The woman’s voice was lost in the echo of four large groups of exuberant English students from Fundación En Vía’s bi-weekly classes in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca.
The students had just finished their two hour class and were putting away books, chairs, flash cards, crayons and all the other accoutrement from the day’s lesson.
“Disculpe, son estas las clases de ingles? (Excuse me, are these the English classes?)
I turned to see who was speaking and saw a woman of about 30 peering at me shyly.
“Yes!” I said to her enthusiastically in Spanish. “Are you interested in studying?”
“Not me, it’s for my son, Alejandro. He is eleven. He REALLY wants to learn English!
I smiled, remembering what it was like to be eleven and have “ganas” to learn a language. Having grown up near the Tijuana border, I was bitten with the language bug after my first adventure to “the other side” and it has never stopped biting. Now, as a Spanish professor from Maui, Hawaii, on sabbatical in Oaxaca, I’m gaining many new insights about language acquisition and Oaxaca culture through my volunteer work in the En Vía English program. The students who attend range in age from eight to sixty, and their “ganas” to learn English takes on a wide variety of forms. Some of the older students come because they feel a pressing need to be able to communicate with potential English-speaking customers, while many of the younger students are eager to improve their skills in reading and writing as well as speaking and listening.
In the two months I have been volunteering I have seen so much progress in the students that I have taught, and it has been very gratifying. But what has been most gratifying is feeling the trust and affection that grew between us. I will take this deeper understanding of these peoples’ lives and our connection back with me to Maui, where it will be infused into all the Spanish classes I teach.
As someone who has been coming to Oaxaca regularly for the past 22 years, I have to say, this volunteer experience has been on of the most engaging and valuable things I have done here. I recommend the experience to anyone with a love for teaching, a desire to learn cultures outside of the city of Oaxaca, and who are able commit to two afternoons per week for a month or more.
Viva En Vía, y Teotitlán del Valle.
By Molly Fleming – Volunteer, English Teacher