Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Help a Friend in Action

By Natasha Vrutska

After a hectic but exciting morning spent shopping for school supplies at the stationery store and at the Gaziantep answer to Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, we found ourselves back at the New World Academy, ready for Day 2. I walked into my classroom to find a bunch of girls seated at their desks, their arms folded, looking at me expectantly. A loud "Good morning!" resounded before I had a chance to say anything. "Good afternoon", I corrected, "Ready to study?" "Yes, we are!" You could have knocked me over with a feather. They were almost jumping out of their seats with excitement, and my heart leaped. I had another surprise coming though. One girl got out of her seat, ran up to me and handed me a cookie, "For you, teacher!" Do I  have to say, my heart just melted? This was going to be a good day.

We had made a decision to only offer English and drama to the older kids and to separate girls and boys. This meant that I was starting my first session with about ten lovely young ladies. We played a quick game to review the animal names, and they blew me away by how much they remembered and how actively they all engaged from the get-go. We then turned our attention to adjectives, specifically, describing people and our feelings, and soon the girls were laughing at illustrations of "hungry", "boring", and "angry". By now I knew they could handle more, so we had a larger set of flashcards and, after a short introductory activity, stepped up our game and switched to writing. The girls helped me spell the words out as I wrote them on the board. We handed a notebook and a pencil to each of them, and soon a game of Bingo was underway. Aya helped explain that they needed to choose five words to copy from the board and then check them off as I randomly read them aloud and wait to shout Bingo as soon as they had checked off all five. After a few rounds, I called on some of them to come up to the board and be the reader instead of me which they took on with great enthusiasm, refusing my help and stretching up on tiptoes to reach the words at the top of the board. The girls were having fun, and all I had to do was correct some pronunciation.

Something strange was happening though as Theresa, who came in to take some pictures, drew my attention to the fact that the girls were ripping pages out of their notebooks and starting fresh after each round. Try as we might, we couldn't make it clear to them that that was not necessary, and that the notebooks were theirs to keep. Even after they worked on a self word-map, putting their name in the middle of the page and surrounding it with adjectives that described them, they felt no sense of ownership of the notebooks and simply left them on the desks as they filed out of the room on theirway to drama with Naima. This made me sad.

The following hour with the boys ran to a similar plan and just as smoothly. They rolled in, clearly very high energy after the drama workshop, so I knew that they were not going to care for writing as much as girls as they could barely sit still. Instead, I split them up into two teams, calling on Said and Asaad, who quickly showed themselves more than capable as leaders and quite confident English speakers, to come to the front. The two boys, delighted, hammed it up miming the adjectives for their respective teams to guess the words. Aya was busy elsewhere, but never fear, as Said jumped in and explained the activity to the rest. His and Asaad's interpretations of "thirsty", "fun", and "happy" had us all in stitches. Said's team won, and, once the excitement died down, we still had time for a few rounds of Bingo.

As the kids moved on to work on their first art project of tracing their hand and decorating the drawing with pictures and and colors that represent them, I floated between the rooms, watching them and asking them why they chose a flower (because they like them) or a bee (because they are painted on the classroom walls). The day finished with some sweet presentations as the kids got up one by one to "present their hand". They spoke in Arabic; however, their growing confidence came through. Said spoke in English, of course. He hesitated at the end, not sure how to finish. I looked at him and flexed my arm. "And I am strong!", he proudly announced.

We debriefed today over a complimentary dinner at one of Gaziantep's best tourist restaurants, enjoying yummy Turkish food, graciously provided by the owners and arranged by the wonderful Buket. I am touched by how many people here readily go out of their way to help us, be it a journalist putting us in touch with a stationery store owner, the said owner giving us generous discounts and sending one of his sales assistants to help us carry our purchases all over the bazaar and back to the hotel, taxi drivers offering discounts on rides when they hear what we are here for, or restaurant owners offering to feed us.                                                            
A Community EffortIt really does feel like a community effort, and it is wonderful to feel so welcomed. On to Day 3!

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