SCCT Volunteer Series: Melanie Govinda

Melanie Govinda holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Freie University and Master of Education degree in French and Ethics/Philosophy, from Humboldt University both in Berlin.  She also holds a Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA). Previously, she worked for 6 years as a Dental Assistant.  Below we find out more about her and her time volunteering at the Scalabrini English School.

Where are you from and what is your field of interest?

I´m from Germany (Berlin). My fields of interest are Education and Medicine.

What specifically made you choose the Scalabrini Centre English School as a place to volunteer?

In respect of the policy on asylum and refugees, Germany has a similar challenge to manage. It was interesting to learn about the general situation, how people get help and what is done differently. I also wanted to improve my teaching skills and get more experience.

How long have you been volunteering with the Scalabrini  English School? What is your area of specialization?

I started to teach in March 2016, almost 2 years now. I teach different levels and Drama classes.

How has the experience been for you personally as a teacher?

I was very excited in the beginning. It is a totally different experience from teaching in Germany or France. The students at Scalabrini want nothing more than to learn English to get a job or access to college or university. I´ve never had more motivated students. Even though they have to struggle a lot with transport, they always make a plan to arrive on time or excuse themselves when late. Personally, I´ve learnt so much. I wouldn’t want to miss this experience. I´m grateful for the lives that I’ve touched and everything I´ve learned from my students!

Have you experienced any challenges with your students and what is your approach to overcoming them?

Every teacher will experience challenges. That´s the fun part about being a teacher. I usually try to solve it with humour and a smile. Never forget to ask for the reason, put yourself in the situation and try to make them want what is correct. Short example: Phone during lesson: “May I help you with the Whatsapp message? or “Tell your boss that you are working on your language skills right now and if it´s important you can take a call outside of the classroom.” Add a smile and the situation will never occur again.

What is the most rewarding part of your teaching experience?

The best thing about being a teacher at Scalabrini is to see the students grow from term to term. Some of the students want to become teachers too. They love to take over the teaching sometimes and help each other. It´s good to feel their happiness and love for each other and even their teachers. I´m the happiest person when they send me university certificates or tell me that they found a job.

What qualities does one need to have to work in an environment such as this one?

The most important quality is to be able to keep in mind where the students come from. They are not children with unlimited possibilities from a family support system. Put yourself in their position and try to not to expect too much. Don’t be too strict or systematic. No homework doesn’t mean that they were too lazy. It could also mean that they don’t have a paper and a pen. A call during class might not be for fun but a job opportunity. I personally try to make some jokes and create a friendly environment even when I have a bad day.

Describe a perfect day on the job.

A perfect day would be a day when all my students leave the classroom with a smile and tell me that they enjoyed the lesson.

What are some of your most memorable moments working in the English School?

Graduation day is normally a great moment. When all students get their certificates and perform what we have trained for so long in Drama class. It´s also when you arrive at Scalabrini and some students that you don´t even know greet you. But the very most remarkable moment for me was when students came to me to ask if we could talk about their experiences in their home countries. Being considered as a trustful person under these circumstances here in South Africa was very touching.


Did you experience any culture shock as a volunteer integrating into the Scalabrini Centre yourself?

No. The culture shock element was not big for me as I have worked and taught similar students.

Walk me through the journey with your students, from their 1stday in class to the last day when they graduate.

Well, that´s not only a walk but rather a long journey! I can offer a word compilation: Frustration, Learning, Teaching, Preparation, Trust, Motivation, Love, Freedom, Fear, Sorrow, Helplessness, Fun, Smile, Music, Humans, Process, Willingness, Offering, Dance, Acting, Training, Drama, Health, Certificates, Satisfaction, Happiness, Peace.

What is the one thing you’d like everyone to know about the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town?

Scalabrini is not only an English School or a Centre for general help (Advocacy, Employment Helpdesk),  but also a place to be kind to each other, to learn from the past and build a new future. Scalabrini is not only an institution for the students or clients but also a place to start a new life and to connect with like-minded people. Scalabrini means family.

What’s different about SA compared to your home country which you’d like to take back home with you?

South Africa is a warm country with rich cultures to learn from. Unfortunately, it is also a country with corruption and a challenging political system. I will definitely be more grateful for whatever I have, be more confident and friendlier to everyone. And somebody recently said:  “Disagree with ideas, not experience!”

Would you recommend the Scalabrini English School to likeminded people who also wish to come volunteer as teachers and why?

Yes, yes, yes definitely!

Future plans? From here what’s next for you?

Teaching, teaching and more teaching most probably in Germany, Berlin. At the moment we are working on a book that will help people understand the situation of our students. Refugees, migrants and asylum seekers who tell their stories from their point of view: “In my shoes.”  The book will let the public know that coming to South Africa is not only for economical reasons but also for simple survival!


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