Volunteering in Nepal with VSO

Education professionals who volunteer overseas receive a lifetime of experiences that enrich the lives of others and themselves, both personally and professionally. VSO volunteer Beth Stillings Cohen is working as a teacher trainer in Nepal helping to improve teaching methods and the confidence of Nepali teachers.

I am passionate about giving people the opportunity to reach their potential

I believe strongly in the importance of raising the voice and participation of marginalized groups and wanted to put my teaching skills to good use in a new and worthwhile context. I also love travelling and seeing new places, so volunteering overseas was a great way to do both things at the same time.

I heard about VSO’s grassroots approach to tackling poverty and liked the fact that volunteers work directly with local communities to make a lasting change. I applied with them and ended up on a two year placement assisting three schools in the Kaski district of Pokhara, Nepal.

UK teachers can help to train other teachers to use child friendly, interactive methods

Education in Nepal is very traditional and based around rote learning and memorisation. When I first arrived in schools, lessons consisted of a teacher lecturing whilst children sat and listened often looking bored and uninterested.

Teachers here really lack confidence and often have very little training, so as a teacher from the UK you can help them build up a wider range of skills and teaching approaches. You can also broaden their understanding of the importance of inclusion and try to make lessons fun and interesting for the students and themselves.

I have seen some great changes in schools

During my time here, we have used VSO small grants to buy display boards so now classrooms are full of bright examples of students’ work. We have also been able to buy simple baskets of stationary resources for teachers. Combined with lots of training and modelling on materials preparation, this has meant teachers are now making their own flashcards and teaching materials to help make their lessons interactive and child friendly.

The biggest change has been in the motivation of the teachers. Training on things like basic lesson structure, differentiation and multiple intelligences have led to a much clearer understanding of how children learn. Through modelling and co-teaching, teachers are much more able to deliver quality teaching and take pride in their activities and lessons.

There are magic moments every day on placement

Nothing beats seeing teachers’ and students’ faces light up when they are having fun in lessons and learning new ideas and skills. Watching the students use magnifying glasses to study leaves and plants, using tape measures to find out and compare each others’ heights, or write their own letters and stories to read to the class are all absolute delights and makes the hard work well worth it.

I’ve been really lucky to have been placed in such a beautiful area and really welcomed by the VSO staff and the people I am working with. My schools are all in villages, and I have spent lots of time staying with teachers in rural areas. I have learnt to milk buffaloes, weave baskets and mats, and am now very good at eating daal baat (rice, lentils and vegetables) with my hand.

The incredible warmth and hospitality of the people I’ve met is something I will take back with me when I finish my placement. Nepali people are very kind despite having so little and living such hard lives. Volunteering is a really big experience, and it is difficult not to return a little changed from when you first set out.

Volunteering is a great opportunity for teachers

Volunteering is a great opportunity to really make a difference in the lives of some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world. It is also an opportunity to learn more about the world and to gain a deeper understanding about the importance of international development work. If this is something you’re interested in, I would say definitely go for it!

You can see Beth in action in this video: http://youtu.be/5vE7Bo4xCvs

VSO has a range of placements across Africa and Asia, starting from early 2014. To find out more, visit www.vso.org.uk/teachprimary, or call 0208 780 7500.

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