Nervousness and excitement competed for prominence in my mind as I arrived for my first day of classes. The school, in the small town of Chicxulub in Mexico, had an open-air courtyard with classrooms around the perimeter. It was nothing like the modern schools we have in Canada.
I waited outside for a few minutes and entered together with my fellow teaching volunteers. The crowded room was set up with six tables. Each could seat four students and two teachers.
Before the children arrived, we spent thirty minutes getting acquainted, reviewing the lesson plan and distributing supplies for the day.
The students were led from their regular classroom into our room. They entered to our greeting of, “Good Afternoon” and chose where they wanted to sit. Of the 28 registered in the class, only 17 were present that day; 5 boys and 12 girls. This number varied from week to week and we never had a full class.
The first task was for the students to make nametags. They wrote, I am and their name on a card that was placed in a lanyard around their necks. Along with the students and other teachers I stood in turn, held up my nametag and said, “I am Tandy.” This was our first lesson and the way each class would start.
The children were polite and extremely reserved. It was a challenge to get them to speak loudly enough to be heard. Over the next two months, this shyness persisted for most of them.
Each component of the lesson plan was explained in English and Spanish from the front of the room. Some phrases were written on a white board so they could be referred to.
Then we would work with the students at our table to help them learn necessary words in this foreign language. Over the weeks we taught them through the use of flash cards with words and pictures. They learned: I am, I have, I want and I need. As we added: I am not, I do not have, I do not want and I do not need they were able to form simple sentences with the flash cards. Colours, people, animals and simple objects were incorporated into these sentences. To understand the correct meaning of the words and sentences they formed was quite an accomplishment.
Numbers were also taught. They knew the numerals, but the English words for them proved difficult. We played games to make it enjoyable. In some cases, like when we played Snakes and Ladders, they were having so much fun, it didn’t seem like learning!
Our hour-long classes passed quickly. Each week, the happy students would line up, a table at a time to leave the classroom. They were handed a simple snack and would say, “Thank you” to which a reply of, “You are welcome” was given. As well as a treat, this provided another opportunity to practice English words.
After two months we came to our last class. These students were in grade 6 and this is the final mandatory year for attending school. Most would not continue their education. We were in an economically challenged area and families could not afford to keep their children in school. We hoped the little we’d been able to teach them would be of benefit to them in the future.
As the class ended, the children surprised each teacher with handmade cards of thanks. Some even contained a few of the English phrases learned. I received my cards and hugs of thanks with tears of gratitude. The opportunity to have been part of this important program was a highlight of my time in Mexico. I look forward to returning to volunteer again next year.
Have you ever found something that seemed to be just what you needed when you didn’t even know you were looking for anything?
That’s what happened to me when I read the social media post.
A call for volunteers touched a chord deep within and I was compelled to respond. Emails were exchanged, information given, a questionnaire completed and I was accepted as part of a team to teach English to Mexican students.
We were divided into groups and I was one of those placed with a grade six class.
An orientation was held the week prior to starting. This answered questions and gave us valuable information on the school and the students we’d be working with.
The school system here houses two separate schools in the same building. One has classes in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Each have their own teachers and principal. We’d be in the afternoon school for one hour a week.
We were told that the school was in an extremely poor area and the majority of the students came from homes with no electricity.
Grade six is the last mandatory grade and very few would carry on with their education past this level. The children had little hope for the future, and were resigned to their lot in life.
Our job was to give them some basic language skills and to make it enjoyable. Fun for both the students and teachers was important to this program.
We would also take turns providing a snack for the students. This would be handed out as the students lined up to leave the room at the end of the class. Many would take this snack home to share with younger siblings.
That evening as I sat under electric lights with plenty of food in my fridge and cupboards, I reflected on the vastly different lifestyle, only a few kilometers away. I prayed that I would use the abundance I’ve been given to ease another’s burden and not take for granted what I have.
Although I wouldn’t meet the students for another week, I knew they had already impacted my life.
Our city hosts one of the largest free outdoor light displays in Canada. It takes place every evening for the month of December. The truly amazing thing about this display is that it is funded by donations and set up and run entirely by volunteers.
Recently my husband and I bundled up and headed to the park to work a three hour shift. Our jobs for the evening were as train assistants. One of the most popular attractions during the Festival of Lights is the miniature train ride that runs through the display. We took tickets, kept the lines moving in an orderly fashion and generally got to share in the joy of those boarding the train.
It was fun to see the excitement in the young children as they waited their turn to ride. When they spotted the train coming around the corner towards them, their enthusiasm was contagious. One little guy was so happy, he turned to my husband and said, “Have fun!” even though it was him going for the ride. The outside air may have been chilly but the hearts were definitely warm.
Volunteering three hours of our time was a small thing to do. The rewards of being part of this memorable experience for people were priceless. One of the things the Bible tells us to do is to use our energy to serve the Lord. By serving his people, I serve him. When I give of my time to volunteer, I am serving God in one of the best ways possible.
Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other. Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord. Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Romans 12:10-12 GWT