After an exciting few days exploring Mulu National Park we were back to work.  Though we’d recently finished a week of hard labor, many of us articulated that we were actually more nervous for the upcoming project: teaching English.
The school we helped is run by Borneo Child Aid, an organization that provides education to the thousands of children born inside the oil palm plantations who are not entitled to state education.  The need of this school is evident; the two teachers seem overwhelmed by the number of children (close to 70) and the resources they have are sparse.
On our first day we tentatively entered the classroom, watching not to step on any fingers as we walked between rows of children sitting cross-legged on the floor, looking up at us with beaming smiles across their faces. Standing in front of the class, admittedly intimidated by the 60+ children waiting for us to do something, we figured we should split the students into groups.  We then paired or grouped up between the seven of us, each duo or trio taking on a separate group of students.
Miles and I had the second-fourth graders.  Immediately we were impressed by their English skills.  They could confidently engage in simple conversation (introducing themselves, telling you their age, asking how you are, etc.) and knew a good amount of vocabulary.  When we stepped things up a notch we were even further impressed by how quickly they were able to pick up new material and their eagerness for doing so. Memorable moments included: the students getting very excited about their times tables; practically fighting with each other to be the one to write the answer on the board; having to correct a student when she labelled eyes as toes in her notebook and not being able to contain our laughter afterwards; smiling for the hundreds (no exaggeration) of “selfies” the kids requested to take with us; overhearing a few of the students practising the morning’s lesson – how to tell time – at break; walking into our classroom after stepping out for thirty seconds to find a little boy climbing on the wall, then watching Miles attempt to console the boy, brought to tears after Miles made him get down.
The others had similar experiences.  Florence, Mikaela and Will had the kindergarteners and first graders. The language barrier between them was more apparent (as were the behavioral issues), making their task significantly more difficult.  Their first day crawled along as they struggled to keep their students in line and figure out how they could possibly teach these children English.  Meanwhile, Lucy and Alice’s students – the fifth and sixth graders – would be model students if not for the few trouble makers who tarnished the group’s reputation!  Lucy’s teaching skills have been described as “annoyingly good” by Will (probably just jealous).
 When we weren’t teaching we were helping out in other ways as well as engaging with the local people.  When class ended we resumed our construction work to build a restroom adjacent to the schoolhouse.  Already proficient concrete-mixers and brick-layers, this task went very smoothly — that is until a storm struck, making one of our walls collapse before the cement had dried.  After the day’s work we took part in some friendly athletic competition with the locals.  We held our ground in football, but were put to shame in badminton and volleyball.
Dinners were spent laughing while we shared funny stories from the day: students repeating Alice when she asked “What is this?” instead of answering her question, Mikaela not being able to take herself seriously while she attempted to discipline the rambunctious five year-olds, Will bringing a boy to tears because he forgot to draw a star on his paper.  By the end of the week, having gotten over the initial challenge of the project, we had come to truly enjoy our time working with Borneo Child Aid as well as the sweet students at the school.

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