Skills Development Classes
Posted on April 16,

Another week or so has passed and we're in full teaching swing now! We had a couple of enlightening visits to some government-run schools to encourage the girls there to attend the additional English classes that we were going to be offering. The idea of the girls-only classes was to empower them and teach extra skills to hopefully allow them to go on to further education or a career of some sorts rather than being confined to being a 'homemaker'. The project aimed to tackle the pre-set, traditional ideas of the life-path that women should take.

After seeing the schools they were taught in we were glad of the existence of this project and the fact that we were going to be a part of it - especially as we couldn't see how the girls were actually getting an education when half the teachers at the government schools seemed to be sitting outside in the sun! Last time I checked, sipping tea and having a chat wasn't usually included in lesson plans. So anyway we tried to encourage these girls to come to Ukindo before and after school but to be honest we didn't really think there would be a lot of interest. In my previous experience of working with teenagers in the UK it was hard enough to convince them to attend school during the compulsory hours - anything else was bordering on the realms of the impossible. So imagine our delight when nine girls turned up the very next morning... And then eleven in the afternoon... And thirteen the next morning... Before long, we were running out of seats; there were 3/4 girls per two-person desk and some standing at the back. Our daily attendance had risen to over 50 girls.

Not only did the sheer numbers amaze me, but so did the speed at which they could learn. They started off able to name colours and a few items, form basic sentences and repeat a simple description of themselves, which sounded very scripted. They struggled with the correct use of plurals, different tenses and answering questions, as well as with concepts such as 'today', 'tomorrow' and 'yesterday'. But by the time we left they had learnt an abundance of new verbs, adjectives and nouns, their simple, stuttered sentences were complex, flowing descriptions. They could tell us their hobbies and why they enjoyed them, describe their house and the contents of each room, and could answer us in great detail when asked to describe a particular person in a picture of a group of people. The progress we saw in them in such a short time was phenomenal. How these girls could pick everything up so quickly was amazing; if they could learn so much in such a short time from us, as non-teachers, think what they could manage if their own school teachers made some effort!! Although we couldn't change the way the government schools ran, we were grateful that there was a charity such as Ukindo committed to empowering these bright young girls.

But, selfishly I know, the best bit of it for me wasn't just the increasing numbers or the progress, it was the enthusiasm. Coming from an English secondary school, I was used to 13-18 year old girls being surly, disengaged and disruptive the majority of the time. Yet, faced with the same age group in India, I was greeted every day by a bouncy, happy, keen group, coming to us optionally and dragging their heels at the end of each session, not wanting to leave. Not once did I see a badly-stifled yawn, a vacant gaze out of the window or the surreptitious passing of notes under the table - a sure sign of boredom and disinterest. These girls' eyes never left us, their voices rang out in loud, clear unison as we practiced pronunciation, and they applauded and encouraged each other every time someone stood up to practice individually. It was truly, genuinely so inspiring and uplifting - Joe and I left each session on a high, full of ideas of what to do with them next, absolutely buzzing. Especially after overhearing the girls giggling and practicing my regular cry of 'awesome!' as they left.