By Donna Shaver
The day began with a visit to the Spoken English and Computer Literacy programs for girls. Each is a three-month program. These are introductory classes, and the current group of students has had only had one week of classes. All of the girls are from impoverished families.
They must be at the tenth grade level before they can participate. One of the students gave a short introduction to the program in English. Her presentation was very well done. We were astonished to learn that she was a student in the current class!
The instructor went on to tell us that the first thing they work on in class is to remove any hesitation the students might feel in expressing themselves in English. The class is effectively a language immersion class. When the students come into the classroom, they are absolutely forbidden to communicate in any language other than English. A student will be suspended for violating that rule.
They start by learning, and quickly speaking, 35 sentences. There are tests in every class. Students are instructed to write down any new words they hear, find out later what they mean, and write a sentence with the word in context, which they record in a diary, effectively creating their own dictionary.
As luck would have it, we had our very own specialist in instructing immigrant children in English, Debbie Birgfeld from Washington, D.C.! Debbie and the instructor talked about the English language programs he was using. Debbie was familiar with the programs, and had suggestions for programs that worked well for her. They made arrangements to stay in touch and share information– another important connection thanks to Dining for Women!
As our time was coming to an end, we were treated to a snack and some time to interact with the students. The girls crowded around, eager to speak to us in English after only a week of classes! We all happily stumbled along, thrilled to be engaged with each other in learning and understanding.
We are amazed at all that has been accomplished as a result of Chanchala’s initial vision of educating the poor children in her village. She exemplifies the very heart of Dining for Women.
“Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.”
— Pope John XXIII