Last week 32 volunteers from 10 different countries, aging from 18 years old to 41 years old, headed into their new classrooms to begin co-teaching Jusoor’s summer school program for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. They are split between two schools, one in Beirut and one in the Bekkaa Valley. The goal of the program is to provide learning opportunities for the Syrian refugee children who attend Jusoor’s learning centers. The aim is not to drill, test or bore them, but to practice what they have learned by inspiring them through science experiments, express themselves through art, enjoy speaking English with new teachers and building a community through sports activities. The children have four lessons; English, Art, Science and Sports- the teachers have eight, for when they say goodbye to the first shift of students, they immediately prepare for the second shift of students and begin the cycle again.
The first day was filled with excitement as the children met their new volunteer teachers and many volunteers experienced their first hours of being teachers. There were nerves and excitement, stress and smiles. Slowly by learning each other’s names and personal stories, setting classroom rules, reading stories, poking balloons and competing in obstacle courses, everyone began to relax into their new roles and get to the real reason everyone is here: to have fun. Each classroom began to get decorated with artwork displaying their knowledge of primary colors, the cycle of a butterfly and turtles. From down the hall you can hear, “If your happy and you know it, clap your hands!”, a teacher grabbing attention through a call and response of “SHISH” and many small voices responding with “TAUOK!” and lots of laughter watching their new teacher bawk like a chicken, meow like a cat and coo like a pigeon (for educational purposes of course).
It isn’t all laughs though; it is hard work for everyone. As volunteer Iffat Al-Gharbi put it, “The experience has been literally transforming”. They must work with new nationalities, understand accents and foreign languages. There is an adjustment period to teaching in a new culture, with different rules of the playground with students from very different backgrounds than their own. It takes more energy than you think and longer to do anything than it should. But everyone agrees, this is a challenge that they are happy to take on. Our English speakers are learning Arabic and the children and learning English… and German, Spanish, Dutch. They are learning about the UAE, Egypt, the USA, the UK and more. The volunteers are sharing their energy and knowledge and the students are sharing their excitement and stories. It’s a symbiotic relationship that will only get stronger as the weeks go on. This was captured beautifully by Noor Abdalla, one of the volunteers, “These children, who were rejected by everyone and everything, somehow managed to be the most accepting people. By the end of the day I had developed a love for them that is indescribable”. This was after just four days working with the children. The volunteers will share their personal experience, – the highs, the lows and the questions- through blog posts, which can be found on the Jusoor website here.
Each day the volunteer teachers collapse in exhaustion as they wave goodbye to their students. Then it’s time to start planning, discuss what went well and where they can improve, share success stories with other volunteers and think how can I get them to engage more? To learn more? To smile more? Everyone is catching that amazing feeling that is being a teacher. Maybe dinner first in Beirut with new friends, then planning. Maybe a beer too.