Wednesday, March 16, 2011

You are my Sunshine...

We've just finished our first week volunteering at Sunshine School in Vientiane, Lao! While our time here was meant to benefit the kids at the school, we feel that perhaps we are the ones who are gaining the most from this experience. The kids and staff are absolutely fantastic and we have very much enjoyed our time at the school with them thus far. Sunshine School is a 'non-profit, non-denominational institution dedicated to providing multicultural, ethically based education through integrated learning and the holistic development of the child.' The school educates a wide variety of age groups, from tiny little tots to teenagers. Our involvement is of the English class variety.

We arrived Monday morning and were warmly welcomed by Didi, the experienced Director of the school. She set us off to observe some of the English teachers for the day. Over the week we were welcomed into the happy rhythm of the school by all the teachers, both English and Lao, made to feel like we were really a part of Sunshine School, even though we were going to be here only for such a short time.

The kids are absolutely adorable. They are both full of energy and life, and enthusiastic learners. Every time we enter a classroom, or pass the kids in the playground we are met with a deafening chorus of `Good Morning Teacher Jon and Teacher Christ!!!`(Kristen is hard to pronounce, so they`ve given me a pretty accurate short-form). Their manners are impeccable. Not only do they actually make a point to stop and greet you, they always hold their hands together (in a prayer-like gesture) in front of their chests, they crouch down, as not to disturb what you are looking at, if they have to walk in front of you (not that that would be possible at three foot nothing), and they always sing `Thank you, Teacher! See you tomorrow!!`loudly when the bell rings at the end of class. The kids have taken an  especially exuberant liking to `Teacher Jon. Like being the understatement of the week. It was only our second day at the School and we had not yet been introduced to all the classes. That didn`t matter. Jonathan wandered into one of the classrooms to see if he could be of assistance to At, one of the friendly English Teachers and ended up completely disturbing the class as the kids erupted into loud cheers as soon as he stepped through the door. Chaos reigned. They were jumping up and down, throwing their arms in the air and waving their `thumbs up`in approval. `Teacher Jon!``Teacher Jon!`They started chanting. Hearing the commotion, and thinking that perhaps Elvis had just appeared into the next room, I went to take a look.  I half expected (and hoped) to find my husband at the bottom of a Grade Three goose pile. Wouldn`t that make a great picture? Thankfully he`s significantly taller than the mob of seven year olds and seemed to manage the attack ok. Surprisingly, his head (and ego) still fit back out the door after the class had ended. Not before being asked by every single kid for his autograph, of course.

Later that day, in a grade five class it came time to mark their homework. Poor Teacher At was left standing alone, red pen poised to mark, while every single kid lined up so Teacher Jon could mark their work. They would lift up the notebook he was currently marking and not-so-sneakily slide theirs into the pile. While they awaited their homework`s fate, they all crowded around Teacher Jon, petting his unruly beard (and perhaps looking for its inhabitants).

The kids love dancing, singing and pretty much anything that involves running or yelling. It was raining today, which was a wonderful break from the scorching sun) and Saba asked me if we had a 'raining season song' in Canada that I could teach to the grade fives. I laughed to myself picturing Canada having a rainy season. How would we fit it in among all the others, namely winter, which seems to last the longest? The first song that popped into my head was the simple Rain, Rain, Go Away! Come again another day! All the children want to play! I sang it to the grade five class who watched me as if I was more than a little nutso. So I sang it again. 'Does it have any actions?' Saba asked me. 'Ummm, sure!' I could make some up on the fly, right? So I did. To my surprise, the class loved it, and within seconds they were all on their feet, eyes glued to me, the 'expert of actions' dancing around like a bunch of cute marionettes. Ha! They sang the three simple lines over and over. I was beginning to feel like Sunshine's Bach. I wrote the words on the board and silence fell over the room as they diligently penned them into their notebooks in the neatest printing I have ever seen. They hummed the 'Canadian Rainy Song,' as named by Saba, the rest of the class.

Later this afternoon, I found myself in class with the oldest students. It was my first time in the class, so I endured the obligatory, 'Are you married?' 'Do you like Lao food,' and 'How did you manage to snag a catch like THE Teacher Jon?' questions before a shy girl in the back asked about my Canadian tradition. I thought for a millisecond before blurting out 'We make Maple Syrup!' Although this statement isn't perhaps, entirely true I have, in fact, made Maple Syrup once and do have the intentions of partaking in the event again, and therefore felt like Maple-Sryup-Making could fall under the list of 'My Canadian Traditions.' Plus, someone has to keep up these Canuck stereotypes. Besides, what else was I going to tell the kids? 'Umm. Well. We Canadians we like to wear hats and call them toques? I don't know. Anyways, I said it, and then I realized that I was now going to have to explain the art of maple syrup making to a group of kids who have never seen snow, maple trees, sap, campfires or, in fact maple syrup. As I explained the process to a sea of blank faces I began to think the concept was a little crazy myself. We stick metal spouts into specific trees, at a specific time of year and collect all this water-like sap which we then boil down for hours and hours until it magically thickens to sweet perfection. I finished my explanation with a smile. Sigh. Maple Syrup. Being boiled into existence all over Canada right about now... 'Maybe you can draw what you mean?' Saba suggested. Even the English teacher didn't quite get it. I laughed and set about 'drawing maple syrup.' That's me. Making Canadians proud over here in Lao, one wonky chalk-drawn maple leaf at a time.

Being with the kids at Sunshine School has been a highlight of the trip. The only thing, in Vientiane, that can compare with the unbridled enthusiasm of the elementary school students, are the teachers of said school. We have had the pleasure of working closely with most of the English teachers at Sunshine School. We mostly assist Teacher Jock, At, Saba and Tok. They are all fantastic teachers and have been very friendly, helpful and welcoming to Jonathan and myself. We love watching them interact with the kids, singing songs with the younger ones and discussing life-issues with the older ones. Being our first real experience teaching English, we have learned so much in such a short time! They are fun and easy-going, but at the same time, demand respect from their students, a balance which I'm sure is one of the most important that a teacher maintain.

Next week Sunshine School is putting on an Open House tuned for their families and the community. The kids have been practicing their traditional dancing, break-dancing and singing at every free moment. I have been recruited to help Saba with the English play. So far, its been quite fun to work with these 'aspiring English-speaking actors' as they are generally quite willing to give whatever cockamamie idea we come up with a try. Poor kids. Stay tuned for more adventures at Sunshine School!


Parentals said...

For a couple of adventurers who are not known for 'loving' kids, you certainly are having a good time with them. You'll have to video the kids singing/ acting your 'Canadian rain" song. also hope you have some pics of the kids 'petting' Jon's beard? By the way, did they find any special inhabitants in there? LOL

Gina said...

I love the "antennas" hair style on the little ones!

I also get asked a lot about Canadian traditions. I get bored of saying "maple syrup" and "hockey" all the time. Sometimes I try to explain Lacross.

By the way, thanks for the postcard, which I got ages ago (but I don't think I let you know)!