It's been 2 and a half weeks since I started volunteering in Malaysia at an Afghan refugee school. I applied through the travelers favourite - work away. The project changed twice before I even arrived and perhaps that should have given me an idea of how my time would go, but I arrived ready to get stuck in and most importantly to help. I was ready to do something good with my time, traveling is great but it had been 5 months and whilst I had some incredible experiences, seen things I'll never forget and learnt more than I could imagine, aside from a short stint teaching in South Africa I didn't feel like I'd given anything back. I hadn't left a mark or done anything lasting. So this was exciting for me, a chance to make a difference.
It sounds so very cliche, I'm aware, I want to make a difference. And perhaps that is why I arrived blinkers on getting straight into what I could give and teach. I'm used to hostels and sub par living standards, this was not a hostel but not exactly a house either. My base was a cross between the 2 shared with 4 dogs and a cat. With a lot of love it could be a cool place, it is eco living to it's fullest. We recycle, compost, nothing is wasted and all materials are eco friendly or reused materials. Whilst some places can do that effortlessly in a new modern way this I can only describe as more rustic. The main problem was that when I arrived it was just me and so the chores were mine alone. The owner lived next door and did most of the cooking, but I had to clean and look after the dogs, all while planning and teaching lessons. I used to want a dog, now I think I'll pass.
I don't mind helping out and doing my fair share, I'm certainly not going to moan about having to do some cleaning, even if it has been 5 months! But what I do object to is someone asking me to do all the work while they do nothing. Which happened far too many times these past 2 weeks. Thankfully, another volunteer arrived a few days after me and she and I were fast friends. Splitting the chores was far better, but still a pain when others don't help. My overall impression of the house and the chores is disorganised. There was a list of things to do and how to do them that changed on a whim and were added to without warning. We were expected to get up at 7 and do the chores, when we could have easily done them at any time in the day, but getting into a routine was one of the things I enjoyed while there. After I got over my initial shock at the accommodation and adjusted to constantly smelling like dog, I began to quite like the rustic nature of the place and the eco living really appealed to me. Though eating almost moldy food is not something I'm going to miss.
The teaching followed the same pattern as the house, disorganisation ruled. The days and times I taught changed almost daily and even the subject changed in the last week. When I arrived I was told I would be teaching environmental science, which was what I applied for, but when I asked what specifically I would teach, I was told that was up to me. I was expected to create and teach a scheme of work for a group ranging from 12 to 19 year olds (even the ages were decided by me when I arrived) . With no real goals, no topic lists, no idea how many students there would be; I was on my own.
I think you'll agree this was not what I thought I had signed up for.
Nonetheless, I had ideas and most importantly I had bundles of enthusiasm. I decided to focus on pollution and do a 10 lesson Arc around this, culminating in a group project. The owner of the charity listened to my ideas and changed a few things, practical ideas she believed would not be feasible, but liked the overall idea. I got the distinct feeling the majority of it went over her head. When I turned up at the school, 10 minutes before the first lesson, it seemed the headteacher had a completely different idea, she wanted more practical work! So communication was clearly not going to be their strong suit. When another environmental science volunteer arrived a week later, the programme changed again and a 6 week SoW needed to be created. I was the only one with any teaching background, so most of this work fell to me.
Anything we planned had a 50/50 chance of happening, I was told that the organization cooked for the homeless every Sunday and did a street salon for them every Wednesday, in my time these never happened and I was left wondering if they ever did or of it was just good talk. A SEND swimming session that was supposed to happen twice a week also never happened. Again disorganised. But by far the worst was my attempt to organise a trip to the science museum (see my previous blog) the headteacher was no help with missing children and keeping students together.
I have to attribute a lot of the disorganisation to the owner, and at this point I don't want to whine or bad mouth another person, but I have spent 2 weeks listening to her insult many of her previous volunteers as well as some of the current ones. I have spent a lot of time removing negativity from my life and she was a very negative person, there world it seemed was out to get her. Very few positive comments came out of her mouth and most of the time she was just interested in what you could do for her. Setting up a charity of this size and keeping it running can't be easy so I'm sure I barely scratched the surface of her as a person, but bad mouthing other volunteers to a brand new volunteer just seems unprofessional to me. So towards the end of my stay I began to look forward to the release from the negativity. My energy was being drained and my determination to stay positive was tested.
In this sense it was a good dry run, seeing how I handle the stress of the real world again. I have been worried about how it will be when I go back to working. But I also know that any longer and I might have broke, so it is a good thing I am leaving for a meditation course tomorrow. I think the private time to reflect and think, or not think as the case may be, is truly needed.
Looking back I have to divide my time into 2 parts the teaching and the rest of it. And the important part will always be the teaching. Again I was struck by how similar teaching is across the globe, the fidget spinner made it into my class, students needed lots of praise and encouragement. There was a small language barrier but having to explain things 10 times not only helped me come up with inventive ways to explain global warming but also helped the students understand it better. It made me speak slower and clearer as well, something I need to work on when not teaching in England. I was also reminded how much I truly love teaching. I could not imagine any other job and it's reassuring to know I will always be able to teach no matter where I end up. But, this project opened another door I wasn't even aware was there, teaching others to teach. I ran a short workshop on some key tips to effective teaching and I loved being able to share my wisdom and experience and discuss methods we could use, which ones worked and which didn't. Definitely something to think of going forward.
I will miss the volunteers and it was great staying in one place for a bit longer but my feet are itching to keep moving and I'm excited and a little terrified to be heading to the meditation course. I'll be in a gadget free zone for 10 days so expect a post about how my life has changed and how I've seen the light shortly after that.
(I think I'm kidding but most things I read suggests this may be closer to the truth!)