A 'teacher' at sixteen? Awesome!

Last Updated 07 July 2010, 10:30 IST

When my college shut for the holidays, I thought I wouldn’t be stepping into class for another two months. But I was wrong. One week later, I was back in class. This time as a teacher.

“Good morning, Ma’am,” a class of 15 to 21-year-old girls greets me every morning. Me, a teacher, at 16! My co-teachers, none younger than 55 years, make sure I don’t call them ‘aunty’. My students, on the other hand, make sure they call me ‘Ma’am’ though I am younger than most of them! This is an English speaking class in YWCA for girls who are taught textbook English but do not know how to use it.

YWCA gets volunteers and teachers to train these girls to speak basic, correct English. The one and only rule was that everyone in this class would speak English.

Two months ago, my father had received an email from a friend, asking if he knew of anyone who wanted to volunteer for this programme. When asked, with plenty of time on my hands, I instantly agreed. Initially it seemed like lots of fun. But when I started attending the teachers’ training programme, I realised it involved a lot of hard work.
On Day 1, what touched me the most was the dedication, sincerity and hope that each of the girls exhibited, aspiring to master spoken English, whether or not they would get a chance to use it in the future.

Over the next few days, I learnt that some of them were going to get married in a year or two. The initial days were tough, given that I had no ‘teaching’ experience. My ‘students’, took time to get used to me. This was not going according to the script at all. Wasn’t I supposed to be the awesome English teacher, from whom they would miraculously learn English so that we could all live happily ever after?!

All my dreams of making them professionals in English were getting dashed to the ground, one by one. One day, the coordinator of the programme told me that it was impossible to teach these girls English in two months. “All they need is to know that we care for them,” she said. These were magic words for me. I knew then that though these girls wouldn’t learn as much as I wanted them to, I could certainly make then cherish the two hours that they spent in class every day.

Along with English we learnt about each other. One student who moved me greatly was Noorbano. Twenty-three years old, she has a four-year-old son. A pre-school teacher, she enrolled for the course so that she could teach better English.  Afreen Sheikh learnt from me in the morning and taught her mother in the evening. A lot of these girls were from Muslim households, and came to class wearing a hijab or burqa. Once, they even taught me how to wear a burqa and happily clicked pictures of me on their mobile phones.

Slowly I learnt about how they spoke and how they lived, and I realised they were all just like me. Anjum, Noorbano, Afreen and  Mehnaz want to become doctors, engineers, air-hostesses…just like the rest of us. Make no mistake, each of them has a goal and is pursuing it with strength and determination.

As the days turned to weeks, the class shrunk in size. There were 20 girls when we started. That number reduced to 15, then 12, and finally only 10 girls could make it to class every day in the final week. Some of them had been packed off to their villages, others had to attend marriages, while still others had to tend to ailing parents. It was a little unnerving, but every girl who dropped out had a genuine reason for doing so. Some of them simply did not have a choice. When Anjum refused to go for a family wedding because she would miss four days of class, it was the greatest appreciation I received in the entire two months.

Taking up a project like this is important. Not only because you are doing a good deed and helping others but because it’s a reality check.

Of course people my age should shop, watch movies and chat up friends on facebook. But if you could set aside a couple of hours a day for two months to help someone, you will feel truly good about something.

Sign up and do your bit
Vacation course 
The volunteer programme runs only once a year during the summer because it is a vacation course. It is a 2-month programme.
nProgrammes in other YWCAs
The English course run by the Young Women’s Christian Association is mainly a voluntary programme. YWCA, Mumbai has tied up with Asha Kiran, an NGO, to run this course. Different YWCAs run different programmes according to the need of the region they are in. But almost all YWCAs have study centres for underprivileged girls where they are taught English and others subjects.
Criteria to sign up
Since it is a women’s association, no men are allowed on campus. The volunteer should be capable of  handling a class. All volunteers have to undergo the special training programme conducted by YWCA. 

(Published 07 July 2010, 10:30 IST)

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