Tag Archives: teaching

Ireland, as drawn by Korean Kids

12 Sep

My first class of the day is with 2 very cute Korean brothers who come to me simply to improve their English conversation skills and to expose them to a native English speaker. They will be moving to China soon as their father’s got transferred there for work and they will be attending an International school. As one boy is 6 and the other is 8, with very different levels of English (think very, very basic!!) an hour long class can be quite difficult to plan.

I have quite a lot of leeway in what I teach them, so last week each day we would learn about a different country. I had great fun teaching them all about Ireland and teaching them some traditional Irish songs. When we were finished I asked them to make a poster that represented Ireland and below is what they drew. I have to say I LOVE their version of Saint Patrick and that they think he led the ‘snacks’ out of Ireland! Plus the fact that they drew Guinness as ‘Black Beer!’ is priceless. Kids are just the cutest.

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Masters Graduation

5 Sep

I was very sad to miss my Masters Graduation ceremony back home in Ireland this week, but as flying over 9,000km from Korea to Dublin for 1 day was definitely not an option, I just had to get on with my days work teaching cute little Korean kids their A,B,C’s!

I think the principal of the school felt a little sorry for me, so she spent the entire day today photo shopping my head onto other people graduation photos, then uploaded them into facebook. You can imagine my surprise and delight after a long days teaching, logging on to facebook to see these hilarious yet brilliantly photoshopped images of myself at my Graduation! She even got the colors right and somehow added the University crest to one of the photos too!

I may have missed the actual graduation ceremony, but at least I have some photos from the occasion! :D

Oh look, there I am at my University!

Oh look, there I am at my University!

There I am, looking the wrong way!1

There I am, looking the wrong way!1

With a lovely James Joyce quote!

With a lovely James Joyce quote!

I'm looking well! haha

I’m looking well! haha

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can ONE week REALLY change your life?

18 Apr

At the end of March I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Kolkata for one week to see  The Hope Foundation’s projects with street and slum children. Most of my friends and family know how hard I fundraised to make this opportunity a reality, but many of you don’t know the enormous effect it had on me. I know it’s a long post, but a LOT happened, and my ONE WEEK in Calcutta has heavily influenced a life-changing decision in my life.

Initial Impressions

DSC01399My initial impressions of Kolkata (previously Calcutta) were not what I imagined them to be. In the past whenever people mentioned Kolkata, images from the movie Slumdog Millionaire would come to mind; I imagined the streets to be full of beggars, young children walking around aimlessly, people knocking on car windows looking for money. This may have been a very naive and ignorant view, but that was what I imagined the city of Kolkata to be like. On arrival I was shocked, but in a different way to what I had imagined. I guess for people not well-travelled or the younger students on the trip, arriving into one of the poorest cities in the world could have been jaw dropping. However, and perhaps to my detriment, my extensive travels in Africa have toughened me up to the extent that very few things truly shock me these days.

The city of Kolkata was a lot quieter (although FAR from quiet…beep beep, beep BEEP!), a lot cleaner (although again, far from clean), and a lot less congested than I thought it would be. When you think of India, you think of people EVERYWHERE. Absolutely everywhere. So my first thought on arrival was, “Ehhh…where are all the people?!”
Being with a young school group, staying in a hotel, and travelling everywhere by private bus – I sometimes felt I wasn’t seeing the real Kolkata. I knew there was more out there, but I felt I just wasn’t able to see it.

Settling in – Something will ALWAYS shock you.

pigsThe two things that did shock me to the core happened after a few days in Kolkata. The first was the slums. I have never been in a slum before and everything about it was just awful. The lack of space, rubbish everywhere, pigs running around and sniffing through dirty water and rubbish, the overcrowding, the smell, the lack of access to adequate sanitation – you could see small children squatting to go to the toilet on the side of the road, or grown men just leaning against a wall or railing in broad daylight. It seemed few of the kids were in school as most were running around the slum, half-dressed, playing in the dirt or minding younger siblings. Everything about the slums made me feel uncomfortable, claustrophobic and just sad that people still have to live in such HORRIFIC conditions. You literally have no idea how awful it would be to live like that, with so little possessions, and little hope for a brighter future.

At first, even the HOPE projects within the slums couldn’t help take away this feeling of hopelessness. On arrival at the crèche/coaching centre, we found up to 30 kids in what seemed like a very small room. As it was nearly 40’c outside the room was very hot and stuffy, and I couldn’t believe how many kids were taught in that tiny space each day.
However after sitting down and interacting with the kids and seeing the incredible way the HOPE staff managed the student’s time in such confined space, it was truly inspiring. The students in this room were the LUCKY ones. They were learning, singing, smiling and laughing. They were getting an education which will lead to a brighter future, which is something kids NOT in the room will find extremely difficult to accomplish.

crecheThe coaching centres may be small but compared to the rest of the make shift building in the slum, they are actually quite spacious. Plus they also serve the community in more ways than one, as they double as health clinics in the evenings and at weekends. These rooms are little pockets of gold for the children and their families that live close by.

The second thing that shocked me was going on Night Watch. The HOPE Night Watch team is a team of 3 people (a driver and 2 ‘watchers’) that patrols the streets of Kolkata in a make shift ‘ambulance’ each night looking for abandoned or sick children or adults that may need urgent medical help. Driving through the streets of Kolkata at night was eye-opening. Suddenly, as if they had come out of nowhere, I could see that there were people sitting and lying on thin sheets of plastic everywhere. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. I don’t think I imagined there would be so many people living and sleeping on the streets. Or maybe I thought it was just individuals rather than WHOLE FAMILIES. It was really sad to see small children and babies curled up next to their mother with nothing to protect them.

woman cooking in slumWe stopped off at Howrah station and it was a real kick in the teeth to see all the people outside the train station, essentially homeless, with nothing to protect them from the elements. It was terrible to see how late these young kids were staying up, way past midnight, running around without supervision, without protection and most likely with very little to eat. We even saw a new-born baby, probably only a few weeks old, lying on the cold ground next to the mother, who was fast asleep. Anyone could have taken this baby. It was frightening to see, to witness, to know that people must live like this just to survive. We have SO much, and still complain, while these people have SO little, and yet still do not beg or ask for hand outs. While the night watch team did hand out donated clothes sent over from Ireland, each person who received something was SO unbelievably grateful and happy to receive something as worthless (to us anyway) as a baggy secondhand t-shirt.

These were a few of my favourite things….

hope hospitalOne of my favourite things on the whole visit was The HOPE hospital. I think it is an amazing place, and while one should be sad going around a hospital, I found myself smiling and found the experience really uplifting. You realise how lucky these children are, how great they are being cared for, and know there is a lot of hope for them to have bright futures. I actually found it very difficult to leave the hospital…either I wanted to stay there with them, or I wanted to take them home with me!

Meeting little Ganesh, the 4-year-old boy who was found by the night watch team in December severely malnourished and near death, was heart wrenching. But then hearing firsthand the enormous improvement in his health over the last 3 months, and getting the chance to play ball with him and watch him sitting up in his colouring was quite an emotional moment for me.

Visiting some of the homes such as Kasba, Tollygunge and even the drop in centre (Tollygunge Nabadisha) was a really uplifting experience and in a way reminded me of my love of children, my love of teaching and how being in an office can be hard for me as I am so far removed from the actually people we are trying to benefit.

So, can one week trip REALLY change your life??

I have always felt one should ‘Do what you LOVE and LOVE what you do’. It’s now time I started listening to my own advice.

holi festival calcuttaMy 7 days in Kolkata were TRULY LIFE-CHANGING, but strangely not in the way I originally thought. I thought I would return home with a renewed passion for working with a charity and for progressing my career in the Humanitarian field. However what actually happened was that my week in Kolkata made me re-evaluate my career choice, and my priorities in life. It made me realise I belong in a classroom and not in an office. Working with kids and not with computers. My biggest passions are working with children and travel so it’s time I combined the two and ‘lived the dream’ so to speak. 

I hope to return to Kolkata someday, with the Hope Foundation, and dedicate my time to working on the projects, working with the children and sharing my passion for life. HOPE is an amazing charity, and the people who work for HOPE are true angels in disguise. If you ever get the chance to visit Kolkata, make sure to look up The Hope Foundation. Who knows, it could change your life too.

The Scariest Place on Earth

8 Apr

With all the recent talk about North and South Korea, I thought I would share this post with you. This time 2 years ago I was living and working in Munsan, a town of about 100,000 only a few KMs from the border with North Korea. Here’s what I had to say about it at the time….

Sometimes as I lie in my new bed, in my new room in a brand spanking new apartment block, it’s easy to forget where I am. From the minute You step outside the door of your 21 storey apartment complex you are gently reminded EXACTLY where in the world I am. I have become so used to seeing soldiers everywhere that I have simply forgotten to write about them in my blog.

I am living in Munsan, which is a city only 20 minutes from the boarder with North Korea. Munsan is the last stop on the train line. If you go any further, and as far as I know only freight trains do, you will find yourself in the depths of a ravaged nation. A country that has been totally cut off from the outside world, has a secretive government and a nation that has been struck down with famine. Today, due to the government’s secretive nature and its reluctance to allow in foreigners, North Korea is considered the world’s most isolated country.

ers on the Train line that operates from the North Korean city of Kaesong, to Munsan, in the South.

ers on the Train line that operates from the North Korean city of Kaesong, to Munsan, in the South.

Soldiers are everywhere in Korea. At the moment I am sitting in a PC Bang, which is like an internet cafe except I’m the only person actually online, everyone else is playing computer games. I am also the only girl and the only perosn not in camoflage uniform! There are probably about 20 soldiers in here, as always.

When I walk down the street in Munsan, you see soldiers everywhere, just going about everyday life. As we are so near to North Korea, there are lots of high fences with barbed wire and look out posts, a lot of which it must be said are no longer in use. But the soldiers remain.

A South Korean Soldier checking the barrier, just north of Munsan.

A South Korean Soldier checking the barrier, just north of Munsan.

Of the three tunnels between North and South that were discovered in the last 30 years, one of them, the third infiltration tunnel, ends only 12km North of Munsan. I’m hoping to do a tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) next weekend, where you actually get to go down into the tunnels and experience it first hand. The tunnel is about 1,600 m long and about 150 m below ground. It is apparently designed for a surprise attack on Seoul from North Korea, and can easily accommodate 30,000 men per hour along with light weapons!! Eeeep.

Don’t ask me how or why exactly, but on Friday the other Munsan teachers and I ended up in a place Bill Clinton famously called, “The scariest place on Earth.” Anyone who knows me and knows my keen thirst for adventure will know I do not turn down offers to go to crazy places, in fact I LOOK for them.

Third infiltration tunnel, DMZ near Munsan, South Korea

Third infiltration tunnel, DMZ near Munsan, South Korea

We had befriended some US military soldiers who happened to live in the JSA (Joint Security Area) situated about 15 minutes north of Munsan and about 5 minutes south of North Korea!! The JSA is the only area in the country controlled by both North and South Korea. It is known to be one of the most isolated places on the planet, with stories of shootings and kidnappings rife. One of my friends said that she heard a story recently of someone’s grandmother who had been kidnapped for 5 days ‘just for fun’. This is no place to mess around in.

So off we went on our little adventure to what was once one of the most terrifying war zones on earth and a place still covered in secrecy and armed forces. The journey there was weird enough. We first had to cross the ‘Bridge of No Return’, a bridge lined with explosives so if any attacks or intrusions were to take place, the military could delay their progress by blowing up the only entrance into South Korea. We had to pass many checkpoints and often show our I.D cards.

We were given a mini tour of the army base, were bought a free breakfast and as the tour buses passed by (with each passenger paying 150 bucks each!) they waved at us as if we were animals in a Zoo or celebrities..it was very bizarre and we felt very out of place. We were been watched at all times, and that we weren’t allowed to take any pictures (Ooops!). It is a weird place, surrounded by mountains and green fields, and one of the first places I have witnessed birdsong and wildlife amoungst the army bunkers and look-out points.

Soldier in the JSA, North / South Korea

Soldier in the JSA, North / South Korea

On exiting one building we heard gun shots and looked at each other with frightened glances. Thank-fully we were told it was just the shooting range/practice range, but it was still somewhat scary. The guys flicked laminated pieces of paper at us, their “licences to kill’. These were no joke, they were real life licences to kill. They also showed us their guns, unloaded of course. A serious reminder of where we were.

We got to observe the army first hand, the rank system, how ‘higher ranks’ could smoke the junior privates and how their was a huge amount of respect to be found. It was quite a culture shock to us carefree teachers I must say and I was happy to head back to Munsan and my life as a teacher!

Missing in Action

23 Jul

So….You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been MIA for the last month or so. Life has been hectic to say the least and I have hardly has time to breath ket alone blog!! 

What have I being doing you ask? Well let me quickly summarize the last month…

  1. Had an interview (and got the job !) managing a language school in Cork for the summer
  2. In the space of 3 days I finished up my Masters course in Holland, flew home for my  friends going away party and my cousins hen party …and for training for my new summer job… and had an interview for another job with a Cork-based NGO.
  3. In the next 6 days I…Flew back to Holland, finished my final assignment, finished working in the Irish bar, packed up my apartment, said farewell to all the amazing friends I made in Groningen and flew back to Ireland once again.
  4. I walked off the plane and into a second round interview for the NGO job…and was informed the next day that….I had got the job!! So the next day I started my “other” new job which includes about a million hours a week minding, managing, dealing with, disciplining, helping, shouting, listening and anything else you can think of with 200 language students!!
  5. Last weekend I got to be bridesmaid for the 1st time, went cliff jumping with a friend, and had an allround awesome weekend. Next weekend is going to be equally great…why? Well you’ll have to wait and see!

So…sorry for not blogging regularly but I promise things will be back to normal soon enough!

Janet  x

Dear Diary- Marriage Proposal(s) !!

29 Dec

Dear Diary,

I’ve been too lazy to write the last few days. I get caught up in the moment as it is all so laid back in this part of the world. Sitting on our little porch, gazing up at the starry sky, listening to an old Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers Cassette(Cd’s have not found their way to this part of Kenya yet, it would seem) and watching the world go by. The temperature at night-time is heavenly and makes it so easy to pass the hours away gazing out on the dark desert, watching kids play in the sand, listening to goats farting(!!)…not a worry in the world.

The World Cup has started…it’s madness how Soccer truly is like an international language. The whole school sat in the hall to watch the match, even the traditionally dressed Turkana women were in on the action peeking in the windows of Lodwars bars, watching the TVs perched high on dusty stands, with crazy aerials sticking out from all sides of everywhere!

Oh the post office ran out of internet. “No you don’t understand, they RAN OUT of internet“, Beth said with a laugh. I mean REALLY? How do you ‘run out’ of internet?! We are going to dinner with 2 of the Fathers tonight in a hotel run by the Woman’s Centre….we had to order our food LAST night so it will be ready for tonight! Pretty funny…extreme advance ordering! I guess they only buy what’s needed on a daily basis.

The Nuns were telling us really scary stories about all the crazy things that go on here. They told us about the time they were shot at driving from Kitale to Lodwar, but had a lucky escape. It seems everyone carries guns here so idly, AK47s, huge rifles and Kalashnikov’s just hanging casually over someones shoulder is a pretty regular sight in Lodwar. Stories of hold ups in the bank, robberies and shootings seem to be so common to the Sisters that they simply laugh them off, saying, ‘That’s life’. They said they have given up telling people at home about the happenings here, the randomness and the harsh realities as people just don’t believe them.

I know just what they mean. As we were strolling home last night,taking a short cut across the sandy runway, looking up at the milky way, that lights up the path home, you have to take a minute to stop and pinch yourself. Is this real? The distant echo of a tribal full moon party rituals in the local village, sounds of screeching women, laughing and joyous songs right into the early hours of the morning. The same village we visited earlier today where we got swamped by over 200 kids. Totally surrounded and the only thing we could think to do to entertain 200 kids at once…THE HOKEY POKEY!! Imagine the sight; a poverty-stricken Turkana village in the dusty Northern Desert, traditionally dressed women adorned in beads and tartan wraps, watching cautiously as 3 strange ‘Mzungos’ (foreigner white people) knee-deep in sand and sweating from the hot African sun, we gathered their 200 plus offspring into a giant circle and proceeded to ‘do the hokey pokey’! An unforgettable moment.

OH! Beth got another marriage proposal at school today….I wonder how many we will each have after 6 weeks here?! One of her younger male students wouldn’t mind an older, western wife it would appear. I think we are all totally in love with Lodwar.

Dear Diary – New Friends

28 Dec

Dear Diary,

We met Brother Paul today from the USA. He invited us up to Kakuma some day to visit the UN refugee camp, with over 86,000 refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and The Sudan. These kinds of things are suddenly becoming a reality. You hear about them and see them on the News back home but never imagine you will actually step foot in them in real life. 

Paul and Bosco (2 local boys) chatted to us for over an hour in the compound. They are so full of stories about flying places with the bishop, and doing this for the bishop and that for the bishop. Not entirely sure how much of it is true, but they are entertaining none the less!

 We headed up to St Kevins, the school where we will be teaching later in the morning. They have a lot of facilities such as a science lab and computers – way more than in the school in South Africa which is strange. Classes have around 50 kids so half the size of my classes in South Africa. We will each only have 6 classes which isn’t very much..not sure what we will do for the rest of the day!

We met the headmaster, Father Louis, a rather abrupt, fiery guy. He was wearing just shorts and a t-shirt…not your typical school headmaster! Later we hopped into the backie and drove to Johns house, quite far out-of-town in a local village. He has a really lovely set up. We got home at 1 o Clock so had the whole day to relax.

We met a lovely Malaysian Nun in the guest house at dinner. She is living in a compound near the refugee camp in Kakuma. They have been broken into 4 times!! Men with guns and knives came and stole all the donations from the USA for local children and even all their clothes!! Who would rob from a Nun?! Madness.

I still cannot actually believe where I am living! Went into town a few times yesterday. There is such a great atmosphere. Everywhere, people selling and cooking, Turkana herding goats through the town, naked men sitting on the rubbish dump, children playing with old tyres or balls made from plastic bags. Everyone looking at us and shouting ‘Hello, How are you FINE, How are you FINE’ as if it is all one word!! All the elderly ladies sit around weaving traditional baskets while all the men, young and old, sit on upside down beer crates chewing tobacco and listening to booming congolese tunes. I feel like I’m living in a parallel Universe.

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