Entering through the blue gate of the Jerash Camp Development Office, I suddenly step into a tranquil space contrasted with the hustle and bustle of the camp outside. All noises seem isolated now, the crowds of school children pouring down the camp road are left somewhere in the background, outside the white fence. As I head across the shaded courtyard, suddenly from behind the metal bars of the upper staircase I hear familiar voices: “Gosha Gosha! Teacher!”. A group of girls runs down to greet me and before I even manage to enter the staircase we are there hugging. saying “hello” and exchanging “kiffik”s [how are you’s]. Holding hands, we climb up, head down the shaded corridor and together turn right to step into the room where, with every of my visits to the camp, I take on the role of “teacher Gosia”.
Since I came to join the project in January, I have been leading English lessons three times per week. Having joined Paulina in the first months, I then was left to do English on my own. I must admit that I did not know what to expect. Never have I taught English to kids. But all I knew is that I love being among children and entering their reality. And that I want to discover and become part of the world of girls in camp. Three – almost four – months later, I can say that it undoubtedly reorganized my way of approaching subjects, of seeing them, through the eyes of young girls that I had a chance to be with almost every day.
Our entrance seems to interrupt the chattering that has been on inside the room, where the rest of the girls have been awaiting the lesson, sitting at one of the three tables. After greeting each of the girls, I walk the room to see the two CDO workers who have since been of an irreplaceable support for us in our activities in the office. And as every day, after an exchange of “kullu tamam” and “hamdulillah”s [everything is good] confirming that all is well, I leave my things on one of the chairs, take out my English materials and start the lesson.
And here, let me explain the rules. Rule number one, seemingly the basics of basics: spontaneity. As chaotic as it sounds, the number of girls attending class differs depending on the minute of the lesson. Some girls join half way the lesson, some go in and out, asking to go to “hammam” [toilet], “souq” [market] or “beit” [home]. And let me add that it is extremely hard to predict the number of girls coming to class – that can be from around 10 to up to 30 girls at once. Added to this, groups change according to monthly shifts in school – the activities we do follow the morning shift at school which finishes at around 12:00. Then come the second and third rule: flexibility and assertiveness. These after-school activities are an additional occasion for the girls to spend time together, outside the crowded camp school where a single class can count up to 60 pupils. This meaning that girls receive more than the usual attention from the teacher and can sometimes be “unusually” active.
Alphabet, simple nouns and adjectives, building basic sentences – these are the stages we start off with every group, teaching new vocabulary through memory games, bingo or quizzes solved together on the board. Or making use of objects around us in the classroom, playing shop scenes or naming clothes and jewellery we wear, a subject they lately like the most :)
But from all the above, what I consider most important is passing on the passion for English as a new language, a language still so unknown to the majority of the girls. And building a friendly relation between us, which has been developing since the first moment we met.
13-year old Arwa has since the beginning become one of my closest friends – very sensitive, extremely eager to learn, and extremely eager to help as well, she usually plays the role of my translator. Her good friend and classmate from school, Elaf– calm and self-confident, accurately answering questions and herself, trying to ask whenever something seems unclear. Then come the sisters – 10-year-old Dania and 7-year-old Reetaj. A crazy mix when together with her sister, but much more calm on her own, talented Dania always tries to be the first! Many times, her brother Mohammed joins us and sitting secretly outside in the corridor, solves quizzes or other hand-outs prepared for the girls. 12-year-old Aya and her younger sister Braa are much different: quite silent and at a side, they seem to be inseparable, sitting together, sometimes at once on one chair. Spontaneous Hiba runs around the classroom and quite often pulls my sleeve to make me remember she wants to be the first to write on the whiteboard. 9-year-old Ameleen is the tricksy girl and from time to time faints crying to mislead me, quite with successJ Then, 11-year-old Rula and Sileen, the two girls who dare to ask practically any question and often stir the situation in the classroom. Rawan, not too keen to speak, but always listening with full attention despite the chaos which arouses in the classroom. And Islam, somehow in between – loud and active, but still able to stop the chatter when necessary.
The repetitive screams of “ yalla teacher” [come on], “taali teacher” [come here] or “finish teacher” [come and check], are words I would never have thought would be directed to me. It seems we are building a dictionary of communicating with each other every day, using English during the lesson and Arabic after class, as we head together towards the bus that I take back home. And on every road back from camp, I keep my inner smile, happy to come back to meet the girls the following day.