"I am Zoe Papineau, from Quebec, Canada. I plan to pursue a Bachelors in Social Work, beginning in the next academic year. I always wanted to travel and the Community Service Program of AFS gave me the opportunity to travel to and work in India, and experience Indian culture for 5 months. It is a really good opportunity for me and I would like to show you how it will help me to become a good social worker and to grow as a person too.
I choose to work with children as a volunteer, because I knew it was going to be fun, while also being challenging. AFS India placed me in a school for blind students in R.K. Puram sector 5, Delhi, run by the National Association for The Blind (NAB). This organization is a NGO and it is supported financially by the donations it receives. Many volunteers also attend daily, to give their quality time here. I was really happy about it, because it was unexpected that I will have the chance to work with blind persons and I knew that I would learn a lot from this experience. The reality was better than what I was expecting.
I worked there from Monday to Friday, 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM, from the 1st of February till the 11th of May, 2016. My responsibility was to teach English and help the students with difficulty during the class. During the summer holidays, I work in the computer lab to help the blind indirectly. I convert the normal books into Braille books with the help of a program on the computer and a special printer. During the month of June, I worked as a volunteer in the St. Thomas Church for thechildren’s summer camp. I would teach them Bollywood dance, because I’ve learnt this dance in Canada. I can say that I am really involved in the society and I feel really useful. In Canada, it’s impossible to be a volunteer like this because I don’t have time. It’s a beautiful chance for me and I learn a lot from these experiences.
In Blind school there are two units. The preparatory unit has 6 classes, each with around 10 students and one teacher. These classes are to prepare the blind students to go to normal school. The other unit is immature unit which is for multihandicap students. I was working in the preparatory unit with a blind teacher, Ms. Shalini Matthew. We really help each other during the school. For example, when I was reading an English story she translated it in Hindi to help the students understand the story. I really admire Shalini ma’am because she has the patience to teach the kids every important thing. She showed me that the completely blind people are able to do so many things. You wouldn’t think that going from one place to another can be difficult or to fold your clothes, or to wear your shoes, or to wash your lunch box; but for blind students it is. Shalini ma’am takes the time to teach those simple things that can be very useful for the students and I helped her with this.
In the class, teachers teach the Braille reading and writing and one method of counting numbers. As some students have difficulty to follow the rest of the group, they need extra help and I am the one who helps them. Some students need to practice the fine motor activities, with the help of puzzle games, to be able to read Braille. I organized many activities for the students. At the beginning I thought it’s going to be difficult to teach them because of the language gap, but they learnt English really fast with the help of my translator Shalini ma'am. At the end, I was able to have an English conversation with the students.
In my time at the Blind School, I took part in many activities and also introduced the students to some new activities. For example: taught them English songs about body parts, taught them basic English (colors, numbers etc.), read stories in English etc.
Finally, I really enjoyed my time at the Blind School; the kids are always full of energy and you don’t have any choice but to be energetic too. I think, I made a difference and that my time invested there helped them a lot. I also learnt many things there, like Braille, Hindi, how to teach, how the blind people function in their life. I believe I grew up a lot from this experience.
In the beginning, I thought it’s too difficult because they don’t understand me and they never listen to me. I thought, I didn’t have the patience to be a good teacher. Then I thought, I will wait and after some time I will be a good teacher; this is perseverance. I have learned to be patient; if you have to repeat more than 10 times, 20 times the same activity with a student, its fine. They don’t have the same capacities of you and I have. It was difficult to say bye to them; I appreciate them and they really appreciated me. In the beginning the students called me “Zoe madam”, and at the end they called me” Zoe didi”. I hope they will remember me as I will remember them.”