Volunteer name: Angela West-Sharma
Volunteer job at Lha: German Teacher at Lha
By Angela West-Sharma
“Do you meditate? Do you practise meditation?” The question of the young Tibetan, who caught me at the Temples Kora, walking the wrong direction (not clockwise) and patiently answering my questions about buddhism, struck me and made me smile. Yes indeed, I practise meditation, but not sitting and contemplating, but often doing what ever I do with intensity and inner joy. From this point of view I can say that I spent the last five weeks at McLeodGanj in a nearly constant meditation, teaching German at Lha to wonderful, attentive, zealous and hardworking female students, preparing individual lessons, feeling and enjoying the creative inputs growing out of the fertile contact, hiking in the afternoon and at the weekends and so coming in touch with the vibrant atmosphere of this fantastic region, a meltpot of different cultures, inspiring and fascinating at the same time. There was no single moment I felt annoyed or exhausted.
Working back home in Germany as teaching/learning assistant for children with special needs (ADD/Aspergers/Autism) and spending my afternoons with tutoring lessons, I felt attracted by the idea to do some volunteer work as tutor in McLeodGanj. How did this idea find the entrance into my mind? When I came in March this year for the first time to McLeodGanj, together with my family, I took a cup of tea in a small café, watching a Dutch volunteer teaching English to a buddhist monk, the table next to us. Inwardly I was ‘co-teaching’, thinking about the way I would try to communicate, to explain and to motivate. From this moment on, my radars were on reception, and so it was only natural that later in the afternoon the sign of Lha at Temple Road seemed huge and enormous to me, just signalising the word ‘volunteer’ to me. I took a picture and a few days later back home, my first action on my computer was to check out the possibilities to spend my summer holidays volunteering with Lha. And it worked out pretty fine. The website was already very informative, the contact with Paul and Rabsel very friendly and helpful and so I organised my visa, flight and accomodation, always sure that this will be the only thing I would like to do this summer. It was like a hidden rope that pulled me towards India, McLeodGanj, Lha.
The day after my arrival I had the chance to attend a volunteer gathering and I was asked if I would be willing to take a German language class with about 5-6 students, beginner level. So I never did class-teaching, I embraced this challenge and agreed.
On Monday I went to the Lha Office, now the sign seemed pretty small to me, and met Paul in person, having a good conversation while waiting for the students to start my first lesson. As the stuff couldn’t inform all of them in time, I started with two amazing women, who had already little knowledge in German. During the week the class encreased and in the end there had been 7-8 students. In default of workbooks for the students I started to develop my own curricula and over time I gained a lot of joy and was gifted with many ideas by doing so. Searching the internet, using the big treasure of diverse books and picture dictionaries in the Lha library and with the help of the friendly women copying every morning my worksheets and self-made reading texts, our class could progress day by day. The different levels in German and English language knowledge and study/school education backgrounds weren’t a disadvantage at all, as one might think, but a big chance to build up a supportive and empathic group, in which everyone could contribute her best. In a way a big dream of my life came true: teaching and learning in an individual way, not following some instructions and stiff curricula but being flexible and creative by taking the inputs from the students. Yes, at the end of these rich and intensive five weeks, I questioned myself if I was right to go back to a teaching system that often is harmful for students, that forces them to give up own interests and to learn subjects they are not really interested in, just to get good marks. Why should I support a system I don’t agree with? Wouldn’t it be better to find a way to teach and learn in an atmosphere of voluntarily engagement and commitment out of interest and self-motivated, like I found it at Lha? Now I am on my way back home to Germany, taking with me the memories of fertile, joy-and playfull lessons and warmhearted students who shared with me not only lessons but also laughter, familystories and their heart. My backpack is filled with farewell-gifts and my heart reaches out to all the new friends I gained in my time as volunteer – inside and outside Lha. The experience of this learning and teaching in relation makes me ‘meditating’ about a way to continue what I started here in McLeodGanj. Thanks to Lha, preparing the opportunity to experience a different way of learning and teaching.