ADVOCATE BLOG: A Volunteer’s Perspective

By Holly Richter, PLF Advocate at Knar School in December 2013 who helped create the organization’s first spelling bee.


Arrival at school; lots of smiles and friendly faces. Immunization day (measles and rubella)! Scared kids were in the line holding their arms and grinning nervously. A little girl came to first aid with an insect bite on her foot; swelling and heat and pain!

photo 1 (1)I met Chenda; a beautiful woman who juggles teaching, nursing and even- literally juggling- her brand new baby Levisha. Happy, smart, hard-working. Chenda helped me pick the word groups for the week. I was glad to have her knowledge and input in order to get the most out of the experience for the kids.

These are Grade 6 kids. Some of the girls are as tall as me, whilst others are tiny.

My first class with Chenda’s group was a hit! Several kids correctly spelled all the words by the end (and to much applause from their peers). Lots of happy faces, big laughs and good technique and comprehension. They seem clever. My second class with Sreynich has newer students with less confidence. It’s harder to integrate ideas with formal learning; however, we had one girl get through the whole list for the day! Smashing success.

The spelling bee concept seems to work well- we introduce the word with a lot of movement, colour and interaction, then we recite or write + spell it, repeat. We mix it up and repeat this process for the other words- playing games or singing songs sometimes to ensure it’s still fun. Lots of integration is vital and of course repetition. Again, again, again! I get the kids to stand up the front; I have a water bottle that I use as a microphone which is a hoot- -they go nuts over my cheesy lines and ebullient facial expressions.


Progress at school has been excellent; we’ve been super interactive and as the week has progressed the kids have OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgrown in confidence and ability. It is rewarding work, yes, but more important than that old cliché is the fact that these kids are in the right place. This is why it’s very hard seeing children beggars and children working in the fields; at school, the kids are where they belong. They are happy, naughty, clever, cheeky and enthusiastic just like any normal school kid. Children beggars, however, are tired, and will range from very smart and enthusiastic (the girl on Pub Street is an unfortunately excellent example) to shy and sad. PLF Australia Coordinator Jane Dinnison tells me the Pub Street girl is getting very clever, very sneaky. She knows how to work the tourists. She is maybe 11 or 12 years old; I met her last night at around 10pm. Her scam was to approach us and, picking up our Australian accents, ask if we had seen the necklaces from New Zealand- Maori style- because she had lost hers. She began to fake some tears and exclaim that she’d lost it somewhere around this area. Of course this is all a lie; less savvy tourists will strike up a conversation and feel sorry for her, throwing her a dollar or two to help replace her lost necklace.

Today one of my boys from the second class was far less involved than normal; he is often one of the best spellers and a model of energy for his classmates. I feel he may have been tired or perhaps a little bit sick. It is hard to see him resigned, deflated and lacking his usual spirit. However, he did have a little smile from time to time.

I got a real thrill today in class when we did occupations and individually they each wrote ‘I want to be a __________’. The first group all chose doctor, nurse, teacher or tour guide. However,IMG_5026 in my second group, we had a couple who chose writer, one lawyer and even one scientist! It filled them with joy and reluctant pride being able to write what they wanted, and my (excited) reaction upon seeing their answers only furthered their enjoyment.

The kids are so excited for their spelling bee tomorrow; I fear some will be knocked out rather early as they don’t realize they’re allowed to clarify the meaning of a word; instead they rush through thinking something is correct without taking the time to process and guarantee their answer. The look of horror and then laughter on their faces when they realize they’ve spelled something wrong is priceless; their classmates point and with shocked expressions will giggle and yell their way through the correct spelling. It is not about shaming but instead about enjoying that adrenaline rush, that realization that this is what competition feels like- AMAZING when you win. It is hopefully enough of a base to give them incentive to continue learning and enjoying to learn interactively.

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