This month’s Spotlight on Service features the work of Clara and Lily (Grade 12) with the Reading Engagement and Development (READ) English Literacy Program at the Kopila Valley School in Nepal. Having both previously volunteered for literacy programs in Sri Lanka, Clara and Lily took on leadership roles with the READ Program in Nepal over the summer. Service Ambassador Sasha (Grade 12) interviews Clara and Lily to learn more about their service.
Please tell us about your service in Nepal over the summer.
My co-leader, Clara, and I started an English literacy program at the Kopila Valley School. We called it a book club to engage students in discussions that entailed questions relating both to the book we were reading and their everyday life. The students ranged from Grades 5-8, and we also had two student leaders from the Kopila Valley School who were there to participate and help us with any translation/communication barriers we might face. Clara and I decided to split into two groups as we had two books to cover and we each had two of the student leaders with us. Clara had the graphic novel “Guts” by Raina Telgemeier, and I had the graphic novel ”Drama,” also by Raina Telgemeier. The reason for choosing graphic novels is because we weren't sure of the students' reading levels when it comes to English, and the pictures associated with the words would give them context as to what they were reading. As the leaders, we were also there to help when they had questions about what any words meant and to lead the discussions. We then led a series of writing workshops with the older kids to prepare them for any writing exams and college essays they would have in the future.
What led you to volunteer at the Kopila Valley School in Nepal?
We were extremely grateful for the opportunity to be invited to work with the children at the Kopila Valley School as we have known the organization for about seven years. We were introduced to the non-profit organization BlinkNow after the earthquake in Nepal in 2015 and became quite close with all the children in the children's home and were able to visit a couple times before leaving Nepal in 2017.
What did a typical day at the program look like? What activities did your volunteer program consist of?
A typical day of the program consisted of meeting with all of the kids and bringing the books up to the classrooms we would be using. First, we would take attendance just to make sure that no one was missing and we could go ahead and start. We were careful to always start a session with a summary of what we would be covering as we found it to be helpful for the kids to know what would be happening step-by-step, and at this point we could clear up any confusion surrounding the plans. There was then some individual reading time for about 15-30 minutes, during which we would walk around just to make sure no one had questions about what a word or phrase meant. After the reading time, we would have some guiding questions surrounding any themes or topics in the chapter covered but we left it pretty open as we wanted the kids to be able to discuss anything and raise their own questions for the group to answer.
Did you face any challenges in your work?
There were definitely challenges as it’s never easy to get 40+ kids to focus on the tasks, but everyone was willing to learn and was excited to be there so the only main challenge we faced was with communication. Although a lot of the kids spoke English pretty well, there were some phrases that were lost in translation. It was a great help to have two of the older kids to be our designated student leaders, and they were great with all of the translation that had to happen.
What was the most rewarding part of your work at the Kopila Valley School?
The most rewarding part was seeing how excited the students were each session and seeing how much each student was really participating. A lot of the kids were just excited to read more books, whereas some were more into the discussion and often posed questions that connected the group as a whole, allowing for everyone to get a chance to share. It was rewarding to see the impact we made and how passionate the students were when it came to reading.
What is your greatest takeaway from your volunteer work there? What new skills did you learn?
Our greatest takeaway from the volunteer work we did at the Kopila Valley School is to embrace every opportunity presented to you. If we never took the opportunity to go back to Nepal and run the program, we would have never had the experience to connect with these kids and create a space that was safe for them to read and participate in discussions. Each student was excited to participate, and their engagement in our discussions was extremely rewarding to see. Through this experience, we learned a lot about managing groups of students and communication especially with the slight language barrier struggle.