Sunday, March 30, 2014

Reflecting on change - English classes in Up Close

Last year left a bitter memory in our minds when we had to announce that one of our projects, the English classes for people in the community, was being closed down because we were not reaching the number of people expected. When discussing it in our annual project evaluation it made sense, but at the same time it seemed unfair on all the lovely people that had just made us a delicious Christmas dinner to thank us for the support, time and effort we had put into the classes.

It was too hard to tell them, so we asked the Up Close Bolivia Director to help us explain in the best way possible why this project was not viable anymore. We had the dinner first because we didn´t want to create a bad atmosphere in this special event to mark the end of the course. When the event was almost over, Emma (Director) gave a beautiful speech thanking all the students for being such committed and good hosts for our volunteers, and for encouraging them to always explode their potential. After she did this, she announced the project was being closed and explained the reasons.
 At first some people didn’t understand what was happening, but after all doubts were cleared up the class thanked us for believing in them, supporting and challenging them to reach their full potential, and for keeping this project alive even though they knew it could end at any point.

So the project ended with a few tears and the hope that we would have the chance to work with them again in a new and improved “2.0” version of the project, with more pupils.

Leaving a group of committed, responsible and kind people that had a lot of potential and gained a great deal from this project  felt like the biggest failure ever. Nonetheless, a couple of weeks later, the principal of a school of the community got in touch with us and said that parents had asked the principal to approach Up Close about giving English classes to the students.

After that call, it felt like the project was alive again, and in the “2.0” version that we always wanted it. A lot of the current students are former students or sons/daughters of the 2013’s English class. And thanks to all the planning and hard work, the project became a success after just one cohort of volunteers.

Volunteers with English class "2.0"
Of course, it had a lot to do with the amazing volunteers that participated of this renewed project. Sam, Verity, Molly and Jessica did such a fantastic job bonding with the students, showing that teaching can be done in a fun, creative way, constantly doing research about how to be a better teacher every time and how to get the best out of their students. I guess the best part of it was to see the student´s improve so quickly, have fun in class, and show their commitment to every activity. This was evident in their final classes, when they called the volunteers not just their teachers but their friends, and gave them goodbye speeches in English!

This entire journey made me think about changes.  Sometimes we are scared to make them (or scared not to make them), but if you work on these kind of projects you must have the courage to make big, scary changes and work really hard so that the changes are worth it. Now , I can see that the changes we made were completely worth it. I still feel a little nostalgic when I see former students like Armando asking if we will work again with adults of the community giving them English classes,  but  I also feel so hopeful when he tells me that his daughter (student of our current English classes) is helping him to perfect his english.

Written by Anita Cossio


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