27 February 2016
|Ninoschka H. Pinto spent six months volunteering at the Loyola campus JRS-JC:HEM academy in Sri Lanka (Kathleen Ambre/Jesuit Refugee Service)|
|"The best part of being their teacher was getting to know them. It’s relatively easy to teach what is written in books, but to really know each student and understand them, to watch them grow with confidence with encouragement, to learn who they are as persons, and what each one can offer — all this has been an amazing experience."|
My first day at the Loyola campus JRS-JC:HEM academy started with a smile.
I entered the classroom and I was met at the door by a young girl. The moment she saw me, her face lit up with a beautiful smile. She didn’t know me and neither did I know her, but she smiled as though we were best friends reunited after a long time. This warmed me right away and all possible apprehension melted away. If they were so willing to accept me, I was even more excited to know about them. It was with this happy heart that I started my work as track facilitator in Sri Lanka
My name is Ninoschka Pinto and I come from the small but beautiful state of Goa in India. I am a science graduate with a master’s degree in Microbiology, but my passion from childhood has always been interacting with people. From a young age, we were raised with Jesuit values instilled in us.
So after I completed my master’s, I volunteered with the JRS. Fr. Stan Fernandes (South Asia Regional Director) assigned me to serve with Fr. Joe Victor (Director of the JRS-JC:HEM Project in Mannar, Sri Lanka). JRS partners Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) with the aim of providing much needed education at an affordable cost to those who have limited or no access to such opportunities.
In Sri Lanka, the need of the hour is English, and so JRS set up the Loyola Academy in Mannar and started a four month certificate course in English as a Foreign Language (EFL), certified by Georgetown University, in February 2015.
As a foreign volunteer, I found the experience enthralling and invigorating. There was of course the language barrier, but, even so, the enthusiasm and friendliness of the trainees made up for it. Through my interaction with them, I realized that not only was I teaching them, but they were also teaching me. Teaching them English was fun. I had to put in a little extra effort because I couldn’t explain certain concepts to them in Tamil, their local language, so I had to think of creative ways to help them understand.
There were a few students who had a minimal knowledge of English so were able to help the others who knew not even a word of English. We would have interactive sessions in class and relate the subject matter to the community to make it more interesting. However, more than teaching them a foreign language, I was very pleased when they felt comfortable enough to open up to me. In this way, I got to know more about their life and struggles, and aspirations.
All students are not the same, and once you learn more about each student’s character and personality, you can incorporate different methods in the class to help them. Obviously, it is not possible to give individual attention to every student all the time. But it is possible to make sure that a majority of students have understood.
Fr. Joe Victor once told me, “We see the students in the classroom in front of computers, but we do not know much about their background.” So we began visiting the students’ houses. One young girl had been absent from class for a number of days. When we visited her, she told us that she couldn’t come because she couldn’t afford the bus fare. So we helped her financially and she completed the course successfully. There are many instances like this which showed me how the students overcome a number of obstacles to attend class. I appreciate their positive attitude.
The best part of being their teacher was getting to know them. It’s relatively easy to teach what is written in books, but to really know each student and understand them, to watch them grow with confidence with encouragement, to learn who they are as persons, and what each one can offer — all this has been an amazing experience. Our job is not just to teach them English. I’ve seen shy students who couldn’t even speak at the beginning of the course, gradually gain confidence to come up to me and have a conversation.
Our purpose is to teach them, not so that they take their knowledge of English and sit at home with it, but to mould them in all areas, so they can avail of opportunities, gain confidence, and use their individual creativity to be valued, and, in turn, contribute to society. I have been a part of three batches of students at Mannar and one batch at Vavuniya, and it has truly been a joy and a blessing in so many ways.
You can hear Ninoschka Pinto talk about her experiences as an international volunteer and JC:HEM track facilitator at Loyola College, Sri Lanka here.
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