One early morning, as we few of us were idling before the first lecture for the day, Rtr. Praneeth appeared out of nowhere, looking thoughtful. Bit late to university, having arrived after teaching Maths for 2 hours, early in the morning to students of his former school, he explained and sat down ready for a serious talk. Before revealing what was in his mind, let me give a brief description of this particular rotaractor. He is one of our Community Service directors, well suited for the position owing to his constant enthusiasm and passion in setting things right in the society, be it an issue faced by his colleagues, a threat to the environment or simply any sort of improvement, the people living around us could use.
This particular morning, his mind was dwelling on a request made by his former school’s principal (whom he respects much and considers an idol in his life) with regard to the current grade 11 students of Prince College- Kotahena, for which he needed our help. He had been told that the students who were to sit for their Ordinary Level examination this year, showed weakness in their English and reluctance to improve their status with regard to the language competency. Could few university students come and help these children to at least pass their exam? The question was directed to us and was met by an enthusiastic “yes!” from those at the table.
Since a proper plan and help from many were required, at the September board meeting, we decided to make it our next, brand new Community Service project. Project chairs were appointed (both female, Rtr. Achani and Rtr. Nethmi), Whatsapp groups were made and work began. Deciding a suitable name for the project took a considerable amount of time. Out 05 suggestions, one which received the highest number of votes was finalized through a Whatsapp election, held on the 19th of September (which was again a ‘first’ for the year)
Thus, project “Hello English” was given life!
Every Tuesday and Friday, 5-8 rotaractors rushed to the bus halt in front of the faculty, after a quick lunch, to catch the 155 – Mattakkuliya bus. (Missing the 1 o’clock one meant having to wait another hour for the next. Let us take a moment to appreciate all those who made it on time) After a half an hour journey, the ‘teachers’ for the day would get off at Kotahena and walk the rest of the way up to the school. Warmly welcomed by the principal himself or a teacher, the group was directed to one of the classes upstairs, while the students filled into the empty seats from nooks and corners of the playground and halls.
The couple of hours that followed were very busy indeed. Numerous questions were answered, mistakes set right and new words taught, while pacing around the class. The youngsters constantly took us back in time to our school days and reminded us that time flies but very few things change. Not that they were perfectly well behaved and enthusiastic to be seated in the classroom for two more hours, learning. Having started their work at 05.00am in the morning, ignorant of how much their principal and his dedicated staff were determined on each and every one of them passing this hurdle in life successfully, many squirmed in their seats, sending us pitiful and exasperated looks. Yet beautiful were the unguarded smiles that spread across their tired faces as our rotaractors tried to lighten the atmosphere by being friendly and making jokes, smartly combined to what they had to learn.
Before sending them home, we did not forget to make time for a friendly chat. A take-home message was given from our experience, along with the homework. Having gone through this same period in life, when O/L seemed tougher than A/L ( 9 subjects vs. 3 subjects) and you had no option but to pass with flying colours, either to go to a new school or to go ahead with any other plan for the future, we were able to reach out to them and offer them assurance along with understanding that was more powerful than advice. Words cannot express the feeling that tapped our hearts as they knelt down to worship amidst the surprised protests, expressing their sincere gratitude before running out. It surely served as a driving force behind the project.
For seven consecutive weeks, our rotaractors along with few volunteers (Ganguli, Dhanushka and Sandara who showed interest in the project and offered to help by joining us), visited the school to share our knowledge and experience with the Grade 11 students of Prince College, trying our best to improve their competency in English while making them like the subject. Before heading back home, having ‘isso-wade’ and taking a selfie were also two mandatory tasks taken care of.
Days flew and the examinations for both the parties drew closer. Owing to term tests and semester-end exams just around the corner, project “Hello English” was concluded on the 09th of November. We wished our students of the past two months the best in the upcoming exams and bid farewell. As we walked out of the school gate that evening, a little sadness lurked in the heart but it was soon shadowed by the happiness of all the memories made.
Special thanks to Mr. K.M.G.Bandara, the principal of Prince College, one extraordinary individual with a good heart, for having faith in us and giving us this wonderful opportunity to serve the community.
-Written by Rtr. Nadeeshani Ekanayaka-