Chetna Patel - IT Teacher in Sri Lanka
IT degree and numerous software & design courses
28 years of experience working in computing.
Chetna travelled to Sri Lanka for 3 months, using her experience of working with computers to help teach IT skills to children in a disadvantaged area. This is what she had to say about the project:
"I have traveled to many different countries, both for pleasure and to work, but none have given me such a satisfying or rewarding experience as my time spent in Sri Lanka. I wouldn't change a single bit of it, and I'd return tomorrow if I had the chance. It has been one of the most rewarding and strengthening things I have ever done. I have left a lot of new and close friends in Sri Lanka, and would love to see them again. A beautiful country with beautiful people in every way, I challenge anyone who would not fall in love with the country and its people. I loved it – a real pearl of the Indian Ocean."
The Project Partner
Ms. Kaushalya is a teacher who runs the Mawala IT Centre in Wadduwa, a small town in the Western Province of Sri Lanka. The IT Centre was established in 2003 as a means of teaching computer skills to underprivileged children. Originally situated in Avisawella (70km south-east of Colombo), the centre was relocated to Wadduwa in 2004 and now provides free classes for local children on topics such as Microsoft packages and computing theory. Ms. Kaushalya is an experienced teacher who runs the centre on her own so she was able to offer advice to Chetna and help her to work with the children. However, she also appreciates skilled help and was keen to let Chetna run her classes the way she wanted to. This situation meant that the two worked well together and they were able to improve the quality of classes at the IT centre.
Role of the Volunteer
Chetna’s role at the IT Centre included the following:
- Using her knowledge of computing to teach IT skills to children aged between 6 and 18 with class sizes of up to 130 pupils at peak times during the summer.
- Taking extra sessions with A-level students in order to share her experiences of working in IT and helping them in areas such as preparing CVs, career advice and interview techniques.
- Working with Ms. Kaushalya to assess and improve current methods of teaching and the content of her classes, based on her experience of what a modern professional needs from an IT training course.
- Marking exam papers at the end of a three month teaching course.
- Taking on non teaching-related tasks and projects such as fund-raising and organising the purchase of equipment etc.
- Helping to raise awareness and secure the long-term future of the centre by obtaining sponsorship from overseas aid agencies and businesses.
Benefits to the community
Chetna’s work alongside Ms. Kaushalya helped to provide the following benefits to the local community:
- Children of all ages who live in poverty with little access to education are given the chance to gain IT skills that they can use in the future.
- The pupils are provided with the plenty of social interaction to help them develop as people.
- The chance of children becoming involved in crime is greatly reduced because they feel part of a large family and are encouraged to act responsibly.
- The children are provided with life skills that can be used in the future outside the centre and in the community.
Chetna stayed with a Sri Lankan host family during her time in Wadduwa who provided meals and taught her about local customs and heritage. Her new Sri Lankan family comprised of the mother of the household, Jayani, the grandmother Achchi and two young daughters Vidushi and Tarushi. They were incredibly welcoming and keen to learn about Chetna’s way of life. When Grandma Achchi, who could not speak English, taught her how to make Sri Lankan roti for breakfast, Chetna was able to demonstrate western and Indian cooking techniques, much to the delight of her hosts. The two daughters were excited to have a new volunteer staying in the house and Chetna helped them with their housework, taught them English and took them on expeditions to the local market. She was also lucky enough to be introduced to her host mother’s extended family and joined them on weekend trips to Panadura beach and the Leisure World resort. Perhaps the best indication of her experience is that she is still in regular contact with her host family today.
Working at the IT Centre also gave Chetna the opportunity to meet lots of Sri Lankan people and find out about their culture. She became something of a local celebrity with hordes of local children calling her name and stopping her for a chat in the street every day after work. She faced problems when she first arrived at the centre because the students were too shy to talk to her. In order to solve this she regularly got the class together before the end of the day and held general discussions to get them talking. Over the course of these sessions they gradually grew to trust her, improving their English, teaching her how to count in their language and sharing stories about each other’s country and local area. It was through exercises like this that Chetna became a part of the local community, learning about their way of life and telling them about her family and friends back home in the UK.