(July 12, 2016) -- The clicking of keys and the scratching of pen across paper created a quiet buzz that filled the air. Tables spread out around the room were filled with teachers from all walks of life. Some of them taught in elementary schools while others in middle or high schools. Four of them, however, traveled thousands of miles from countries around the world to come to the UTSA College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) and the San Antonio Writing Project (SAWP).
Mfundo Diko from Capetown, South Africa, and Purva Sharma, Gopal Krishna Sharma and Manaswita Singh from Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya (DSVV) in Haridwar, India, joined more than 20 local graduate students and teachers at the SAWP 2016 Summer Institute.
The four-week institute featured a variety of activities and writing workshops designed around the “teachers teaching teachers” model. The institute also gave each of the international students, who had never been to the United States, the opportunity to share their personal stories.
Diko’s journey to San Antonio and to the education field, he said, was not easy. For 16 years, Diko worked as a gardener until one day, inspired by the pastor at his church in Africa, he felt called to pursue a career as a teacher.
“I saw the way he was teaching us in church and I got to see his passion for teaching,” said Diko. “Something inside of me told me that I must apply to the university to become a teacher, so I applied and they accepted me."
Many times, it was so expensive to attend the learnership orientation, which is required to become a teacher, that sometimes, he said, there wasn’t much money left for food. But that only added to his passion to become a teacher.
It took him six years of hard work to become a teacher, and now he teaches seven-year-olds in grade one.
“It was not easy, but I cannot complain about anything,” said Diko. “I was able to finish my studies and move forward with my life as a teacher.”
Purva Sharma, Gopal Krishna Sharma, and Manaswita Singh were part of the inaugural group of attendees at the Haridwar Writing Project, which was established last summer in partnership with DSVV in Haridwar, India. Each of them were invited to continue to develop the knowledge they gained from the workshop they attended last year at the 2016 Summer Institute.
“When the workshop happened in Haridwar last year, we learned so much,” said Gopal Krishna Sharma. “This summer institute is a bonus for us. It has given us a vision that everyone is a writer.”
Gopal, who is a research associate and lecturer at DSVV, already began implementing some of the information and skills he learned at the Haridwar Writing Project. On Saturdays, he said, he has an open class and allows his students to write whatever they want in whatever language they choose.
“The students are making drama, they are making songs, and they are making documentaries all about computer science,” he said. “In everyday learning, we try to inculcate the things we were taught at the workshop.”
“I now have a platform for how to put my writings in a proper format because of this experience,” said Purva Sharma. “The feedback I have received has given me motivation to write.”
The opportunity to come to the United States, she said, has been a dream come true.
“It has been my mother’s dream for me to go outside of India to study something,” said Purva Sharma, “She was so happy with this opportunity because it was what she wanted for me.”
The information Purva has learned this summer, she said, will also be shared with the teachers at the school her father and mother have run in her hometown of Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh, India, for the last 30 years. The school, Gayatri Vidhya Peeth, teaches children from play, or early childhood, through the 12th grade.
“I will definitely share these writing skills in my hometown so that more and more students and teachers will be benefitted,” said Purva Sharma.
Like Purva and Gopal Sharma, Manaswita Singh was also excited when asked to come to the United States to attend the SAWP Summer Institute. It was one of the biggest moments in her life, she said.
“We are learning a lot and we would like to give that back to our students when we go back to Haridwar,” said Singh, research associate and lecturer at DSVV. “We are going to pass along all that knowledge and information. I think this partnership is really going to work out well between both of the universities.”
Her experience in San Antonio, she said, has built upon the foundation developed from the Haridwar Writing Project.
“I really enjoyed our experience with the Haridwar Writing Project,” said Singh, who is pursuing her doctorate in cyber psychology. “As a research associate, it was beneficial for me because all of the writing techniques that they teach helps a lot.”
Although they come from different cultures and different countries, each of the four international students plan to take the information and knowledge gained in the SAWP Summer Institute back home with them.
“I think what the San Antonio Writing Project is doing is great things, especially for teachers,” said Singh. “Once you get on the other side, you have the power in your hand and you forget how it feels to be a student. Here, you are among teachers and feeling like a student. I think its something that every teacher should do at some point in time in his or her career.”
Learn more about the UTSA College of Education and Human Development.
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H-E-B Student Union Ballroom (HSU 1.106), Main Campus
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