Welcome to the Magical World of English!
This is the sign greeting the children at the gates of the Flora Tristan school, located in a pueblo joven (i.e. new town) in the Northern outskirts of Arequipa. An hour’s drive away from the city center, this community is right in the cradle of the mountains… and the accompanying construction work that is being done to develop the area. There’s a lot of dust, and rows and rows of half-built brick houses where most of the children and their families live.
Had my first local initiation on yellow bus A, struggling to keep my balance on the first step of the swerving bus as the conductor casually swung his body in and out of the half ajar door. Slowly made my way in, squished between flushed and sombrero-donning children, newspaper-reading grandpas and senoritas with their multiple bags of groceries. All this while the live broadcast of the Brazil v. North Korea match was playing in the background, but of course, I couldn’t understand scant except for when the commentator screamed GOAALLLL! No one cheered though. People here don’t seem to like Brazil much. And then at some point, the conductor jumped down the bus, ran to a counter to get his ticket stamped and then jumped up the bus again as it turned the street corner. Bus conductors here probably have to pass some form of IPPT before they qualify.
This is where we get off the bus.
The school is about another 100m away, past two mama shops, several giant holes in the ground which are supposedly for plumbing, and a basketball court. The good people who built the Flora Tristan school also built a basketball court/play area for the kids nearby, and we spend an hour each day after class playing with them. The school compound and classrooms are beautifully decorated with paintings done by past volunteers (WB is itching to paint as well) and they’ve recently also installed a toilet. But there are several problems with the flushing so apparently it gets pretty nasty towards the end of the day.
"Head, and shoulders, knees and toes! Knees and toes!"
The kids who come to the school range from ages 2-25. This is after-school enrichment for them, but they come with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. Was slightly overwhelmed when they started speaking very quickly in Spanish and all I could say was, “No entiendo, habla espanol un poco!” Not that it really matters because it doesn’t stop them from being effusive. The kids are divided into 6 classrooms, generally according to language ability:
- The ‘Junior group’, where the students learn sounds, numbers and simple words;
- The ‘Basic group’, where focus is given to developing basic vocabulary and communication;
- The ‘Elementary group’, with emphasis on enabling students to converse confidently; and
- The ‘Intermediate group’, which focuses on higher-level communication and application.
I’m teaching the advanced basic class (bit of an oxymoron) with Sheri, a Canadian who’s had experience teaching English in Japan for two years. Emphasis is largely placed on practical application of the language for vocational purposes, so this week we’re focusing on food and the typical conversation between a waiter and a customer in a restaurant. The kids are also designing a mock menu for their mock restaurant.
After class, students get an hour at the basketball court. You really get a sense of community from the kids by the way they take care of and look out for each other. Spent a gorgeous hour bouncing kids on my lap; teaching Julio how to play ‘scissors, paper, stone’ and trying in turn to learn this Spanish chant that he was trying to teach me (which strangely enough, none of the native Spanish speakers understood as well); teaching adorable little Valery how to take pictures; and being completely awed by the sunset over the basketball court.
Basketball with one hell of a view.
After playtime and a water parade, the kids walk back home on their own, hand-in-hand. Some are siblings, others just older kids bringing the younger ones back. So sweet.
On a separate note, am also teaching Teochew Biao how to speak English in a way that the English, American, Canadian and Australian volunteers can comprehend. He’s whining that no one can understand his accent. Oops.