We’re on the same wavelength. With Jan Kaloš about what volunteering with Diaconia can bring to a person

IMG_8853He spent his whole life in economic fields and before retiring he asked himself how to spend his free time meaningfully. He has decided to help other people, so for the past six years, through one of the Diaconia volunteer programmes, he has been volunteering in families – helping children with preparing for school. And he works very well with his significantly younger colleagues.

How did you find your way to volunteering in Diaconia?

It was completely random. I wanted to volunteer, and I read somewhere that there would be training for volunteers. There were several activities listed – including tutoring, which interested me. I signed up for the training, but I couldn’t get started because of health problems. They were nice to me, they moved me to the next course. I finished it and found myself in Diaconia.

Why did you decide to do tutoring?

I had been helping my children and my friends’ children as well. I enjoy watching children improving their abilities and looking for ways to help them understand the subject matter.

Do you enjoy tutoring after six years? After all, you work with children who don’t always learn easily. Have there been any crises?

There haven’t. I probably already have a certain perspective on life. But younger colleagues from the volunteer team sometimes have to handle their frustration. They are often students, young people, who are coming to help with vigorous enthusiasm and then sometimes they are disappointed. They want to see quick results that don’t come. I know how it works in the families of my friends whose children have good grades. Their parents dedicate time to them almost every day. They check their homework, revise with them. In the meantime, we work with children who don’t receive help from their families for various reasons. One quickly realises that one hour and a half a week that we have for tutoring is not enough. But it’s not about a school certificate with only A’s. I think it is beneficial for the child – and I have been teaching four of them already – when he/she gets regular attention. The children are usually looking forward to it. So, my volunteering brings me pleasure.

What else can one get from volunteering?

IMG_8862I see two more advantages for myself. I meet other volunteers who are nice people who want to help. The second advantage is working with school studies. I am an economist, I have been deeply involved in accounting for years, I know how to do it, but much of the school stuff needs to be revived, rethought – formulas, decomposition of geometrical bodies, physics, languages ​​… I find it beneficial for myself, my mind keeps fit.

Tell us more about the children you tutored.

There were four of them, and each was different. Ládík was knowledge-wise somewhere between the first, second and third class. Tutoring could not take place at home; it was very busy. We met at an office near his place, where the body of social and legal protection of children, so-called OSPOD, resided. At first, we had a free room there, later just a free space at a table, then not even that. So, we studied directly in Diaconia, in the centre of Prague, but it was difficult for Láďa, commuting was making him very tired. We went on two trips together, and I think we were pretty happy. I still think about him sometimes. Another student of mine was Ibrahim, a fourth-grade student, a completely different case. He had roots in one of the post-Soviet republics, coming from a Muslim family. His dad was somewhere in Russia, Ibrahim lived with his mother and two younger sisters. The family was healthy, Ibrahim was smart – but he was lazy and even his devoted mom couldn’t do anything about it. We were meeting at school, which is probably the best environment for tutoring. We dealt a lot with Czech language. He spoke very well, fluently, but in some language nuances he was a bit lost, it was interesting to talk to him. We also played chess together, he did very well, and also we were focusing on physics. Ibrahim’s sloppiness may not have improved, but I’m not worried about him, he will definitely not get lost in the world. And now I’m working with a girl who is repeating 8th grade, mainly because she was very sick. She is very motivated to make it to the 9th grade. When a meeting gets cancelled, she wants to have a substitution, so sometimes we see each other twice a week. We do homework, especially in mathematics and English. It’s not easy, especially the 8th grade’s math is pretty challenging. Unfortunately, this girl lacks the basics – she understands the assignment of the mathematical task, but then she can’t calculate how much is eight times nine. It is similar in English – her pronunciation is better than mine, but she lacks basic vocabulary. But we are not aiming for A’s, and I think she will make it to the next grade.

You talked about four kids; you haven’t mentioned one yet.

It was more of a young man. He was from Africa and after high school he wanted to study at some kind of art school here and needed to complete his cultural knowledge. Again, it was a completely different type of tutoring. We met in a cafe and talked about things like impressionism. After some time, I received a text message saying that he had been accepted successfully.

How much time do you dedicate to tutoring in Diaconia?

Usually, it’s 90 minutes of tutoring and 90 minutes of commuting once a week. So net time three hours a week. Once a year we have an evaluation meeting, it’s a meeting with a child, their parent and a Diaconia representative.

But with other volunteers you are still meeting at so-called supervisions. What is that?

Supervisions take place every two months. The volunteer team meets up, we share our experiences together with a psychologist. While working with families, we must be careful not to go beyond our mission. We are there for tutoring a particular child, not for solving their family’s problems. The psychologist recommends how to do it. The newbie tutors get reassurance at supervisions. They see how more experienced tutors deal with the same issues and problems while working with children. These meetings happen in a friendly atmosphere and with nice people. Most of them are significantly younger than me, but I feel we are on the same wavelength. I am very happy about all this.

Adam Šůra