At the start of April 2007, I set off for Dawu. In the course of the eight-hour bus ride from Xining I got to know an impressive landscape, alternating between snow-capped mountains and huge red, yellow and green crags. I also saw my first yaks and prayer-flags; I had reached Tibet! The “roof of the world” is an immense land of mountains, rotating prayer- wheels, yaks and Tibetans on motorbikes.
Dawu lies to the south-west of Xining at an altitude of 3,800 metres and has around 13,000 inhabitants. Around 90 percent are Tibetans, the rest are made up of Chinese and Muslims. For roughly six months now I’ve been teaching English at the First National Primary School of Machen. There are 621 pupils. I’m the first foreign teacher and everyone thinks it’s fantastic that someone would come from so far away to be at their school. Like many of the teachers here, I live at the school and share a patio with another teacher and her husband. They see to it that I lack for nothing. Immediately after my arrival, I went shopping with the Principal, internet was installed in my room and I have everything else I need.
Communication was very difficult to begin with and body language was the main lingua franca. Tibetan is difficult to learn and as one might expect, English is hard for them.
Now my Tibetan vocabulary is growing all the time and there are two teachers of English who don’t speak it fluently but can translate this and that. So, English was being taught here before I arrived. The textbooks they use are difficult for the children and also the teachers don’t really know how to use them. Everyone involved sees English more as a pain in the neck than as a fun language to learn. After sizing up the situation, I started to use a more playful method of teaching, with lots of games, assuming no practical knowledge of English on the children’s part. Meanwhile, the two English teachers went on with their classes and I was active in supporting them. A new approach has been worked out for the teachers and, after consulting the Principal, new books were introduced after the summer vacation. In the longer term, more support for the teachers will be very important. What’s been done so far is just a start, a lot more can be done! It’s a fantastic experience to live and work here for a while. Life as a temporary resident in Tibet is delightful! While you are going about your daily activities, you see and learn about the way of life in a land which is so high, so beautiful and so remote from the West. The children are keen and it’s good to feel that you can make a difference for them. In a short time many people have become dear to me. That will make it difficult when I have to leave soon.