Today, day 4 of the Fathom impact cruise to the Dominican Republic, brings us to the crescendo of service and the peak of excitement for the trip. Today was the first full day in port, giving everyone on board an opportunity to tackle one service project or another. (See yesterday’s post for a summary of the options.)
Gail, my wife, and I volunteered to teach English to school children. We loaded buses at 8:00 AM for a surprisingly long ride—nearly 90 minutes—up into the mountains to an area called Cupay. There we arrived at a small school called “Centro Educativo Isabel Meyreles” with about 280 students. We visited the fourth grade class.
To begin, they welcomed us with a song and dance. Of course, we felt honored by that.
Then, we were issued English training books that we’d been trained to use on Monday and began mentoring.
In a quick and random match up, I was paired with Nathalie, a delightful little girl who already knew some English and proudly told me that her father spoke five languages, including English.
We had fun reviewing basic phrases like “Hello. My name is Nathalie.” She helped me design a simple matching game with flash cards to help her learn a dozen different responses to “How are you?”
As we worked, however, I noticed that was frequently being distracted by the two blonde 10-year-old boys who were part of the mentoring team. They were teaching students about their own age at the same table. For some mysterious reason, Nathalie was more interested in the boys next door.
Over the course of nearly an hour, we did make some real progress. She learned some new words, master pronunciation of others that were already familiar and practiced greetings and polite responses. It was fun for me and seemed to be a break from the routine for her to have a funny-looking, middle-aged American drop into her classroom to provide an hour of mentoring.
As I reflect on the impact of the day and the potential impact of the program across the months and years that it is intended to run, I see tremendous impact.
The students will have regular opportunities to practice language skills at an age when their minds have a natural facility with language and as such will be likely to actually learn English.
In addition, the activity gives ship’s passengers the opportunity to use a skill—their English—in a way that not only serves the community but does so in a way that the community can’t on its own.
The passengers are native English speakers and the teachers are not. Our volunteering doesn’t supplant the role of a teacher, but it does enhance the teacher’s ability to help the students learn English. No losers, only winners!
This model for service off the ship strikes me as a great one for expansion and application to other regions of the world where native English speakers like to cruise.