Africa, Ethiopia

Zway holiday camp – experience of a volunteer

After nearly a month of summer English classes and about a week of preparation, this morning we finally had our end-of-program performance.  For the students in my class, class 15, the wait continued until nearly the end of the show.  My students snuck glances at their scripts and exchanged nervous looks between the first 14 performances.  The show was packed with variety- songs, skits, dancing, and more.  Each class had a chance to take the stage and show off their hard work and linguistic progress. At last the moment arrived for class 15 to perform.  From the wing of the stage I watched my students present the drama they had invented, written, and rehearsed to perfection. My group’s performance passed by in a blur, just like every other experience in this past month.  As the students returned to their seats they smiled proudly and displayed a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie.  As a teacher I felt extremely proud of my class and all of the classes for sharing their talents and doing an outstanding job in the performance.

With all of the excitement surrounding the performance preparations, we barely remembered that it was the final performance.  Once the show ended it started to become painfully apparent that the program was coming to a close.  I entered my classroom one last time to take down all of the students’ work and then they ushered me outside for a surprise coffee ceremony. Today’s coffee ceremony was a perfect example of the generosity that Ethiopian people have shown to me.  I came here as a volunteer with the intention to give- my time, my knowledge, and my abilities.  In reality I have received more that I could try to give, from an armful of bracelets to invitations to students’ homes to coffee and popcorn among friends.  Today my students decided I was ready to try my hands at the traditional Ethiopian coffee preparation.  They patiently explained each step of the process and masked their laughter as I made mistakes.  The role reversal was complete- my students became my teachers as they shared an important aspect of their culture with me.

Reflecting back upon my month in Zway, the emotion that predominates is gratitude.  This experience has been very positive and it will continue to impact me in ways that I have yet to discover.  For now I would like to thank the Salesian Sisters, the teachers and staff of Mary Help School, the leaders from Oratorio, and everyone else who made this project possible and meaningful.  Today when I finished drinking the final cup of coffee and it was time for goodbyes, the students thanked me profusely and genuinely. I am in turn very grateful to the students for the joy that they shared with us every day.  I hope that the summer English program was as positive for the students and the Zway community as it has been for me and the other volunteers.


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