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Teaching Basic English to Vulnerable Women

On Fridays we explain independent clauses, but on Mondays and Thursdays we taught (until recently) an entirely different kind of English class.  We traveled to Gisozi, the site of one GG project started by Evariste in 2008.  The Community Vocational Training School teaches tailoring to vulnerable women (widows, orphans, and prostitutes), and in October we attended the graduation of this year’s class of 24 women, many of whom are using this marketable skill to leave prostitution or free themselves from dependence on an abusive husband.  At the reception, we were drinking Fanta and eating bread when some of the women asked Evariste if we could teach them English.

Rwandans celebrate most occassions (at least weddings, graduations, & birthdays in our experience) by sharing Fanta and some bread. On the left is Evariste, who founded CVTS after being trained by GG and receiving seed-funding for the project. On the right is our Country Director Marlene, and the far left is a graduate who no one realized sneaked into the picture :) 

 

A few days later, Christina and I said yes.  Although we receive at least two requests per day for English lessons (taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and teammates are all eager to keep pace after the country’s 2008 shift from French to English), we decided that this class fit with our project because it could improve the graduates’ employability.  If a tailor can speak enough English to take measurements of and negotiate with tourists and ex-pats, she or he will be quite popular.  (Everyone knows Josephine, the go-to English-speaker in our market.)  So, we agreed to a month-long class, thinking that was enough time to teach some occupational English.

Teaching women who have never been to school is not as difficult as I anticipated.  It took a long time for the one or two illiterate girls to copy from the board, letter by letter, and the general pace was pretty slow, but most of them grasped the concepts the first time around.  They are very eager learners.  They took notes on everything, and somehow, between sewing, cooking, and caring for their families, they always found time to do the homework.  No one complained about writing on their laps while perched on wooden stools and chairs that collapse without warning.  For good lighting, they dragged the one-legged blackboard out onto the front porch of the school.  We hadn’t quite figured out yet how to prop it up and on the first day of school, it may or may not have careened forward onto me mid-explanation of ‘I am’.  A blackboard falling from the sky was a first in all my school experience, but some things are apparently international: the know-it-alls sit in front, the shy ones never raise their hands, and there was a class clown, Josiane.  Looking back, I’m impressed she let that blackboard incident slide… by the end all someone has to do was accidentally say “I am a boy,” and she had the female offender collapsed in giggles.  The laughter would die down until someone piped up, “Are you a boy?” and we all deteriorated again.  Our classroom management skills may be lacking, but it’s ok—they’d mastered interrogatives!

We teach an English class twice per week to vulnerable women who learned to sew as a way to a better life. With basic English, they will (hopefully!) get more clients and have a better chance of landing a steady job with a cooperative. Our classroom was outside on the porch of the sewing school, since there is no electricity inside. The blackboard is missing a leg, chairs often collapse, and neighborhood children eavedrop outside. 

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