By Andrew Phong:
The New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant in collaboration with Western Sydney University’s Immersion Experience in India has given me the invaluable opportunity of viewing the world in a different lens. I was exposed to challenges that I was previously unaware existed, which contributed to my overall growth in both the personal and professional levels.
I have always had an open perspective and positive mindset when it came to education, continued learning and development. That however was heavily challenged when I was on my internship with The Akanksha Foundation in Colaba, Mumbai. I was thrown into the deep end. I did not anticipate teaching on my own, to a class of over 40 students no older than 5 years old that did not know a single word of English. I was shell shocked and started to second guess my capacity to succeed in this role. I spent hours of extra research, study and consultation with senior staff members at the NGO and school after my first class to further my understanding and better coordinate my classes; to ultimately be the most effective and engaging teacher possible for these young bright minds.
My next few classes were incredibly more structured and fluent as I implemented innovative solutions to my previous challenges such as flash cards, drawings, pictures, animations and play-doh to not only engage the students but also contribute to their learning. I have a history in health and fitness so I applied this skill to assist the local P.E. Teacher at the school in running soccer and cricket classes to elder students on a few occasions.
The amount of passion, love and joy that was expressed by every single person, I was fortunate enough to have cross paths with, was truly amazing. Their warm and friendly nature allowed for a strong supportive network when I was up against the wall during my 1 month stay in India. When I was afraid that I would not succeed, they reminded me that failure is a blessing from the Gods so we can become better from our mistakes. The many stories that I have been privileged enough to have been told from the locals and my new network of professionals, have inspired me to reach even further heights in my own life. From Noorjaha’s story (the school aid); traveling 2 hours each and every day to work to support her child’s education following her husband’s passing. She has no other family members and often finds herself working too much to be able to establish deep and meaningful connections with others. She is often left feeling isolated and alone yet she is able to muster the courage, strength and resilience to keep moving forward with a smile each and every day to achieve her goals. This was truly enlightening. This has made me believe that I should not let my very own limitations restrict me from taking on life’s challenges in order to reach my dreams and aspirations.
Rehan, the little school boy in Year 3 tells of his dream of becoming a doctor and studying medical science in an attempt to get rid of cancer within the world. He dreams of a day where loved ones are not taken prematurely due to terminal illnesses. His Mother was tragically taken away from him when he was at the tender age of 2 and the only lasting memory of her is a photograph of him and his Mother clapping in their little home during what I believe to have been play time after dinner.
Together with my professional development in areas such as intercultural communication, planning, lateral and innovative thinking, resourcefulness and leadership, my personal growth was dramatically affected in an extremely positive manner. From getting to know everyone that I got into contact with, I have gained a different perspective on the world and have started to understand the ironic beauty of life itself. It has reinforced the significance of time, education, love and a positive attitude in my everyday life. It is too often that we become sheltered from the world’s poorer conditions and end up taking the simplest of human rights for granted. Education, clean food, water and a roof over our heads are a given expectation in our lives but these simple human necessities are only distant dreams for our friends from across the border. If they can move mountains, so can we. Ed Begley’s words “We, who have so much, must do more to help those in need. And most of all, we must live simply, so that others may simply live” captures this notion of giving back and growing as a human being for the better of our world. I strongly recommend the Western Sydney University Cultural Immersion experience in India to all students. Believe me, you will experience a transformation unlike any other. Thank you for this wonderful life changing opportunity, I am forever changed.