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School may be out for the summer but learning has not stopped for volunteers working with public school students across the island to level up their English skills.
Dream Big, which started in 2014, is a community organisation that works under the umbrella of the Saar Cultural and Sport Club, Isa Town Cultural and Sport Club, Nuaim Youth Centre and the Isa Town Social Charity Society, to supplement the English language education offered by public schools and build a love for the language in the next generation.
Hanan Hammad, founder of the initiative, told GulfWeekly: “We teach English as a second language to underprivileged students from public schools in a fun and simple way. English is an essential tool for success in most majors at university. Our vision is to have a generation of students from public schools with a love of English. Nurturing a generation of bilingual students will hopefully help open many doors including better job opportunities that will raise the financial status of the family and eventually society as a whole. Our dream is to educate our students and allow them to dream up whatever future they want.”
During the summer, the organisation is running a virtual summer camp and book club, including drama, arts and crafts as well as story reading, to help children learn in a fun environment.
It also gives its 300-plus volunteers, many of whom are English teachers and school leaders, an opportunity to hone their skills and offer their expertise.
Hanan added: “We have around 700 students spread over our four branches and around 200 students enrolled in the summer programme. Our volunteers do a great job in setting up teaching material that is fun, exciting and fruitful. This keeps our students enthusiastic and eager to learn.
“Our book club started with a small library at the Saar Branch to allow students to borrow some of the donated books in English. Then, we launched our book club for our volunteers and for anyone who loves to read. They choose a book every month and meet through Discord application to discuss and share their thoughts.”
“Our volunteers try to do their best to maximise their engagement with students. The only problem is some of them don’t have laptops/computers or have poor internet connection, which we are hoping to overcome with a donation campaign.”
The team, of which 60 volunteers are most active, currently works over Discord, in 16 hour-long classes of three to four students per volunteer, for two hours every day from Sunday to Wednesday.
Discord is a free instant messaging and video conferencing application, designed for building online communities. Dream Big’s Discord server allows administrators to create invite-only “classroom” channels with three to four students and a volunteer, preserving the student to teacher ratio on which the organisation prides itself.
Volunteers with any background are welcome to help out. They hail from a spectrum of backgrounds, including education, banking and finance. The only expectation is a decent grasp of the English language. Apart from that, all instruction is provided, and teaching materials are prepared and sent before classes.
One of the volunteers, Penelope Miller-Smith, who also works as the elementary school principal at Bahrain School said: “As a volunteer teacher I believe we are helping develop more confident and competent English literate children who will have the skills to enter post-secondary education in any field of study. We are helping give government school children a level playing field to their counterparts that may be able to afford private education. It’s about opportunity and equality in education to make Bahrain children globally competitive.
“I enjoy seeing the students gain confidence and feel articulate in English, until they are not afraid to make mistakes and have a growth mind-set.”
The organisation has also been partnering with AIESEC, a global international university student programme that brings international student volunteers who want to teach, to the kingdom.
Another volunteer, Ali Mohammed Saleh, a student at the University of Bahrain (UOB) studying English language and literature, added: “I have been involved for the 18 months. My favourite part is that these classes become a hub for the community where we can give back and help the next generation. “And when we had an AIESEC volunteer presenting, the students got to virtually travel with them and learn about other countries.”
Husain Aref, who is also studying English language and literature at UOB said: “Confidence is the biggest thing I have gained from this experience, and stress and anxiety have faded over time. Most of all, it has given me a higher, noble purpose.”
To find out how you can get involved, follow @ dream_big_bh on Instagram or visit dreambigbh.com