The organisation ‘Big Change’ works in Moscow to support the educational needs of young people who were or still are in care, either in foster homes or institutions. Institutionalised children receive almost no education, have no state support once they age-out at 16, and do not have the skills to support themselves. Friends House Moscow has partnered with Big Change for 20 years and at present supports the work of the “English Club”.
The primary purpose of the English Club is not to teach English. Instead the goals are broader, to develop communication skills with other students, teachers, and volunteers; social skills
such as proper behaviour in various situations, finding information, presenting it to others; self organization and planning (keeping one’s word, coming on time); and subject knowledge and general intellectual abilities. But learning English is good, too!
Club sessions are held twice a month, with up to 8 students and up to 6 volunteers in addition to the teachers. Interaction with the volunteers is an important part of the education process for kids who may not have much contact with the outside world.
The sessions are informal explorations of English vocabulary and usage employing various visual aids and games. Each session has a different theme. At a recent one attended by visitors from the FHM Board, the theme was ‘Emotions and Feelings’. The students worked together to look at pictures and say which emotions were depicted. They then made up phrases about their own feelings at the time and asked each other questions about how they were feeling. They had different levels of understanding and were of varying ages. However each student was able, with encouragement from Olga the teacher, to build up sentences.
Board member Susan Clarkson writes: “As visitors, we wondered if our presence might be intimidating, but it wasn’t at all. The atmosphere was very relaxed and some of the less shy students began asking us questions about ourselves and how we were feeling. Soon the room was full of excited chatter as the students tried out their English skills. Some of the younger ones were a bit shy but I loved the way most of the young people plunged enthusiastically into trying out their language skills.”
As students learn new vocabulary and take part in presentations, they become better able to express themselves and listen to others. It is just part of the work of Big Change to give students educational and personal goals that were non-existent in their previous institutions, and the opportunities, encouragement and support to achieve them.