When I visited Kegalle, Sri Lanka to volunteer with elephants, I also had the opportunity to teach English to orphan girls in the community. Despite having little teaching experience and a language barrier, I found it easy to relate with the orphans, and it turned out to be an amazing learning experience for everyone. The faces of these orphans, their personalities and their kind and innocent nature still resonate with me. They will not be forgotten as I return to my comfortable life in the States. I still aim to help them from here in the U.S.
One way I’m helping from home is by connecting students in Virginia Beach, Va., with the orphan girls in Sri Lanka. Before I headed to Sri Lanka, I had the Virginia Beach students write letters, which I carried over in my back pack. When I delivered the letters to the girls, they were tremendously excited to read them and write their own letters back.
When I returned home, I was able to deliver the orphans’ letters in response back to the students in Virginia Beach. I also visited the class to talk about my experiences in Sri Lanka, starting the presentation with a geography lesson and then teaching the students about Sri Lankan culture (the food, religions and languages). I shared my photos and spent time discussing the tsunami, elephant conservation and what life is like for the orphans in Sri Lanka. The kids had many questions, ranging from “Are elephants related to mammoths?” to “Did you wear heels in Sri Lanka?” I enjoyed teaching the U.S. kids and have a new-found appreciation for all of the technology that surrounded us in their classroom.
Some of the technology we used in the U.S. classroom included the Internet, a Promethan board and an iPhone (for recording a YouTube video to send to the Sri Lankan orphans). In contrast, the 45 girls in Sri Lanka have one small television and two desktop computers that they are not trained to use. The orphanage does not have Internet access because the headmistress has no understanding of its educational value. The organization I volunteered with will bring a laptop to the orphanage and show the girls the video on the small screen.
It was incredibly troublesome to me that the girls have no Internet access or computer skills. I voiced this to the charity organization when they asked for my ideas and feedback, and we set a goal to have one computer in place for the girls to start using! We’ll have the girls keep in touch with international volunteers via email, which will help them attain computer skills as well as practice their English. From there, hopefully, the girls will start using the Internet more to enhance their education. This can be accomplished if the charity program can sign up more volunteers to help the effort.
I hope you will be inspired by my volunteer experience in several ways. First, consider that as an educator, you have incredible knowledge and skills for volunteering with and teaching children overseas (even if you only have a couple of weeks to travel). Inspire Sri Lanka, the organization I volunteered with, would love to have this kind of expertise for their program. It would be especially valuable to have an educator spend time teaching these orphans computer skills and explaining the value of the Internet to the headmistress so that they could acquire the basic skills they will need to thrive as adults.
Second, even the most disadvantaged schools in the U.S. have much more access to technology than schools in developing countries. We have the tools right at our fingertips to integrate technology into lesson plans and we should be taking advantage of it everyday.
Third, we often think the world’s problems are too big and complicated to make a difference. We think that we are not empowered to help others or that the work would be too demanding. But there are so many simple things that we can all do to change the world. We just need to be more creative. For example, just think what donating one iPad to this organization for the orphans could do. One iPad could allow 45 girls to write their first e-mail.
The Internet and social media are about connecting people. The students in Virginia Beach and the orphans in Sri Lanka are culturally very different, but through interaction online, they will learn that they play the same schoolyard games and share many of the same goals. We should be using technology more to expose U.S. children to cultural understanding and diversity.
It might take some effort and many more volunteer hours, but in time, I could see the Sri Lankan orphans one day having an ongoing e-mail exchange with U.S. students. Maybe the U.S. kids could even help the orphans learn English. I would love to see more children learning by teaching children who are less fortunate from across the world. We have the technology all around us, we just need to make it happen.
If you are interested in learning more about volunteer teaching opportunities or have ideas for connecting your students in some way with the orphans in Sri Lanka (or you want to donate that iPad!), visit the Inspire Sri Lanka website or contact the charity’s founder, Alison Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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