In this newsletter we are excited to share the experiences of Becky White from the UK who visited our school for four weeks in February.
Becky had visited Malawi in 2014 and during that time had spent an afternoon at our school. However, following a turbulent ending to her year (2017), Becky decided to do a few things to kick-start a positive 2018. She organised herself in a few weeks, gathered up some resources, and stepped out of her comfort zone to volunteer at our school as a teacher. Becky’s presence injected fresh energy in the school’s daily activities. It was also very helpful for us to receive constructive feedback regarding how we can do things better. Her account of being at Chankhasi School is below. Enjoy!
"You know, I have heard it said that if travel does one thing for you it’s provide perspective. I combined my travel with some sweet, engaging and excitable children, and a place that is known as the warm heart of Africa for a reason. Turns out, perspective is the very least that I came home with.
At the end of 2017, after a pretty tough year, I decided to bite the bullet a leave a stressful job. After resigning I was put on garden leave (living the dream) which ultimately led me to spend a month in Nkhotakota, spending my days attempting to teach English and Expressive Arts at Chankhasi School and being looked after by the wonderful team at Nkhotakota Safari Lodge. Now that I am home I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else with my final month of freedom and I am very sad to have said goodbye.
I am not a teacher, never have been, so on my way to Malawi I started to get very nervous and question why on earth I thought I would be well placed to try and teach English. I’m not going to lie, it was hard work getting to grips with controlling a class of 43 students who don’t speak the same language as you; but as the days went by the students got used to me and I realised what would make them sit up and pay attention. A few ways that I found were to (i) write instructions on the board – they could read it but not always understand me simply saying it, and (ii) get a red pen out. Turns out a red pen and a mark for their work was all the incentive required.
I found that the children were really good at reading and could read most things out loud, but what we needed to work on was their understanding of words. So the team at the lodge helped me to translate a load of words that I’d read with the children into Chichewa so that we could work on both understanding the meaning and pronunciation. Hangman came in very handy, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Especially when they got the chance to be the leader writing on the board.
I also taught Expressive Arts. What on earth is Expressive Arts I hear you say? My thoughts exactly. Well, the text book says it’s anything from putting on plays, to making costumes, to sports. Well I didn’t have anything with me for sewing or art and we couldn’t communicate enough to write plays. Thankfully I had brought some sports equipment with me, Spotify, a speaker and a few devices for taking pictures. So, in the main, for Expressive Arts we had photography lessons, learnt to sing ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams and had an amazing time playing rounders, volleyball and tennis. All of these activities were a hit.
In terms of what the children got out of me being there, I would say that they gained exposure to a native English speaker and were able to work on their pronunciation. My lessons were quite interactive and I did my best to get them involved with leading activities and make the lessons learner centric so that they were taking responsibility for what they were learning. I think (or hope) that they also had as much fun as me in the lessons. For me though, I could see that for some, the biggest difference it made was being able to make a personal connection to someone from outside of their community. As far as possible in a teacher/ learner relationship, I treated them as equals and let them have control for learning. For example, in my final week, they were making the decisions about what we would do in our next lessons, and surprisingly enough they did want to keep learning the meanings from our list of words as well as playing volleyball!
I have to admit that a few of those children stole my heart and I can’t imagine a world where I don’t go back to see how they are getting on. In the short four weeks that I was there I built some really strong bonds and some of them walked all the way to the lodge just to come and say goodbye. I really hope that I will get back to Nkhotakota to see them again one day. I also found that everyone locally was just so welcoming, kind and ready to embrace me being there. I met so many people from local lodge workers, football players and artists to parents of the students at the school and everybody took the time to stop and chat with me. It made me stop and think about how, here in London, we rush around going about our day and rarely make a connection with the people around us. If you are considering teaching English as a volunteer, this is such a great place to do it. The school is locally founded and managed and that’s what makes it so great. It truly is an example of a local community investing in its future".
So there you have it. It goes without saying that both Becky and Chankhasi School benefitted from Becky’s volunteering experience. Thank you ever so much Becky! We sincerely hope that you will come back again to visit us.