Name: Pavithra Arul Raja
Course/University: BSc (Hons) Accounting and Finance, Sunway University (Graduated)
Experience: Volunteer teacher with the UNHCR
When asked what drove me to volunteer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), I am unsure of how to respond. The truth is, I just liked the idea of being a volunteer. So, I googled up ‘volunteering opportunities’, and the UNHCR came up during the search. I signed up – it was as simple as that.
Volunteering as a teacher with the UNHCR has been an experience that holds great significance in my life, and I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to do so. The wonderful people I had the pleasure of meeting and getting acquainted with, the children I taught, the highs and lows of being a teacher, and the lessons I learnt along the way will never be forgotten.
The power of patience
My stint as a volunteer teacher taught me the importance of being patient. As anyone who has taught will know, teaching requires an inordinate amount of patience. This is especially difficult if it is not a trait that one has been blessed with, and such was the case with yours truly.
My students had short attention spans and varying levels of capability. To top it off, their mood affected their attitude towards the lesson. My knee-jerk reaction to this was to reprimand them because it felt like I was trying so hard but my students were not giving themselves a chance to learn.
However, it was not long before I realised that my impatience was to be blamed. When I reprimanded them, they shut me off.
Consequently, I became more aware of the importance of being patient so that my students would learn. That being said, I chose to focus less on my need to teach and more on the learning process as a whole.
A different take on matters
I also realised that I had to find ways to engage my students by making the classes more interesting. So, I attempted a different approach. I had them tell me what they wanted to learn in the next lesson. I once had an entire lesson dedicated to fun facts about New York City, after which I got them to write 10 sentences on what they found interesting about that city.
Also, instead of the usual teacher-centred lessons, I facilitated games of Scrabble, Monopoly and charades. I learnt to work through problems I encountered in my class by trying different approaches. It triggered a conscious effort on my part to exercise flexibility when faced with a problem.
Volunteering also gave me the chance to view the world through a different lens. The stories I heard from my conversations with my students and their parents widened my worldview.
More often than not, we live in a bubble until we meet others who have led different paths in life either by choice or by circumstance. It gave me a broader perspective of my life and the world, thus altering how I perceived problems.
My volunteering stint at the UNHCR has taught me that one needs patience to connect with people and to encourage them to open up to you. It has also taught me to be creative in solving problems.
After all, one cannot expect to solve problems if the same approach is used time and again simply because the very idea of change proves to be an uncomfortable thought.
Finally, as cliché as it may sound, this experience gave me a valuable lesson on life itself.