Who is Harvinder Singh?
The 43-year-old who greeted her with a firm handshake from Dubai also says Hello, nice to meet you!. He is Harvinder Singh from Punjab. As a matter of fact, considering his fluent English, it was hard to believe Singh never spoke a word of the language till about eight months ago who happens to be a truck driver who went to a Hindi medium school in his hometown in Punjab, India says that they were four brothers and sisters and my father could not afford to put him in an English school and that he is grateful that he could learn English in Dubai requesting me to switch to English when he slipped into Hindi. He added with pride that he can speak English, so don't worry.
Now coming to another fact, Singh is among hundreds of blue-collar workers in Dubai learning to read, write and speak English, acquire computer and technical skills because of which he thanked to two NGOs Savera an alumni NGO group of India's prestigious Indian Institute of Management and SmartLife Foundation a Dubai-based NPO helping empower blue-collar workers in the city.
Courses at "Savera"
The courses run for two hours every Friday and are held at Al Quoz and Sonapur labour accommodation.
According to Nita Mathur, Chairperson, Savera (Gulf Pan IIM NGO initiative) the training sessions are not just about English, but also equipping workers with as much information as possible.
Being a graduate from IIM Kolkata, Mathur and others from IIM have been working tirelessly with these workers. She expresses that as an alumni group, they always wanted to do something for India and when they voiced this desire to former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam during his visit in January 2011, he told them not to worry about India, but instead focus on doing something for Indians here in Dubai.
A strong drive into action, the Savera group devised a module-based approach to help teach different skills to workers from the sub-continent.
Courageous response leading to wonderful success...
So far 100 workers have passed various levels of English and computer training. This year the group has already recorded 200 registrations.
Dr Suresh Nanda, Strategy and Project Head for Savera and an IIM graduate from Kolkata explained what remains as a matter of fact that all the courses are given totally free to the workers and that the course materials have been designed internally by Savera volunteers. A number of IIM executives, university professors put their heads together to standardise a curriculum for the various courses.
Nanda mentioned that in the first month workers learn how to frame a sentence using simple present tense. After two months, they learn how to use present continuous tense, simple past tense in a sentence. At the end of the three-month course, the workers have to give a two minute impromptu speech on a random topic in front of the class. Similar course materials are prepared for teaching computer and technical skills.
"For example, if somebody is an electrician, we impart technical knowledge that can make him more proficient in his job and perhaps give him a bigger opportunity in the future," said Nita while she also says that learning english is helping these workers land better jobs, get promotions, better wages and earn respect.
Some bright figures after learning English...
Singh’s case for learning English was clear that his best friend in Canada has been asking him to come and work there. But he said that he would need to have basic knowledge in reading, writing and spoken English and he is happy he got this opportunity.
For others the free courses have come like a godsend. Take the case of 38-year-old Dheba Lama. The Nepalese store-keeper never got to learn English because it wasn’t taught at his school in his hometown Phulashi who had two brothers and two sisters and his father could not afford to put him in an English medium school in Kathmandu. In Dubai, English courses are priced at around Dh600 and above which is unaffordable for people like us.
He is so happy now that he is able to learn English and that too for free while he expressed the importance of English in his work. As a storekeeper, his job is to deliver foodstuff to ships and many times he was required to explain things in English. Earlier, he was not confident. But it’s different now as he can talk in English easily.
For Indian electrician Ritesh Patel, 28, learning English helped him get a Dh500 monthly raise and that his boss is happy with his English and since he also work very hard at his job, he was given a promotion who hails from Keshli village in Gujarat.
Indian office boy Venkatreddy Karri, 36, has not only learnt English, he has also picked up computer skills which is a remarkable achievement for someone who studied in a Telugu medium school in Andhra Pradesh till grade 12. Armed with his new skills, Karri, now works at an office in Emirates Towers. Of late, he has become proficient in Microsoft Word and Excel and also know formatting, software installation, how to send an email and use the internet.
Al Salam Bashir, 26, from Pakistan, who joined the course a few days back, said he wants to learn English so he can converse with cousins living in London as he grew up in a small district where English is an alien language. So when he heard about this course from a friend, he wasted no time in joining it.
When XPRESS visited an Al Quoz building last week where a training session was under way, scores of workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal were taking lessons.
Some were there so they could get a passport to Canada, some were looking for a promotion, some wanted better jobs, while others just wanted respect.
According to Sri Lankan car technician Upur Nishant, 25 who says that the fact remains in Dubai, if you know English, people respect you and that he is planning to start looking for a better job, who recently learnt to write his own CV.
What other experts say?
According to Zayed University teacher British Peter Tall, 54, who is part of the voluntary group that dedicates three hours of their weekened to brush up the English skills of workers said, It is a way of giving back something to society while he stresses on the fact that they live comfortable lives; these workers don't and that Education can empower them and that's why they are here.
American expat Jennifer Vahanian, an English teacher at HCT Dubai Men's College said the workers are keen learners and that they want to improve their lives, get better jobs and earn better salaries and they think learning English can undoubtedly help them in achieving greater heights in life.
This is undoubtedly a noble cause from these noble people. It's just that the true achievers are guiding and turning people into achievers while empowering education and knowledge to them and giving them better life.