Education professionals who volunteer overseas receive a lifetime of experiences that enrich the lives of others and themselves, both personally and professionally. VSO Ireland volunteer Carmel Bradwell has been working as a teacher trainer in the lush Fortportal region of Uganda tackling the myriad of problems facing Uganda’s education system.
“I wanted my retirement to be proactive”
I loved every moment of my career, and when I retired I didn’t feel like stopping. I found that the skills that I had developed are desperately needed in less fortunate countries in the world. International development charity VSO looks for volunteers with the professional experience that can really be of use in developing countries, so it was a perfect fit for what I wanted out of my retirement.
“My VSO placement trained 190 head teachers in Uganda”
My placement was in the Western Region of Uganda, where I worked as a teacher educator, improving the teaching skills of staff and advising head teachers on how they can improve their schools.
I worked intensively with 190 schools to advance the idea of school ownership by the staff and community, making sure that everyone involved took responsibility for school performance. This laid the foundations for ongoing positive change after my placement was over.
VSO aims to create lasting change through its volunteers. The teachers that VSO recruits mainly work as teacher trainers as it’s a way of having a greater impact. By working directly with head teachers in Uganda, I was helping to encourage new ways of working that would affect many more pupils in the long run.
“The children in Uganda are truly amazing”
My role involved plenty of travelling to the different schools in the region. There are thousands of schools in the area, which is mountainous and very beautiful. However, the roads (where there are roads!) aren’t great, which made reaching them a challenge.
However, that is nothing compared to what children in the region are faced with. Many of them can live up to 10km away from their local school, and they walk that distance every day.
The children in Uganda really appreciate the opportunity to have an education, despite the difficulties. They are truly amazing. Meeting and interacting with them was the most enjoyable part of my placement.
“VSO is making a difference”
The teaching conditions in schools were very different from what I was used to. Class sizes are usually over 100, and resources for them are meagre. Pupils do not have the luxury of having a textbook, and often the teacher may only have one textbook per subject.
Schools cannot afford to provide pupils with meals at lunch, and most families are too poor to provide their children with a packed lunch. All this means that the children in schools are often hungry during the day, which understandably makes it difficult for them to concentrate.
This isn’t helped by the fact that teaching is firmly based on “chalk and talk” methods, where the focus is on the teacher at the front. While I was on placement, I was able to demonstrate alternative approaches centred on the needs of the pupil. Working with the teaching staff and addressing their needs, little by little the volunteers in the country are making a difference.
“The training provided by VSO was excellent”
VSO helps prepare you for the new life in Africa before you depart. The training covers crucial topics like working effectively for new organisations, building relationships across language barriers and understanding the culture and context in which you are in.
VSO also had an office in Uganda which looked after me very well. There is always help at the end of a phone, which is a great comfort when you are travelling in remote parts of the country.
“Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things you can do”
The Ugandan people are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and every day on the placement had at least one moment that made me smile. Volunteering has given me a new appreciation for what I have back home, and it has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.
If you’re thinking about using your teaching skills and experience overseas, helping other in developing countries, why not make 2013 the year you make a difference.
To find out more, visit www.vso.org.uk/makeadifference/education
Or call 0208 780 7500