Ben & Sarah talk languages, community & rebellious kids.

Education makes up a huge part of our operations in Kara Tepe and none of it would be possible without the enthusiasm and passion of our volunteer English teachers. Today, we see our newest English teacher Sarah Goodman receiving hugs and gifts from grateful students who have taken her to their hearts. Our newest blog contributor Ben Cooke sat down with Sarah to talk about her experiences with HSA.

Ben: could you tell us a bit about what you do for HSA?

Sarah: At the moment I teach adult women in Kara Tepe. I came into Kara Tepe first as a volunteer and did all the normal activities volunteers do — handing out clothes, tea, and so on. And then I transitioned into working as a teaching assistant. I started with a class of real beginners. I began just by teaching them the alphabet and very basic grammar, and when after a while it became apparent that some of the students’ English was better than others, I decided to split the class in two. I taught one of the classes, and when one of the other volunteer-teachers left, I took over the other too.

Ben: How does your students’ level of English vary?

Sarah: There are students who come in and don’t know the alphabet, there are others who can read and write, and it’s my job to support their learning as much as I can. Another thing I’m keen on is getting them to interact with one another. In one class there can be Arabic speakers, Dhari speakers, Farsi speakers, French speakers. Even when speaking the same language some of them can’t understand one another. There are so many dialects within Arabic and Farsi that I just have no sense of. For some of them, the first conversations they are having with one another are in English.

Ben: So your work helps to create a sense of community? Why else do you think it’s important that they learn English?

Sarah: The most important thing to ask is what the women want to get out of it. Some of them just want an hour in their day in which to do something different. There are other women who are absolutely trying to get an education in English out of it. I really do think creating a sense of community is important. Without English lessons Kara Tepe may as well be the Tower of Babel. In it there are all of these different groups which don’t necessarily speak the same language, or have much in common. They might speak the same language yet still have little in common. In the same class, for instance, there are women who have been to university and women who have never been to school before. My classes are an opportunity for people from such diverse backgrounds to meet and talk

Ben: Of course, it also helps them to get along with the NGO’s better, too.

Sarah: Totally. One of my jobs is to make sure the students understand what is happening in camp, because I can think of a lot of things which happen in camp which they would not be able to understand without English, and I can’t begin to imagine how alienating that must feel.

Ben: to return to what you said about people from different countries here not having much in common, learning a language is by turns both a process of learning how you are different from people whose first language it is, and a process of learning the surprising ways in which you are similar to them. Do you think you and your students have come to understand each other’s cultures better in your classes?

Sarah: Yeah for sure. I think one really good instance of that cultural exchange came in a class a few days ago, when one of the women, from Afghanistan, said that America has a problem with Islam. Then woman from Iraq said it’s not America, it’s Donald Trump, and that’s quite a nuanced and sophisticated political discussion she started, which couldn’t have taken place if we didn’t all know English.

Ben: How does your past experience of teaching compare to the work you’ve done for HSA?

Sarah: Well, I spent a year teaching English to kids in a school in Marseilles. My students there had a much more rebellious attitude towards education. I think many felt it wasn’t relevant to their lives, and only came to school because they had to. Whereas the women who come every day come because they want to be there. One thing they have in common is that my students from Marseilles came from immigrant backgrounds. Even those who were born in France were mostly born to Algerian parents. And like my students here, many of them didn’t know much English — or French for that matter. when you are working with people with very different backgrounds and levels of English, you have to respect that about your students. You should also respect the fact that each of the students has a story which they may not want to share. Another volunteer said it like this: ‘each of the residents has their own back pack, which they shouldn’t be made to unpack.’ I agree with that. I don’t pry into my students back stories.

HSA needs your help in keeping volunteers like Sarah & Ben on the island by helping with their accommodation costs. Please use the link below to donate to HSA and if you like, specify in the comments you would like your contribution to go towards our accommodation costs.