A volunteer’s experience

Guest Blogger: Robert Williams

Hello everyone. I’m Rob, a volunteer for the Ideas Partnership and English teacher at our Catch-Up Classes “29 Plus”. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been at the classes from day one, watching our dusty, unfurnished apartment, grow into a truly vibrant, bustling hive of education(!), with schoolwork and furniture to match all the colours of the rainbow. For all of us, volunteers and pupils alike, 29 Plus has rapidly become a significant part of our lives. As a guest blogger, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about a few specific moments from the last six weeks that have undoubtedly helped me love the place.

1.       The children’s first ever English lesson – “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”

I had arrived in Pristina from the UK in the early hours of the morning of the first day of school. So, in a new country, and arriving to a bit of a culture shock in Fushe Koseve, I was thrust into the middle of a circle of children and invited to teach my first few bits of English. My face, I’m sure, was a picture of nerves – I was surrounded by 22 sets of expectant eyes. Tentatively I made my introduction to the children, as I started tapping my noggin, enunciating “…Head……Head……Head…”

I’m 25, and I thought I was waaay past ever hearing that song again, but as I gestured for the children to really belt out the words, watching them leap up from toes to head, truly enchanted by these first few words of English, Heads shoulders, Knees and Toes became quite special.

As this first day ended, it was clear it had been a whopping success –already we had pages and pages of work to decorate our bare walls, and the number of children in attendance was beyond anything we’d imagined. My own success however, was in hearing the kids outside still beating out Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes as they walked home.

2.       Teaching my form group ‘items of clothing and colours’

While on that first day we had one class, in the only ‘furnished’ room in the apartment, we very quickly grew into our second and third classrooms. By week three, Elizabeth and Avdyl had their own form group for registration time, with me and Vlora registering a third. My classroom had by this time been carpeted, thanks to a lovely donation of fitted carpets throughout the space – still no chairs or desks, but we were getting there.

Having all that space was brilliant though, as we were able to have really interactive lessons. My favourite lesson was with a pile of shoes, socks, shirts, jumpers and more scattered all over my classroom. As I paced round I’d shout “Samire, find me big, white, shoes!” Willed on by the rest of her team, she’d prowl from pink jumper to blue pants, before settling on the biggest pair of tennis shoes you’ve ever seen,  “Correct…One Point”, her team instantly bursting into wild celebration.

It was really lovely to see that everything was developing. The children were learning (some of them extremely quickly) and the rented apartment was looking far more homely, with lots of work on the walls, donations of additional furniture and of course carpets. Significantly, there was also a growing sense of community, with social groups forming, and children volunteering to assist teachers with ‘administrative’ morning tasks like pupils’ hand washing.

3.       With the generosity of so many people, we have grown so much

Today, as well as me, Vlora and Avdyl, we had nine additional volunteers! As word of the Catch Up Classes has spread, the generosity of so many people has been truly humbling.

Six weeks ago, Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes was reverberating around a very empty space. I now have a wonderfully colourful classroom, with new desks, chairs, books and stationary – all the result of extremely generous donations. We have a lovely bunch of dedicated of volunteers that is growing all the time.

During registration, each child has their own morning ritual – Fidan choosing to sit quietly with his yogurt and banana, practicing his English; Shpresa and Zyrafette chatting loudly, orange peel flying everywhere; Ebubekir unwilling to sit until he’s cracked his first joke of the day; the girls all determined to fit round one table (despite there now being plenty!) – all of them eager to learn and very much part of the 29 Plus community. In such a short space of time, the children have grown so much into this now wonderful environment, and I hope are now a little bit closer to school!

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