This past summer, I had the privilege of working with Suas in Kolkata, India. There, I worked as a teaching assistant in a school, one of 14 young volunteers from Ireland working with a grass-roots NGO, Sabuj Sangha, through Suas.

While in Kolkata, I was witness to the real effect that aid work can have.  It has really been eye-opening to see the effect of education and learning on the children of my school.

Learning is more than education

While on my volunteer placement, I realised the difference between learning and education. Education involves facts, figures and assessment. It is a hard, quantifiable business, the importance of which can never be forgotten.

Learning, however, is so much more than that. It is as much the teacher’s job to foster learning as it is to aid education.

As a volunteer, I came to India to teach English to underprivileged children of Kolkata and that is exactly what I’ve done.

Every day, I saw more children grasping the alphabet, honing the shape of each letter on a chalkboard and saying simple phrases more clearly and confidently. These are small steps, but important ones. Each of them gives a child a sense of achievement, purpose and ownership of their own life.

In Kolkata, I saw children take their learning into their own hands as they discovered that poverty need not, will not, own them forever.

Lessons go both ways

As much as I have taught the children that school can be a force for change, and an enjoyable one, I know that I have learned as much if not more from them.

When I brought energy, they matched it a hundred times over. When I showed perseverance in study, they showed resilience in life. When I showed encouragement, they showed me empowerment.

Among all the things we learned from one another, the greatest was joy. The school’s teachers, my teaching partner  and I taught the students the joys of school and learning. In return, they taught us the true meaning of joy.

Some of their smiles were immediate and some were hard fought for, but each when it came was beautiful.


Author: Séamus Murray

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