Tadaaaa!!! Time for an introduction on the new ELI member 🙂 Hey, that’s me! So here goes: I’m Krishnee, the new Operations Manager of ELI Africa (Mauritius) and I’ve joined the wonderfully motivated team at the office in Calebasses a fortnight ago. Granted that I’ve been part of the organization since hardly 2 weeks and counting, but trust me folks when I say that the experience has been very enriching. Now, my becoming involved in the activities of ELI Africa is what I would call ‘serendipity’. I happen to be a good friend of one of the driving force behind ELI and some time back I chanced upon a youtube video of her being interviewed about her role at ELI. To be honest, I’m not easily impressed, so it must have been quite a big deal because I was utterly bowled over by my friend’s engagement towards something as totally selfless as working for an organization which has so successfully implemented the concept of experiential learning to under-privileged children in several regions of our island. My friend’s pure motivation towards these kids could be read in her sparkling but tired eyes and right there and then, I decided that, come what may, one day, I would be part and parcel of the organization which she supported so fervently.
But then for months after I had made myself this firm promise, things happened and life moved on at a frenzied pace. Things to do, places to discover, people to meet, and commitments to attend to…However, even with so many things I had packed in my schedule, at the back of my mind, my subconscious kept reminding me that something greater and nobler had to be accomplished and that I would not be at peace with myself until I’d done that. So, it happened that by the twists and turns of destiny, the flamboyant president of ELI Africa contacted me through a common friend one fine day and after a brief rendez-vous where we discussed Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence, experiential learning, the joy of teaching kids, among other things, I was taken on board what I call ‘the grand project’, much to my surprise and delight! Vedant’s excitement and drive were contagious and on my way home on that day, I kept dreaming about my contribution to ELI Africa.
The next day, I was at the office in Calebasses, a village in the North of Mauritius and one which was quite unfamiliar to me. However, after getting directions from random people, three bumpy bus rides, and a long walk in the blazing sun, I managed to find myself in front of an inviting entrance and a genial watchman who smiled at me with kind eyes. I was directed to ELI Africa’s office and thus began my acquaintance with Sam, the affable American ELI scholar and Cedric, the hugely knowledgeable and versatile ELI Program’s officer. I was immediately warmly welcomed while my curious eyes scanned the room and caught sight of an aquarium filled with gorgeous fishes. Sam then announced that we also had two baby turtles at the office and I jumped about in excitement like a 4 year old. Fish and turtles! Awesome!
After the initial excitement, it was time to get down to business and Cedric was kind enough to patiently go through everything that rhymed with ELI Africa. He explained the logistics, the technicalities, the aims and objectives of ELI and introduced me to the ELI Corps programme, which was basically where I was expected to provide my assistance. I have to admit on the outset that my experience of teaching underprivileged children is somewhat limited in scope. I have had the excitingly fun experience of occasionally helping children living in my village with their revisions/homework and I’d volunteered to coach students for their Alliance Francaise exams. However, what I am called upon to do here at ELI, is a far cry from anything I’d previously dealt with. The task ahead was daunting but as the Lord says “nothing is impossible to him who believes!” So with hope in my heart and Cedric’s tremendously useful tips, guidance and encouragement, I plunged head first into the vast ocean of experiential learning.
So, let me just run you people down about what I usually spend my time on at ELI Africa these days. Basically, I prepare, edit and finalize lesson plans for our newly-opened Centre at Bois Bois OSTE. Initially, I have been assigned the task of preparing the lesson plans which are used by the ELI volunteers to coach ‘Std 5 and Std 6’ students at the Roche Bois Centre. I have to admit from the very start that the lesson plans on which I’m working on had already been developed by the very abled Cedric with invaluable help from our brilliant aide, Neha 🙂 I was genuinely impressed by the level of detail of the lesson plans. Additionally, the amount of planning and brain-storming that went into the elaboration of activities and games included in each lesson plan, is highly commendable, to say the least. With part of the lesson plans so well outlined, I did not have a hard time to re-organize, edit, modify and convert the materials into the final version. It was so much fun to go back to my childhood days and re-learn grammar: stuff like nouns (I did not even imagine that there could be so many types of nouns!), adverbs, adjectives, verbs, similes, metaphors, and so on. I racked my brains about ways to render lessons more interesting and funner and again, Cedric was most graceful in suggesting ideas. Team work with Cedric is satisfying because he does not know the meaning of NO!! He’s always ready with advice, suggestions, and opinions. I guess that working with all the wonderful kids at ELI Africa’s various centres in Mon Gout, Arche de Noe etc, during the past months has increased Cedric’s sense of curiosity, sharing, and soaking up knowledge which are some of the innumerable qualities of children.
On my second day as a member of ELI Africa, I was lucky enough to attend the opening of the ELI Centre at Roche Bois OSTE. I took it as a very good sign for our programme when I had to wait a whole hour on a bus stop in the middle of nowhere only way to the Centre. While waiting for the bus, I grew panicky and nervous, being fully aware that the place I was stranded at was deserted. However, what calmed me down during that moment, was the feeling that I was on my way to a better place; a place where children laughed and played about, where hope echoed merrily through the walls; and where change and renewal were welcomed guests. My sinking heart turned into a song of hope and it was not long before the bus finally came. The second good premonition was that while I got lost in Roche Bois, walking up and down the street, looking for the Centre, a pretty 8-9 year old girl offered to lead me to where I needed to be. Her dad, looked amused because he himself was not able to direct me to the OSTE Centre when I enquired about it. I agreed to be accompanied by the spunky lass. Children can teach us a thing or two about life, like for instance, to never lose hope and keep walking even though we’re lost; to always be curious and amazed by what the Lord has created for us humans; to revel in each and every moment of this beautiful adventure; and to always trust in our instincts.
Once at the Centre, I noticed that the parents and children were already waiting for the induction to begin and that Cedric, Sam and two volunteers were chatting away like old friends. Then after a few minutes, the lady who manages the Centre joined us and we were all very much pleased with her enthusiasm towards our project. Genuine enthusiasm can never be faked and she displayed such charisma and also love for the children that we were further encouraged. At this point, Vedant also arrived, and had in tow Meshima, who is our new volunteer and coincidentally one of my friends. The parents were briefed about the raison d’être of our programme and also pressed to ensure that their children attended the lessons on a regular basis. Our motivation was spurred on by the fact that the parents present demonstrated their interest in our programme. The induction then moved on with the much more interest part: interacting with the children! There were about 15 kids, ranging from 8-12 years old and seeing their innocent faces gave us an uplifting feeling.
Vedant and Cedric proceeded to explain to the children how we would help them pass their exams by providing an alternative to the normal school system. They were told that, with our volunteers, learning would be different, more interactive and healthier. Deepa and Zainab, who were the volunteers for the day, introduced themselves to the eager kids and I for one, was truly surprised by these two teenagers’ zeal. I felt proud knowing that young Mauritians are passionate about things that matter and that the ‘facebook’ generation as we’ve dubbed them, also have a deep sense of citizenship. As long as the youth care for future generations and involve themselves selflessly with others who are less fortunate, then there is HOPE for the world. As it was the first day and that many kids recruited by the Centre were not present, we decided to do an informal session instead of the volunteers starting off with the first lesson plan. The younger students who were not meant to be part of our programme as the latter targeted a specific age range, were monitored by myself, Meshima and Sam and what an experience it turned out to be! Some of the kids were shy but finally warmed up to us and let us into their little world of alphabets, games and playfulness. We were having such a fun time that we didn’t realize that it was getting quite late in the evening. We decided to call it a day, and caught a final glimpse of the children who had been a ray of light for us during these 2 hours.
On my way home, I could not help feeling all warm inside; I was serene, happy and fulfilled. The kids laughs, their broad grins, their innocence, their shining eyes, and their naughtiness. Everything about that day filled me with a sense of accomplishment, a feeling which lingered days after I’d experienced that special day in Roche Bois. I realized that although I had joined the team at ELI Africa to help underprivileged children achieve their full potential, I had gained so much more in the process. I was giving so little, but was receiving so much more in return…