Made by Survivors | A note from our new volunteer Renee – a high school teacher from Australia


A note from our new volunteer Renee – a high school teacher from Australia

26 Mar 2012, by elance programmer in Made By Survivors Programs

10 days ago I left the sunny beaches of Western Australia to volunteer with Made By Survivors for the next year.  As I set off on the plane from Bangkok I was filled with a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation for what lay ahead.  For a girl who doesn’t like cities I wondered how I was going to handle crazy Kolkata traffic noise and chaos everyone had warned me about. Yes it certainly has all of those things but my first week has been fantastic.  Filled with amazing people, great conversations and laughter, brilliant food and of course the reason why I’m here – The Team and Girls at Made By Survivors. 


What has struck me about Made By Survivors so far is how tight the team are. I could feel the love between them all on day one and each of them speak so highly about each other that I was very happy to be lucky enough to work with such people.

From day one Paul, Dolon and Soma have made me feel welcome and have gone out of their way to settle into my new home.  Dolon met me early on my first morning and took me shopping, settled me into my new apartment and gave me a run down on how to get places using the local transport.  Her warmth and infectious laughter make her easy to be around and her translating skills have come in very handy this first week. She is a strong woman and an excellent role model to the younger girls in the shelter home.

For the next 3 days I travelled to work with Soma and its easy to see why everyone who meets her falls in love with her immediately.  She has such strength, integrity and compassion for others that i could listen to her stories all day. I have come to look forward to our long drive to get to CCH so I can hear more about her life and dreams.  Her talent for jewellery design also blew me away when she showed me her original creations on the first day.

In the middle of all the women is Paul – he has been an absolute delight to be around my first week.  His extensive knowledge about issues surrounding slavery and how Kolkata operates has been invaluable. I already love his amazing dry sense of humour and witty observations on life.

My first day at CCH was spent familiarising myself with the girls and working out who I would be teaching and what levels or class they are in.  All the girls are absolutely beautiful.  They straight away ran up and said hello “Aunty” and wanted to know who I was.  I got to practice my extensive Bengali phrases ( that would be about 4) and they were very happy to hear me speak some of their language even if I pronounced some words wrong and didn’t know that much.

Soma and Dolon introduced me to the girls in the program and I walked around and had a look at all the pieces they were making.  I was extremely impressed by the girls industrious work ethic.  Even when the lunch bell rang they wanted to keep working.  I had a look at the designs that were in the current range and again I was very impressed with the variety and beauty of each piece.

At  CCH I have 2-3 different classes and then one on one tuition with one of the older girls who is extremely bright. The first class consists of 15-20 year old girls who have some english so we are focusing on speaking. As I expected they are exactly like any other teenage girls around the world- they have crushes on handsome men in the movies, love to dance, love to gossip with their friends and love having their photo taken- the biggest difference of course is that they are poor and have faced hardships in life that most kids their age could not even imagine.

The other girls are younger and start from age 5.  They speak virtually no english so its tougher but their enthusiasm makes up for the language constraints. Simple ABC games and number games has proven to be very effective.

Unlike in the big high school I work in back home, I have limited resources- I have a blackboard and some chalk. While this is a challenge it actually  it forces you to use creative methods of teaching and makes you concentrate on the most important aspect of teaching effectively – communicating with your students.  I did some goal setting with the older group today and said they had to be writing in a journal each day and they got upset because they didn’t have one.  When I smiled and told them I would buy them a diary each they were so grateful it was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. It once again shows how much we take for granted the education opportunities and resources we have in a wealthy country.  The week has reenforced to me how important education is to the girls.  I hope that I can really help them with their english in the next 3 months.

Something that really shines here is the hope and positivity from the girls and the team surrounding them. Yes the girls may come from harsh backgrounds and have endured a lot of suffering but that is in the past. They really are making the most of the present and looking ahead to the future. i cant wait to get to know them all better!

Its been a great first week with Made By Survivors and I;m looking forward to the next year.

Until my next update –

abar dekha hobe xxx



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