Monday, August 13, 2007

Rachel: It's a place for cultural interaction

For about four months I worked as an English teacher in Centro Conviven. I may have taught my students how to form basic sentences and write some words in English, but the real lessons go much deeper – for the teachers as much as for the students. Conviven is not just a school; it is a place where people with few resources can receive some warm attention and care in a safe environment. As a part of the English teaching program at Conviven, I fell in love with the energy, the people, and the ideology of the place.

When I first came to Conviven in February of 2007, the volunteer teaching program was completely unorganized in regards to the materials and how to go about teaching English. We had to develop our own curriculum based on the few books we had and from our various previous experiences teaching or tutoring.

Together, we sat down to talk about it, and we used various books and our creativity to come up with a basic plan for teaching English to the children and adults at Conviven. We decided to separate the students by level and age. Now there are about thirty schoolchildren and twelve teenagers and adults who come three times a week to study English.

Working at Conviven is challenging, and each volunteer has a specific hurdle to jump over. For me, one of the hardest things was working together with a group of volunteers that was constantly changing as new people came and old ones left. Communication wasn't always clear or consistent, and leadership came and went. I had to learn to be less self-centred when I made a decision that affected the group, like not coming to work one day if I was sick or busy.

Why do we decide to dedicate our time and energy to teaching at Conviven? Well, each person has his own motive. For me, it's a question of providing some balance in a Latin American country that suffers from the common problem of social inequality. While some people in Buenos Aires have the opportunity to study English – a valuable skill that will help them in life and in their careers - others in neighbourhoods like Mataderos, where Conviven is, don't have the opportunity. Their public schools have less resources and less educated teachers, and at home they aren't always encouraged to study.

Another reason for volunteering at Conviven is that it is an interactive experience with people from other cultures and different lifestyles. The teachers learn from the students as much as they teach them. We help the students develop their self-esteem and language abilities, and the teachers have an experience that opens their eyes to the realities of the developing world. Conviven is a place where we "Convivir;" which translates to say that we live together despite our differences - instead of living apart.

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