As of last February 2018, I have been volunteering with FEDICE in Ecuador for 8 years. My main job is teaching English to over 100 preschoolers between 3 and 4 years of age. I work at 8 preschools sharing my native language twice a week for 25 minutes at each class. These schools are in small, indigenous communities near Otavalo where I live.
It’s a great experience because I get a lot of positive feedback both from the children and from their teachers. Since I have been doing similar work here for years, what do I have to say that is new? I guess I can brag a bit that I have gotten better at what I do, especially in the last several years. I have other things too - I have a week before a group of youth from Texas comes to finish a construction project at one of my pre-schools. Today, I went hiking!.
Getting back to why I am really here in Ecuador as a volunteer, I would like to share a few stories about my English teaching for FEDICE. The parents really appreciate that their children have some opportunity at an early age to experience the English language. Native Spanish teachers here rarely have the opportunity to learn English in an immersion experience. So, the emphasis is on written English, not spoken. Pronunciation and oral communication is largely ignored in the schools. In my eight pre-school classes, we work on oral communication. I know that the children will probably forget much of what I teach them, but I am confident that if they study English in the future, the pre-school experience will jump start their ability as young adults. And the scientist experts say learning a second language improves brain function so I feel I am making a difference.
I have a class where a few of my students have confused my name with “morning”. I sometimes hear “Good Mar-ree-leen!” instead of “Good Morning!”. Since this is quite an ego-booster, it is almost hard to correct them.
This spring, we have been singing a song that goes “Hello, hello. How are you?” Two weeks ago, I was checking to see if my students still understood what “Hello” meant. If they did not get it, I reminded them it meant “Hola” in Spanish. The next class with some of my younger students, as I walked in, I heard someone singing “Hola, hola. How are you?”
In my classes, the children laugh at my videos, they enjoy my jokes, and we overall have a good time. But in one of my classes, I think of the students as teenage preschoolers. They look at the videos with deadpan faces and rarely sing the songs. When we play games, a smile is unusual. I know they have a very good teacher, because I have worked with her at a different pre-school in the past and the other children were very responsive. Oh well! This class keeps me humble and reminds me that I am not a rock star.
God has led me to this place and my work here keeps me young. As I drive to work 4 days a week, I look at the surrounding mountains, the large lake I pass (and the road, of course), and pray that I make a difference in the children’s lives, that my classes are captivating, and that the English experience makes a difference for the children as they grow and mature.
Thank you for your interest in the big wide world and thank you for your help in making many areas better places through Global Ministries.
Marilyn Cooper serves as a Global Service Co-worker (Long-term Volunteer) with FEDICE (Ecumenical Foundation for Holistic Development, Training, and Education), which is based in Quito, Ecuador. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.