You Can Do It!

by Divya Handa, CVA Intern 2012-2013, facilitator at Bennetto Public School

It’s been a delight to work with Divya this year! Here she tells about finding meaning in her volunteer experience.

It’s like learning to ride a bike… My inner dialogue is working hard to compel me to try. It will be hard at first, but you can do it… it’s easy…. The dialogue wins and I decide to go in. As everyone stares at me, scrutinizing my every move, I introduce myself as the weekly volunteer for this Grade 8 classroom. The teacher welcomes me and finishes her lesson, while it slowly occurs to me that no one is paying attention to her – instead, they are all staring at me.

Lesson plan completed, the teacher calls me over and lets me know which students I need to focus on. Slow and steady… balance… balance. I walk over to the student pointed out as most in need and try to start a conversation. She isn’t interested. I try again and she asks me to leave since she can’t concentrate when I’m annoying her. CRASH!!! I’m down… Ok, it’s ok. I’ll try again… no one learned to ride a bike on their first try.  I move to the next student and try again. Nope. He definitely doesn’t want my help, but instead looks angry that I tried! Ok, quickly moving to the next student before this bike falls over again.

“So you’ve never been to prison then?” a tiny boy in front of me asks.

“Nope,” I answer. “So how far are you on this assignment? Can I check?”

“Everyone I know has been in prison. That’s what happens when you’re from here,” he continues, deliberately closing his book as I try to check it.

When the bell rings, the teacher expresses how grateful she is for my help. It’s strange because I am positive I haven’t done anything. When I gather together the other volunteers in our CVA group, everyone complains about how awkward the first day was in their classrooms. We discuss these students’ attitudes and, gradually, our conversation diverts down a different path as we wonder why these students behaved as they did. We talk about how we would have behaved and where we learn our behavior from. Not far into our reflection, we no longer feel drained; rather, we can’t wait to come back next week and try out new ideas to help students to be more comfortable with us. It’s important to remember that no one learns to ride a bicycle their first time… I really should try again… next time will go better.

Looking back on the year, I am very thankful to have decided to keep trying. Initially cold and defensive, I would now describe my students as nothing short of warm, sensitive, and inquisitive. I now understand that their behavior on day one was a response to having strangers constantly walking in and out of their lives. Attention to their needs and no-strings-attached warmth is clearly lacking from their lives. They crave encouragement and approval.

Each week I help out in their classroom, they fight to get my attention with millions of questions for me. In their own ways, each one of them has taught me a unique and important lesson. In turn, I hope to inspire them, so that they can understand that while the road ahead may be difficult to travel on it is not impossible.