weeks of chatting ‘footie’ and ‘favourite films’.
Putting the actual work I did for my project aside, I feel that living in Morocco was a real life experience that will stick with me for many years to come. The food was absolutely heavenly and I simply could not get enough of all the various tagine dishes, partly because they were so different and delicious, and partly because I eventually grew a bit fed up of gorging myself on couscous dishes every week. Not only that, but I could go out and travel the country, and it was an amazing opportunity I will surely not forget – I saw the mist-clouded mountains of Akchour and Chefchaouen, the bustling medinas and markets of Fes, rode horses into the forests at Ifran to see the wild monkeys amongst the trees… and yet I still didn’t see enough. Morocco’s countryside is so varying and different wherever you go that three months was simply not enough to see everything while coping with my work schedule.
I would not give up the experience for the world, as it has helped me gain more confidence, maturity, language skills, and independence. Thank you to all who helped make my project possible, and I aspire to visit Morocco again to continue where I left off: whether it be volunteering once more, hitchhiking about the countryside, trekking on a camel in the Sahara, or even doing something as simple as playing a game of pool with the friends I made out there.