My students 3, 4 en 5

My students 3: students from university

Twice a week I teach a group of female students from the Arab American University of Jenin and the Al Quds Open University. I have no idea where Yousef got these students from: the vastness of his network never ceases to amaze me. The lessons take place in a little classroom on the roof of the office building in which the cultural centre is located.

It’s a nice group of young women actually (with an unexpected male student every now and then). They have to try hard to overcome their shyness in speaking English, but the lessons are interesting and fun anyway. Over the weeks a small group of students remained and it’s striking to see how determined they are to learn English. Unfortunately I’m only here for a short period of time, so I have tried to explain to them that I can only give them some basic tools and inspiration in order to be able to continue improving their English independently. If they don’t have enough time to follow an additional course I have advised them to read simple English books or magazines or to watch an English film with subtitles in Arabic, but always with a dictionary right next to them, because there’s no development of language skills without expansion of vocabulary.

My students 4: local civil servants

After having taught so many female students it’s nice to teach English conversation to a group of men for a change. We started out with ten students, but with every passing week their numbers decrease. The group consists of local civil servants and they are all over 40 or even over 50, so I think they are really participating for fun. Because of their age they are not shy or inhibited anymore and they give much more elaborate answers to my questions so I’m being educated too! For example, about the consequences of the occupation or the refugee status of one of them. The men in this group are having a lot of fun about themselves, each other and me!

My students 5: women of the UNRWA

I didn’t know what to expect when I had to teach the women of the UNRWA for the first time. I was waiting in an empty classroom with all my books in front of me. I was counting on 10 students with basic knowledge of English. However, the classroom remained empty until the secretary came in and requested me to follow her. We went to another floor and we stood still in front of a big door. The sound of what seemed to be a thousand chattering women came through that door. Suddenly the secretary opened the door and she said: “Alright, here are your students, good luck!” I entered the room and I was standing in the middle of 30 to 40 women between the ages of 35 to 55, some of them with little children sitting in their lap. While I was walking towards my desk I was seriously wondering how to handle this group. When I started speaking English they looked at me as if I was talking Russian. It was clear that the lesson I had prepared didn’t match their abilities so I had to improvise very quickly to keep the lesson instructive and captivating. Fortunately the lesson was about food and I had enough simple words on my list to talk about. The ladies found it wonderful to make a guess at the translation of all kinds of food. The secretary that performed as my interpreter suddenly left the room and that posed another problem for me, because “the show must go on!” Fortunately one of the women did speak a little bit of English and she was willing to act as my interpreter. That’s how we got through the lesson. 

The next lesson about clothing unexpectedly raised laughter among the women. They are all dressed in long traditional black gown-like dresses. I started the lesson with a vocabulary exercise based on an image of an English woman indicating the names of her clothing. One of the pieces of clothing the English woman is wearing is a skirt that reaches just over her knees. The more papers I handed out the louder the murmur and uncomfortable giggling became. In the meantime the secretary was hanging over the desk with laughter and she didn’t know how to look me in the eye. When I took my seat next to her again I asked her curiously: “What’s the laughter all about?”. She said: “They think her skirt is too short!” Well, I hadn’t thought about that for a single moment, I must admit!

Let me give some background information as to this group: De UNRWA is a UN organisation that endeavours to help Palestinian refugees (I can’t say it any shorter). One of the ways to improve the situation of the refugees is the employment projects. One of those employment projects is using hay. Women from the camp are being taught how to make products out of hay. The UNRWA employs a group of women for a month and pays them a salary of (I’ve been told) 450 dollars. After one month they have to go home and a new group takes their place. For their gatherings the current group is allowed to use one of the rooms in the office building of the local branch of a political party (see blog: “Searching for students”). This political party passed them on to Yousef and Yousef……to me

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