Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

First published: ABC OPEN

Warruwi kids were very excited about the Our Day film project with ChildFund Connect, where we got to work with cameras to film bits of our daily lives. But what was really special was what we learned about the other kids and the connections we made.

Our students from Warruwi School, here on South Goulburn Island, are among 300 children from across the Asia-Pacific who have taken part in Our Day, a film project that documents a day in the life of children in different parts of the world.

Using pocket video cameras, our kids joined in with kids in Laos, Timor Leste and Vietnam to film moments in our day-to-day lives over a period of weeks.The footage we all took was then edited by Clinton J Isle into a short film that is a captivating journey through childhood in different countries.

The main idea of the project was to link children in Australia with children in developing countries and enable them to connect and learn with each other using video and other technologies to communicate.

So how excited were we to screen our film here on Warruwi!

With a BBQ beforehand, we had the screening in the office of the school where we set up our speakers and screen. Setting up for 60 people, we ran out of room and little kids were sitting on the floor. Parents, family,and friends of students who were involved were there. Before the film we screened outtakes not in the film and a project the boys in the class worked on earlier in the year on how to play a didgeridoo – which the little kids all across the school love when it is shown.

All through the film, people were laughing and little kids were asking questions about people from other places – some of the older ladies were trying to explain to the kids about how people in other countries don’t have water that comes from a tap, that they have to get it from outside. Some of my older students commented afterwards that they thought it was hard on the kids having to wash their clothes by hand. It was a really good learning experience for my students, listening to other people and the way they live.

Some of the really positive things the students said afterwards was how much they liked to listen to the other students make music, dance and speak in their own language. A big favourite was the footage of a girl doing gymnastics on a trampoline surface in Sydney. A lot of conversation has come out of this film!

At the end, families clapped and cheered – the younger students asking to see it again and the adults asking when it would be out on YouTube. Some of the adults, including teachers, were quite moved by the simplicity of the piece and how well our kids did and a couple of tears were wiped away at the end.

Afterwards, the students from Warruwi made a Skype call with the students from a Sydney school and through much laughter, face-pulling and shouted questions, the students managed to talk about what they liked, what they wanted to see more of, what it was like to live where they did – as well as several students from the Sydney school telling one of my students that he was “awesome” resulting in much laughter.

We hope that, through ChildFund Australia, for next year that we can continue a dialogue with the Sydney school and the school in East Timor. We are hoping to continue with the film-making with the cameras that have been given to the school by ChildFund and the hope is that some of these films can be used to help the students from these places to understand each other further.

A big positive of this film is the feel-good nature of the activities you see the kids involved in – laughing, having fun, getting out and enjoying themselves.

Sajeewani is excited. Today she is at school with her father to check her grade five scholarship exam results. Standing beside her father, her eyes follow his finger going down the results sheet. In front of her name is the figure 165 out of 200. A wide smile lights up her face. She has attained her goal of scoring high enough to attend a better school next year.

Enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in Nuwara Eliya district, known for its tea-growing estates, Sajeewani has been taking supplementary classes. An eager student, she made noticeable improvement day by day.

The majority of students who live on Sri Lanka’s tea estates have low academic achievement. In fact, this region has the highest drop-out rate in the country. There are myriad reasons: extreme poverty, parents who are focused on survival, low value placed on education and a common expectation that children work to help support the family.

To better inform the community about the value of education for its children, ChildFund began working with the Parents’ Federation. We recognise that a child`s willingness to learn and a parent`s willingness to support that child often depend on the availability of quality learning opportunities and educational programming.

Cooperating with educational authorities in Nuwara Eliya, ChildFund began to support additional training for teachers. These trainings equip teachers with knowledge and modern methodologies to encourage student participation in the classroom. Instead of using only a traditional teacher-centered approach, teachers are empowered to implement student-centered learning activities.

“The trainings were very useful,” says Sonali, a teacher in Nuwara Eliya. “We understood how important it is to encourage children to participate in classroom activities. Now I practice what I learned in the classroom. The students show a lot of interest in lessons now.”

ChildFund also identified that remedial education was needed to help students who have fallen behind in the regular classroom. Working with its local partner, ChildFund began offering supplementary classes to help students improve their math and language skills, which are compulsory subjects. For average and low-performing students, the supplementary classes give ample time to interact with the teacher and reinforce what they have learned at school.

Special classes for slow learners are another initiative targeting students who perform at a low level in the classroom. A special curriculum was developed working with educational specialists and the educational authority in the area.

“ChildFund’s focus on slow learners is unprecedented in this area,” says Mr. Rajasekaram, Additional Zonal Education director. “Children attending the classes show improvements. The curriculum developed by ChildFund is now being used in other areas.”

Within the Nuwara Eliya district, ChildFund’s educational programs now serve 315 students at 11 locations in the estates. “After ChildFund started their education programs in the estates, we can see children scoring better marks at term tests,” reports Mr. Rajasekaram.

And once children experience success in the classroom, parents become more interested in supporting the child’s ongoing education.

“I got this many marks because I attended supplementary classes. Now I can attend the school in the town. I am very happy,” says Sajeewani.

Meanwhile, ChildFund and the T-Field Federation will continue to work to promote educational opportunities for children in the tea estates for years to come. We are committed to building a hopeful future for the children in the estates.