Friday, April 26, 2013

Volunteer Highlight: Jordanne Bonfield, New Roots ESL Teacher

I was a CSA member with New Roots before I started volunteering. Some friends and I looked around the city for a CSA and we came across this program in 2010. Last year I saw on Facebook that they were looking for ESL teachers and I thought that sounded like a good opportunity. Many years ago in college, I taught ESL in Bosnia over the summer. So it was something I was a bit familiar with. It’s not necessarily that I have a lot of skill in that area, but I thought I could give it a try and see how it went.

I have spent about three hours a week from January to March volunteering with the program. I prepare and give an ESL class to a small group of women who are farming in the program. I teach different topics each week about things that the farmers will need to know in English. For example, we worked on the names of vegetables and the planting calendar. The students knew more about the farming aspect, and I knew the words in English, so we were teaching each other. That was one of the things I loved the most- seeing the planting guide and seeing when people plant their seeds. I am pretty illiterate in the gardening world, but after looking at the picture-based planting guides that the farmers use, it made so much more sense. I’m exposed to it week after week, so I’ve gained more of an idea of what it would take for me to grow some of my food at home. Another week the lesson was on cooking and recipes and learning how to explain to your customers how to cook what you grow. A lot of the cultures don’t use written recipes, so we started talking about the differences in how people cook things. That class produced a lively discussion that was unplanned but created a lot of cultural exchange, and for me it ended up being one of the highlights of my volunteer experience.

It is interesting, because personally I’m not super passionate about gardening. I do love working with people from other cultures. I realized that I wasn’t dedicating any time in my life to doing that. I was wondering, “Why do I invest so much time in things that aren’t important to me, when I’m not investing time in something that I love?” We live in a culture that’s really busy all the time. Everybody is so busy. Most people feel like being busy just happens to them and they don’t have a choice, but I feel like it is my choice. We all spend hours doing things like surfing the internet, not producing anything of benefit. So through this experience I am trying to become more disciplined and dedicate my time to something I feel will have a positive impact in the world.

Making the time to volunteer and honoring that commitment has been the most challenging part of the experience. There is sort of an internal battle each week of whether I will make it there or not. I think about if the ESL class members are going to come, and if they want to be there. But even with the snowy weather, at least one person has showed up. So I re-convinced myself every week that I needed to show up and be there too.

I live here in the area, and I really wanted to be more involved in my community. And I have found that volunteering is good for the community, good for the farmers and good for me. So my motivation was really to un-stick some of my selfishness, and I can say that my soul felt at rest in a different way because I was doing something beyond myself.

One of the most powerful things I have experienced during my time as a volunteer has been to really get to know some of the women I work with and to see them shine. One student in particular is extremely shy in class. Sometimes I wondered if she understood what we are discussing in class, and then she would surprise me by understanding complicated concepts like using our imagination to fill out a sales record for a sample market experience. Even though I knew this before, I experienced over and over firsthand how even though someone may not be proficient in English and able to explain oneself very clearly, that does not mean they don’t know what they are doing. Although this particular farmer was almost painfully shy in class, I saw a whole different side of her when she was working in the greenhouse with the other farmers. She is a leader! She is extremely competent and confident in her farming, and she helps the other women. So I was able to see her skills and abilities and her strengths in a way that I would not have seen just by meeting her at market. In fact, I think about how I’ve seen people at the farmer’s market get so impatient with her or other farmers, and I wish they could see these women in their element. They would not doubt that they know what they’re doing, and I think they would not make as many assumptions about them despite their challenges communicating in English.

For me, volunteering with New Roots has been one of those experiences that makes me want to become even more involved. It has also been personally empowering for me as well. I feel like if these women can accomplish so much with all of the challenges they face, I can accomplish what I set out to do as well! Whether you volunteer here, or somewhere else, it’s just a good thing to do. I’ve been able to connect more deeply with my neighborhood, and I’ve learned where my food comes from along the way.

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