Friday, September 28, 2007

Barbara: The eagerness of kids was marvellous

Even before I arrived in Argentina for a Spanish course, I knew I wanted to do some type of volunteer work. As luck would have it, I was placed in a group Spanish class with Helen, who was volunteering at Conviven at the time. Her funny stories about the children drew me to want to go see what it was all about even more.

I ended up volunteering at Conviven, three times a week for four weeks. I had never taught English in my life, let alone taught anything, not to mention in Spanish. It was a huge ego-booster that I proved myself I could do this, but really the most rewarding thing were the kids who came in each day, after their regular school hours, to learn English, on their own will.

Mataderos, the neighbourhood Conviven resides in, is anything but reflective of the stunning, full-of-life Buenos Aires we all come to see in Argentina. Be that as it may, it’s a reality that these children are born into, and to see their eagerness to better themselves at ages as young as five years old is simply “maravilloso,” as the Argentines would say.

Sergio and Evelyn, brother and sister, stick in my mind. Ages ten and six, they were probably the most serious children I had ever met! Showing the enthusiasm and willingness to learn English instead of playing with their friends, showed me that the children wanted to improve their future, learn more, and take themselves somewhere in life, outside of Mataderos, outside of Buenos Aires, and maybe even Argentina.

Barbara from the US worked with us in July 2007 for a month.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New courses at Conviven

As the weather has turned a little warmer here in Buenos Aires, Conviven also has some news. First of all we have a lot of new volunteers willing to make the centre a better place for the children.

Also we have some new courses. This week Jaime-Jin from the States and Ida from Norway started an art class that takes place every Monday at 14.00. The first class was not that popular, but hopefully the word spreads all over Ciudad Oculta.

Next week Jana and Michael from Germany and Benjamin from Denmark will give their first class of theatre for 6-14 years old children. The theatre class is scheduled to Wednesdays, also starting at 14.00.

Past few days have been rather silent in the sense of students – when it rains not so many kids show up to Conviven.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Conviven student to compete in Turkey

The silence has been long, but we have good news – one of our students, ten year old Nahuel Rojas will travel to Turkey this November to compete in an International Chess Championship.

Nahuel has been playing chess since the age of five, and he currently studies privately with a chess master. He recently demonstrated his impressive skills at Conviven, where Nahuel is enrolled in the Teach English programme. One of our English teachers unwisely decided to challenge Nahuel to a game. Despite his superior age, Profe Zach lost to the ten year old Nahuel in less than thirty minutes.

Nahuel’s older sister, Noelia, is also an avid chess player. Like Nahuel, the eleven year old Noelia studies privately and competes regularly in tournaments. Noelia joins her brother in English classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Good luck to Conviven’s chess champs!

Zach: There is no other place like Conviven

“Conviven is a special place.” I was told this upon my arrival there, and I wondered it meant. Of course I already know it is special, I thought to myself.

When I began teaching at the center, I was encouraged to develop my own curriculum by using the ever-growing supply of books and teaching materials available at Conviven. Though daunting at first, I soon embraced the challenge and quickly took to the task of discovering my students’ abilities, interests, and goals.

This information allowed me to customize the curriculum for each of my classes. For example, one of my classes included a family that specifically wanted to improve their English pronunciation. I asked them to bring an English book of their choice to class everyday from which we would read aloud. Their improvement after only a few days astonished me. Within weeks, they were reading more fluidly and confidently.

In another class, I discovered that two of my students were fervent chess players, so I decided to devote an entire lesson to the game. We learned the names of the pieces, discussed the rules, and reviewed basic strategies – all in English, of course. The freedom to form curricula according to the specific needs of my students made my job more interesting and ultimately enhanced their enthusiasm towards learning English.

Conviven’s flexibility extends beyond the English program as volunteers are urged to share their own passions with students and explore possibilities for new classes at the center. I was involved in the formation of a weekly art class to provide artistically-inclined students an encouraging environment for creative expression. During my time at Conviven, classes were offered in such subjects as math, circus, and singing. Whatever your passion or area of expertise, you can teach a class on it at Conviven.

The classes I taught brought me face-to-face with the daily challenges of teaching. I had to constantly think of new, fun ways to present vocabulary and grammar to my students. Simple games and creative activities were great ways to cover the material and keep my students’ attention.

Many of them loved to color, so when we learned the English words for rooms of a house and the basic objects in each room, I had my students draw and label their own houses. They had so much fun coloring I don’t think they realized they were learning English while doing it! I learned quickly that I couldn’t educate if I didn’t captivate, so I became accustomed to constantly trying to devise innovative means to introduce topics. If I was ever out of ideas, we could always play “Hangman.” It never ceased to enliven my students and motivate them to study vocabulary.

There are many opportunities to teach English throughout Buenos Aires, but none are like Conviven. The freedom to shape my own curriculum and the freedom to begin new classes was both liberating and challenging. It meant that I had to constantly be on the ball and stay organized.

The students seem to sense how much thought and effort each volunteer contributes to Conviven, and they respond with a positive attitude towards learning, enthusiasm for the English language, and respect and admiration for their teachers. Students like these are a joy to teach, and I’m grateful for Conviven and all those involved with the organization for helping me be a part of something truly special.

Zach from the States worked at Conviven for two months from June to August 2007.