Soon after the Tsunami, aid, relief, and clean up efforts were well on their way. It was during these days it became apparent that eventually life would have to return to normal. The tourism and hospitality industry which was a major employer of the affected areas was devastated. Yes, buildings and property had been damaged but more importantly a large sector of the labor force had perished and these individuals could not be replaced as easily as bricks and mortar.
Discussions were held with operators in the tourism industry and it was revealed that the single common denominator in employing individuals was the ability to communicate in a second language, preferably English. It was decide that Impaktaid would launch a pilot project funded by the Brighton Hove Soirée Rotary Club via Mr. Fred Newman and implemented by 3 volunteers with ESL or educational backgrounds Oliver Trestain, Emily Marshal and Fiona Jackson.
Project Aim: The central idea at this pilot stage of the project is fairly simple – to teach English to young, unemployed and impoverished adults and subsequently help them to find jobs in the local tourist industry. There is also a view to developing a teacher training program in the future.
Location: Hikkaduwa. A popular seaside town with a large tourist industry, Hikkaduwa was hit badly by the Tsunami. It was decided that an area with a tourist industry was a logical choice for such a project and Hikkaduwa was chosen because of connections that we had there - the owner of one of the largest hotels who is also the head of the local Hotel Association. Talking to him it was clear that there was great potential for a project of this kind and he personally stated that he would interview students who had completed our course. The hotels, he said, are desperate for staff with English skills.
The Class - It was decided early on that small class sizes were essential. You can teach a class of 40 badly or 15 very well. We are, therefore, aiming for classes of between 10 and 15. Students should ideally have passed O Level English. This will mean that they will probably be able to read and write basic English and have an understanding of basic English grammar. This is an essential platform for the intended teaching style. We also had students involved in the project who were studying for their final exams at school but were struggling with English. We accepted them as they would like to work in the tourist industry after they finish studying.
Due to the nature of English teaching in the country they will probably be very poor speakers and that is the area we will be focusing on primarily.
The Curriculum – The target is not to produce wonderful English speakers with grammatically flawless writing. In fact, writing as a skill will almost certainly be ignored completely. The sole aim at this stage is to produce students employable in the tourist industry. Students will need to be able to interact with customers on a professional level: to ask and answer topic-based questions (the topic being there current employment area – hotel, restaurant, train station etc.). They will also need to have enough command of the language to be creative and to be able to speak outside of their topic area parameters. They will almost certainly have to engage customers in polite and perhaps random conversation. The students by the end of the course also will have a grasp of basic grammar, most importantly the different forms of the present, past and future tenses which are most commonly used.
Problems Encountered: - One of the main problems that we encountered during the course of the project was the aspect of attendance. We commenced the course with 15 students but for the most part, in lessons we would have an average of 10. This was sometimes disheartening when you are teaching important topics and sometimes meant that to overcome this problem we had to do extra revision classes in the morning to ensure that all the students were at the same stage. We also found that some students progressed at a slower rate than others. Certain students could not read English either which meant it was more difficult for them to perform in the lessons. Hence we started a morning class too. We were lucky in two respects: firstly we had students who were dedicated enough to learning that they were more than happy to come to both morning and afternoon lessons and secondly that we had more than one person teaching the course meaning that we had time to plan two lessons, make resources and teach two lessons per day.
Another problem that we encountered was “Sri Lankan time-keeping”! We quickly learnt that whilst the lessons were 2 hours long the majority of students would turn up between 10 – 25 minutes late. Whilst the lessons could overrun to a certain extent many students had to catch busses, so to overcome this problem, if we started late we let the lessons overrun by a maximum of 15 minutes. During the time that we were waiting for all the students to arrive we played word games or used conversation cards so that the students who had arrived at the correct time were not wasting their time
The Success Rate and the Future: - We had an extremely high success rate. Of the 15 original students, 14 of them graduated on the 28 th of April. Four out of the 14 graduated with special honors as they had shown particular determination and motivation. All the students enjoyed the course and hugely benefited. We had 4 students get a job as a direct result of the course. Dinesh got a job in a restaurant in Hikkaduwa, Maduri got a job with World Vision, which without a grasp of English would not have been possible. Srimal has been promised employment in the Amaya Reef Hotel (a very prestigious hotel in Hikkaduwa) as of next season, and Sudesh got a job at Coral Reef Hotel. As with all the big hotels in Hikkaduwa, for the correct candidates there are good career prospects and in particular I think Sudesh (who is an extremely intelligent young adult, from a tsunami camp, who reads the National Geographic) will progress far. The managing director of Coral Reef Hotel said that there are good career prospects, even opportunities within the accounting department.
Other students who participated in the course are either still studying, or wanting to follow other career paths, for example Nadeesha who is now training to be a nurse and Danusha who is applying to go to Korea to work. The added skill of English on a C.V goes far in a country like Sri Lanka . Without the opportunity these people had to learn English, many of them would not only be living in a tsunami camp, but they would have no job prospects and not know how to develop any skills. By teaching them English we have not only made them employable, but we have also given them a sense of worth, confidence and empowered them. It is important to give more young, impoverished people the same opportunity.
Unfortunately this program has been suspended due to lack funding.