Below are some outstanding reports from scholarship winners over the past few years on their experiences in different parts of the world
Rob Hinchley - Rugby School - Future Hope, Kolkata 2012/2013
Georgina Morris – Solihull School – Think Pacific, Fiji 2011
Bruce Torrance - Dollar Academy - Project Trust in Guyana , 2009
Amy Foster - Alleyn’s School - Project Trust in Guyana, 2010
Alastair Bounds - Monmouth School - Africa and Asia Venture - Malawi, 2009
Thomas Benson - Monmouth School - Egyptian Insitute in Koas, Salé, Morocco
Emma Whitworth - Asha Vidyasharam School in Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015 - 2016
Under More Information
Catherine Bevin - Oundle School - Teaching in Brazil - own project in Sept/December 2011
Melanie Stephen - Morrison’s Academy - Project Trust in Namibia in 2011 - A Day in Om
Lucy Geake - Monkton Combe School - Oasis Trust in Bangladesh, 2009
Jessica Fok - Eltham College - Smile International in Kosova, 2008-2009
Robin Baddeley - Monkton Combe School - Anastasis Mercy Ship, Benin and West Africa, 2005
Ruth Harvey - Oakham School - Teaching and Projects Abroad in India and Thailand, 2005
Claire Bourke - Dame Allan's School, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Project Trust in Uganda, 2003-2004
Emma Whitworth – Asha Vidyasharam School in Kathmandu, Nepal
Dear Mr Mason
I hope that you are well and that 2016 has got off to a good start for you.
I am Emma’s father and I am sending you some pictures of Emma’s progress so far.
She left the UK on 17 Dec and up to 2 Jan 2016 has been working at the Asha Vidyasharam School in Kathmandu, Nepal. She was part of a team of 46 which had a range of skills including builders, carpenters, teachers, finance professionals / accountants, consultants and nurses.
She was involved in the following:
· Teaching the children – academic subjects, music and games
· Teacher training
· Computer training
· Building new desks
· Building a vegetable plot
· Assistance with the construction of an additional classroom (the nursery children are currently taught outside)
· Life skills class for parents of the children (Parenting; Finance & Budgeting; Health & Hygiene; Education; Alcohol)
· Assistance with an art competition with neighbouring schools
· Hosting a Christmas party on Christmas Day for the children
· Advice and mentoring to the local HOPE charity on good governance and financial management
· Provision and installation of teaching materials (whiteboards etc)
· Provision of warm clothes and new school uniforms to the children
· Provision of a freezer for the kitchen so that food could be stored more safely
· Provision of laptops (18) – 9 new and 9 second hand
She also visited sites in the hills where houses had been destroyed by the earthquake and distributed blankets and clothes.
She is now working at a slum school in Bangalore, India and living with locals. She or I will send you more pictures and information in due course.
She may well return to Nepal later on in the year in order to complete some work at the Asha Vidyasharam School collating data on its past students and evaluation success rates.
In the meantime, she and we are very grateful for this award as it is allowing her to learn a huge amount as well as hopefully doing some good.
Thomas Benson – Monmouth School - Egyptian Insitute in Koas, Salé, Morocco
I consider it a shame that I had to leave Morocco, even after such a long time spent out there. For three months, from late September to early December, I had the privilege of working out in the country as an English teacher at different yet equally rewarding schools and establishments. Having just finished my A Levels at sixth form and only reached the age of eighteen not two months before I left, it seemed at first quite a frightening prospect to leave my family and friends for the months leading up to Christmas and depart for a volunteer project on my own. More so was the knowledge that I’d have to find enough money to fund this adventure abroad, and therefore special thanks goes to the Bulkeley Evans Fund for their generosity before I departed.
Walking through the airport terminal in Casablanca was a daunting task at first; completely alone in a foreign country with naught else but my suitcase, backpack, and a good level of French to help me get by; however, it was not a difficult challenge to become acquainted with the Moroccan culture and find it easier day-by-day to make my way around. Many complain, fear, or warn of the horrifying “Culture Shock” which countless travellers and tourists tend to experience when venturing into foreign lands – Culture Shock? Struggling to get accustomed to the way of life out there in Morocco where money, language, food, behaviour, and society were all different? Well, I count myself fortunate to have been subject to the entire opposite of such a dreaded thing. I practically threw the idea of ‘Culture Shock’ out of my window – one which boasted a splendid view onto the Place El Joulane where one can find the largest church in Morocco – and embraced the culture wholeheartedly.
I found that Moroccans are naturally hospitable in their social nature, for many a time was I invited to a friend or students’ house on a Friday for couscous, or to come drink tea for the afternoon, or, on one rare occasion, to meet a certain friend’s elderly grandparents in the medina who had never met somebody of Caucasian origins. Luckily for them, I fulfilled their grandparents’ goal within a few weeks of arriving in the country. Morocco quickly grew to become something of a home to me where everybody, whether it be the local shopkeeper or people on the street, acted in a welcoming and friendly manner. The host family I stayed with acted akin to my own parents, despite being considerably older and with much different lifestyles. The family were Muslim, and while being an atheist myself, there was no bridge between us. Habib (the host dad) and I shared lengthy conversations about philosophy and the differences in religion, points about our own cultures, and general discussions of things we liked and entertainment – which, I must say, was undoubtedly helpful for my French as he didn’t speak a word of English, and I was pushed to test my own ability in challenging vocabulary which I’d rarely used beforehand. The mother, Nezha, was endearing and caring, and acted as if I were her own son (her actual one being away in Poland to study) by treating me to delightful homecooked dinners and visits to the local café and gardens. Even now I see them as something of a ‘second family’ and hope that I may get the chance to stay with them once more, if only for a week, to spend time with them and have a good catch-up.
My project in the heart of Morocco was as equally rewarding for my social habits as it was for language. I was positioned in the city of Salé, across the Bou Regreg river from Rabat, where I worked in separate places: At one point as a teaching assistant for men and women in a small, local culinary school, and the majority of my time in a fantastic institute for primary and secondary school children. In summary of the culinary school, I can say with confidence that my grasp over French grammar and fluency improved tenfold while I communicated with people from a wide range of backgrounds (Berbers, Spaniards, a handful of immigrants from the Ivory Coast). It was quite an easy beginning to my project, but attendance was sadly low and so I chose to start at another school where I’d have more time to do my work.
In truth, I found that during all of my teaching project the Egyptian Insitute in Koas, Salé was my most favourite place to visit. The school was far different from any of the dusty and litter-strewn education centres I’d witnessed in some towns and cities across Morocco, instead taking on a much more modern education system with well-trained teachers, an abundance of resources, and books aplenty for the children to work with. Not to mention, the school held a vibrant and lively atmosphere with the young students rushing about to play beneath the trees in the yard, and most, if not all of the kids possessing a true excitement about learning and working in their subjects. I sat in on classes with the older range of the primary school (ages eight through to ten) and the first year of the secondary school, providing the students with access to a natural English speaker.
I am glad and extremely happy that I chose to visit Morocco for this sort of project in knowing that I truly helped people learn English as I could see the results of my work first-hand. Despite the fact most of the children already spoke either a small amount of the language, or had a fairly good level of English for their age, I felt that I managed to give them the chance to practice and perform with somebody who wouldn’t stick to the simple stuff. Yes, I admit that I did cover introductions, colours, and all sorts of vocab more times than I can count, yet I was there for the children to talk to about matters and subjects which mattered to them. I will thus not tell you how many times I discussed the success of different football teams in the World Cup or how much I enjoyed watching Shrek the first time, mainly because I feel like I really have had enough of it over twelve weeks of chatting ‘footie’ and ‘favourite films’.
Putting the actual work I did for my project aside, I feel that living in Morocco was a real life experience that will stick with me for many years to come. The food was absolutely heavenly and I simply could not get enough of all the various tagine dishes, partly because they were so different and delicious, and partly because I eventually grew a bit fed up of gorging myself on couscous dishes every week. Not only that, but I could go out and travel the country, and it was an amazing opportunity I will surely not forget – I saw the mist-clouded mountains of Akchour and Chefchaouen, the bustling medinas and markets of Fes, rode horses into the forests at Ifran to see the wild monkeys amongst the trees… and yet I still didn’t see enough. Morocco’s countryside is so varying and different wherever you go that three months was simply not enough to see everything while coping with my work schedule.
I would not give up the experience for the world, as it has helped me gain more confidence, maturity, language skills, and independence. Thank you to all who helped make my project possible, and I aspire to visit Morocco again to continue where I left off: whether it be volunteering once more, hitchhiking about the countryside, trekking on a camel in the Sahara, or even doing something as simple as playing a game of pool with the friends I made out there.
Future Hope, Kolkata
19th September 2012 to 27th February 2013
In September last year I arrived in Calcutta, or ‘Kolkata’ by the city’s new name to volunteer at Future Hope for half a year. Six months later I stood back in the airport with just one last customs officer between myself and my inevitable return to the UK. Even after the angry official considered detaining me for an overstayed VISA, I sadly left the beautiful city of Calcutta on the last day of February this year.
Before I left for India many friends and family members did their level best to helpfully inform me of what I should expect in India. I received endless warnings of how dirty everything is, how much poverty there is and how violently ill I would be. On arrival it quickly became evident of course that these things were all undeniable. Raw poverty to an extent and reality I could not have previously envisaged presented itself at every step and turn. For those first few weeks, the apparent hostility of the city consumed my thoughts.
The apartment I was staying in was just a ten-minute walk from Future Hope School, where I would be spending nearly every day of the next six months.
On the walk to school was a large road sign stating ‘Kolkata – The City of Joy’ opposite a small slum settlement. Every time that I passed it, I was perplexed when considering the sight of children defecating over the putrid dump crawling with rats the size of cats behind it. I passed it twice a day and each and each time I thought who, and for what reason, would want to put such a grossly inappropriate sign there.
The rich heat and thick, dirty air tired me, and it took a long time to adjust and familiarise myself to the new norms. The start of the academic year came a week after my arrival. The rich heat, rains and flooding of the monsoon ended shortly after this. The start of term saw me being introduced to children and young adults with brilliant ability, talents and personalities. The forming of friendships with these children and with staff developed fast and I soon found myself put into situations that were both very new and challenging to me.
he school day (Monday to Friday) was structured as follows: Assembly at 8am, 3x 45 minute lessons, 30 minute break, 3x 45 minute lessons, lunch, break, afternoon activities.
Although my timetable for morning developed and changed over my time at Future Hope for the most part I spent my lesson split between four areas. I spent the greatest amount of time in the ‘reading room’. Here a child from the lower classes of the school would come out of his or her lesson one by one for seven minutes of one-on-one English reading. The books were tiered according to difficulty and it was great to see the reading ability of children developing with time. Each child had a reading diary. The comments made in it were useful for logging progress and flagging up areas of weakness that could then be targeted.
At times I assisted in science lessons with some of the older classes and also took EAL (English as an additional language) lessons with the other volunteers. The aim of the lessons was to improve spoken English with the pupils of the class. Some of the older classes had pupils of similar age, or older even than myself - an interesting challenge that I had not imagined before coming to Future Hope. These EAL lessons varied in success. It took a lot of thought to decide how to involve everyone in the class productively and for the whole lesson, especially when members of each class would vary quite significantly in ability and in their willingness to contribute.
Myself and the other volunteers would have free periods occasionally in the mornings. We were even given a volunteers staff room towards the end of my time there after a member of staff moved out of his office. Here we would attempt to hone our chess skills (which in my case needed a lot of work to be able to have anything that resembled a game with even the youngest of the Future Hope children). Often though, I would use these free periods to stay on top of non-academic related tasks I would be doing for Future Hope. My interest in photography led me to take the class photos early on in my time there. It took ages to find the names of every child in the school to foot the photographs. It was something that had not been done before. I was in close contact with the website manager, based in London, for much of my time in Calcutta. I would work with her to help provide photographs needed for the charity’s new website. I also helped the founder, Tim Grandage, taking specific photos needed for the talks and presentations that he would be giving around the world.
As mentioned, after lunch we would have afternoon activities. Most days of the week this meant for me taking sport for the young girls. We played netball for the first term and hockey in the second term. Space for sport is extremely limited at the Rowland Road site and so we often played on the roof. This led to a frantic, five-a-side football style, hockey matches. The girls enjoyed it a lot, however, and improved enormously and very quickly having their first ever match shortly after I returned to the UK. After sport there would at times be the computer lab or the library to supervise, and Tigerrr meetings to take (The Tigerrr being the newsletter of Future Hope for which the pupils write articles and which the volunteers co-ordinate and produce).
Lunch for all is eaten at school. However dinner (for the students of the Future Hope homes) is eaten in the homes and so most evenings the other volunteers and I would visit one of the five homes for dinner. Before dinner, which is eaten on the floor at the younger homes, we would help the children with homework. After dinner we would read to the children alongside the mats they slept on as they went to sleep.
As my time at Future Hope passed an understanding of some of the children’s remarkable pasts and childhoods became clearer. There were children whose parents could simply not afford to look after them and care for them appropriately; children who had run away from home after being abused and beaten; children who had been addicted to alcohol, to tobacco and to drugs; children who had been abandoned; children who had been living on the pavements and on railway platforms and children whose mothers were prostitutes.
A child would either be a ‘day scholar’ at Future Hope – meaning at the end of the school day after the afternoon activities the child would return to their family or, depending on circumstances, for lack of family or for other reasons, some children were also ‘Home students’. These students live in one of the five Future Hope homes. Genuine happiness is to be found everywhere at Rowland Road (the present heart of Future Hope) and it did not take long to spot this when first entering the site. Some things though took a little longer to notice, especially the fantastic determination of some pupils in their academic studies with public examination results being announced in which many pupils gained exceptional grades. This is also a result of good teaching and some highly intellectually talented students. Before arriving at Future Hope, I did not appreciate that when subject to malnutrition in developmental years growth can be stunted in the brain as well as in the rest of the body. I found it sad to be working with children who would never reach their full mental ability, as well as physical size, as a result of periods of malnutrition they had suffered from in the past.
A number of teenage boys and girls were invited to start rowing at a club on the lake in the south of the city whilst I was volunteering at Future Hope. Watching training on a few occasions brought home to me the immense energy that many children at Future Hope have. The children woke at 4:30 each morning in order to walk to the lake, to train and then walk the distance of several miles back to school for assembly at 8 am. Given the energy and commitment they put into this sport, it was little surprise to me that the boys coxed four won the All India Schools Regatta recently, even though they had only been rowing for less than a year.
At first, when given the odd few hours and the occasional day off, we would normally be found keeled over under a fan in a hot exhausted lump as a result of the heat and new pace of life. Quickly, however, we began to take fuller advantage of time off by exploring the city and seeing many extraordinary things. There is no better way to learn and see a city though than being shown it by people who have grown up there. I invested time in forming friendships with local people who were all keen to show me each and every far corner of Calcutta. They took me to religious festivals, temples, flower markets, their homes and even the enormous 8,586m Kanchenjunga on a brief trip made to the Himalayas over one long weekend.
As my time remaining at Future Hope and in Calcutta began to dwindle day by day, life began finally to assume an even pattern. What was at first perceived as almost hostile around me, turned to normality. I began at last to be able to consider things a little and start to collect my thoughts to a degree. I realised that I was seeing things very differently to how they appeared on my arrival. The originally shocking scenes on the walk to school that left me day in, day out wondering where next to awkwardly place my eyes were gone. Those shocked eyes were now eagerly open, sweeping the street scene along the road home each day. The same eyes now searched for the smiling faces of the people along the walk to school, none more so than those young boys who would often be seen defecating beneath that mocking sign. It was no longer mocking, just fitting. The boys would almost permanently be found playing cricket in one of the alleys off the road along which I walked home and I would be lucky to pass without a bit of enthusiastic cricket sledging in their best attempts at English.
The stew of sickly feelings in my stomach I had for months when seeing that poking sign ‘Kolkata; The City of Joy’ adjacent to the rubbish dump were gone. By the time I left the sign made complete sense. Just because the people beneath it don’t have a toilet, or potentially little of any material value it doesn’t mean they are not joyous and happy. In Calcutta joy really is found in everything. More than anything else I learnt during my time in Kolkata perhaps is that wealth does not bring with it happiness.
Of course people in poverty, such as the boys from the slum next to the sign on the walk to school remain vulnerable. The work that charities such as Future Hope do to enable children to break out of situations that can often lead into a shackling, downward spiral of health and wellbeing is of immeasurable benefit. For the children receiving it, it is genuinely life transforming. I feel hugely lucky to have been involved in such a special charity for such a period of time and I thank you now, very sincerely and warmly for your generous contributions that helped enable my stay in Calcutta and my time volunteering at Future Hope.
Although not the aim of volunteering in Calcutta, I have undoubtedly changed greatly as a result of my six months there. I have learnt many powerful lessons that I will never forget from the children of Future Hope, the staff, both academic and non-academic and the wonderful, kind and inspiring people of Calcutta itself ‘The City of Joy’. I do hope to be able to return one day in the near future.
Thank you again.
Georgina Morris – Solihull School – Think Pacific, Fiji 2011
I am sitting here looking at my blank computer and just do not know where to start. There were so many amazing and life changing experiences which I encountered in Fiji, that I would not have experienced without your financial support, that I could be writing for weeks, so summarising them is going to be a hard task.
When I flew out to Fiji in April I was, of course unsure what to expect. I had seen pictures of the scenery and had familiarised myself of the project I was about to embark on, but little did I realise that I was about to immerse myself with amazing people, children, culture, language and way of life that is so far different from ours that trying to assume and imagine would never do this magical place justice.
When we first arrived we spent a couple of days on a castaway island, getting to know our project leaders and our fellow volunteers. We prepared ourselves for the unique life that awaited us in Nasesara village on Moturiki Island. We were given a very inspiring presentation from the Think Pacific Fijian project partners from the Fijian Ministry, the Lomaiviti Provincial Council, the National Health Promotion Council and also the British High Commission, about the long term development aims in Fiji, the impact the project will make, and thanking us for choosing to volunteer in Fiji on our gap years. Afterwards everyone was fired up and bursting to get to Nasesara Village to begin their volunteer roles. The following day we were all loaded into small boats and took the short journey from Caquali Island across to Moturiki Island. From this moment on we left ourselves and were stepping into the most important and rewarding volunteer roles that were expected from us to make a difference to the lives of the Fijian people in Nasesara village and the rest of Moturiki Island in the short ten weeks we were living on their soil. The village had great expectations for our project team and wanted to welcome us with the greatest honour a village can bestow upon a visitor, a custom that is usually only ever reserved for high chiefs called The Cere. We had been told that this would be planned for our teamʼs arrival and no one could quite believe it. It is one of the most unique Fijian customs. No Think Pacific team or staff member had ever experienced a Cere before. It is so rare that villagers from far and wide visited Nasesara for the day to observe the ceremony.
As we came through the Moturiki channel towards the village by small boats, we heard the conch being blown by two men, dressed in the traditional Fijian dress. With the conch sounding, the TP guys, as per custom, immediately jumped out of the boats into the sea. Every man for himself then swims as fast as they can for shore, knowing that the first to reach the beach would follow the conch and be led to a Fijian lady with a tabua, a whale’s tooth, one of the most traditional and coveted gifts to be offered in Fiji. James, one of my teammates claimed the tabua, which was a very special moment for him! Everyone appreciated the enormity of the occasion and was looking forward to repaying the unbelievable gesture and welcome to the people and island we can now call our families and home. After the Cere was completed the team went into the shed and took part in an extremely traditional sevusevu; again this is something seen very rarely in Fiji and something that we all truly appreciated. There were welcome speeches from the community and the Fijian Affairs Board. Then our names were called out and our host families stood forward and whisked us away to their houses were we where going to be living.
We were given a day to adjust to the Fijian way of life, which gave us a chance to prepare and go through the building plans that were to extend the community hall, to build a kindergarten, and also replace the collapsed bridge that crossed the creek, which was the only way for the children to get to school. We then had our personal project planning discussions with our leaders to make them aware of the areas of the project we wanted to focus on and any ideas that we wanted to put to the table. We were all set and ready to rock for a big first day on the project the following day.
The project was split into three parts. The build, teaching in the school and taking Kindi, and then every afternoon all the volunteers would come together to become PE teachers and teach all of the school children various sports. The 18 volunteers were split between these three parts of the project and then according to the rotas we were given, every two weeks we would change to a different part of the project. At any one time there would be four teachers, five leaders in kindi and the remaining nine volunteers would be on the build project. My personal rota was, four weeks on the build project, then I moved to two weeks in kindi, and then my last two weeks on project were teaching the whole of class four in M.D.S, Moturiki District School. One of the two schools on the whole of the island, MDS, was the bigger primary school that children attended from the seven villages that are on the Moturiki Island. There is no secondary school for the children on the island, so the children would leave their families to go to the main islands, for further education if they wanted.
A typical day on project would start with a Morning Briefing at 8:00am, when we would discuss our plans for the day and the forthcoming week. 8:30am would be the start of the project. If your rota was to build, you would then start building. For the teachers and leaders in kindi, you would walk with the school children to school, which was three villages away from Nasesara, along a beautiful coastal path, which would take about 15 minutes. The teachers would then go to their classrooms and plan or join in the morning assembly. The kindi would be in full swing entertaining the small children with games before the official starting time, 9 am. All the projects would stop for lunch at 12 o'clock, the teachers would have a packed lunch provided for them by their families, and the volunteers in kindi would have finished and walked back to the village and have lunch with their families, while the people on build would also eat in our village. After the 1hr break for lunch the kindi crew would join up with the builders and crack on with the build and then the build would finish for the day at around 2.30 pm and then we would all head over to the school ready and raring for the sports. Meanwhile the teachers would be taking their afternoon lessons that would finish at 3 pm ready for the sports to commence at 3.15 pm. After the sports coaching was finished the TP team would either have sport training themselves or play a short team sport before our debrief at 6:00pm, where we discussed the days events and our evening program. Most evenings we had planned fun events for all the children in the village to join in with, which mostly involved singing and dancing. We all got involved in mat weaving, and bee-low making, (coconut shell sculpturing.) The Fijian women loved showing us their customs of ways of cooking, cleaning and tidying their houses. With all of us having keen enthusiasm in indulging in their ʻway of lifeʼ it was maintaining the traditional knowledge and practices. I felt that this was one of the many main roles of being on the island as so many traditions and real culture is lost from countries as they become more westernised and lose their real identity. With us being there and involving ourselves in their traditions we were really preserving their incredible culture and ʻwaysʼ.
Throughout our time working on the project, all the volunteers were involved in special group committees. We had an entertainments committee, a young enterprise committee, and an environment and health committee, all with different initiatives to be achieved. I joined the environment and health committee, as I really wanted to teach and make all the children in the school aware of particular issues. One week was set aside for our committee to go and make a difference to the children in MDS. Every afternoon we would take a different year group and teach them of particular issues that were relevant to their ages. Without TP volunteers being here, the children of the school would have no advice on any environment or health issues. In a way we were acting like Personal Health and Social Education teachers and this reminded me of when I was younger and being taught myself. Our committee had many meetings and planning sessions beforehand so we could involve the children in fun activities that would enforce our subjects. For example, we brought a bar of soap, and one activity was teaching the young children how to wash their hands properly, as it was surprising that they had never been taught before. So we had all the children washing their hands outside. When we went into kindi, we showed the children how to brush their teeth properly, and we supplied them with toothpaste, as many of the children and Fijian families could not afford any toothpaste, and they do not have dentist
check-ups like we do. With the older kids we covered topics like sexual health and puberty, and had re cap tests. It was rewarding seeing how much the children had learnt from us.
The young enterprise committee also had a really successful week, where they split the older years into groups and had to think of ideas for a small business between them. They were allocated some initial starting costs and then had to buy any materials needed, and then sell their products. The teams then could split any profit made between them. One group decided to make and sell cakes, so at the rugby fixture on one of the weekends all the children were using their best selling techniques to sell their cakes and advertise.
Another group decided to hand make jewellery, and sell it and so on. At the end of the week, all the business groups had to do a presentation in front of the whole school on their achievements and success, and faced a panel of judges, the TP leaders, who grilled them with business questions, and a winning group was chosen. In these small schools there are no extra curriculum activities or lessons on some of these important topics for the children, so without us being there the children would never even experience any of these subjects, so life expiring ambitions would not be created. So to say that we benefitted the children would be a huge understatement.
The entertainment committee had fun organising fundraisers for the village and the school, and an opening fate for our new kindergarten that we built. These events brought together the whole village and many memories were made that will never be forgotten. We had a human auction, where some volunteers auctioned themselves off to someone for a week, and then had to abide by their demands, like washing all their clothes, and cleaning all the dishes every night. All the TP guys decided that if a certain amount of money was raised then they would all shave one limb. It was soon clear that the fundraiser had made the amount the guys had agreed on, so all the girls ended up shaving a leg or arm for the guys. We raised over $200 Fijian dollars which is a huge sum of money for the village and school, that Fijians would not even dream of achieving without our support.
We always had plenty to be organising and planning, there was never a dull moment, from when we stepped foot on to the island to second we left, two months later. We arranged a TP youth camp for the children to come to over their Easter break where we had arts and crafts sessions for them, and we introduced zumba and dance classes for the girls, while the majority of the boys, wanted to improve their rugby skills with the occasional keen boy dancer. Towards the end of the project we had a house shout competition for all the children. We were put into houses and we were left to decide on a song to teach to our houses, and then we would perform it on the last day. I was in a house called Kikau and due to my competitive spirit I was determined to lead the house to victory, which we achieved. We sang ʻWaka Wakaʼ by Shikira, and ʻWe will rock youʼ. The children had great fun in learning and performing the songs.
Without Think Pacific projects playing an active role in MDS, the children would not be as enriched as they are today. We helped them in so many ways and the Headmaster is always grateful for the support and help he gets from the TP projects that go out there. Without TP the children would not play any sport at all as they have no PE teachers, and seeing, playing and experiencing the huge potential these kids have in various sports is incredible. It made me realise how lucky English kids are to be able to get involved in so many sports at schools with regular competitions. These Fijian kids could only dream of what we have over here, and if they had the sports infrastructure and coaching that English children receive they would rocket past children of the same age as them on the sports ladder to success due to their natural physical ability and passion that they have already built inside them. We organised matches for them between the other school on the island, and this was an amazing experience for them, as they had never played against anyone else apart from their fellow schoolmates. The girls’ netball team that I helped coached, played amazingly and won.
Improving vital local infrastructure is one of Think Pacific aims, and building the kindergarten for the kids in the village has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have taken part in. The bridge was incredible too, and slowly seeing this building being erected over the weeks was breathtaking. Before I went out, I had never held a hammer or saw in my life, I can safely say that I now have knowledge in this field and I am looking forward to my next encounter with such tools. I definitely shed buckets of sweat, and in my particular case, on more than one occasion, blood, on the build project. I loved every second in helping on the build that the team leaders recognised my enthusiasm and I was awarded the building project award at the end of the project. Without our help the kids did not have a decent building to have kindi, where the beginning of their education starts. Before we came to the village, it was taken in the corner of their community hall, with limited space and materials. Leaving the village with a kindergarten that we have provided them feels incredible and I know the kids cannot wait to start their learning in the new building. All the villagers used this particular river crossing where we re built them a stable bridge. The bridge had collapsed years ago and they were currently using a metal plank to walk across, when the tide was high the sea would cover the plank but everyone would still have to walk across it as it was the only access to the walk path to the school, as the village had insufficient funds to build a new one. Each day walking back from school and seeing the bridge being improved was warming, and knowing we provided this new luxury for them. It felt even more worthwhile that the bridge had been paid for voluntary, out of the money we paid for the project and knowing it was going towards an essential cause that enriched all the villagers lives.
Again words cannot describe how grateful I am for the scholarship I was awarded from you, and you made this voluntary trip possible for me. I have learnt so much about myself and have pushed myself in so many ways beyond my comfort zone, for example taking a class of twenty Fijian children that are not fluent in English and trying to engage and teach them in various subjects with no qualified teacher or syllabus to follow. It is you, your imagination and the class, and that has left me with amazing experiences that will be cherished for life. Think Pacific is a small and personal company set out to achieve incredible goals for underprivileged communities. It has not only made a huge difference to my life but also to the lives of so many others, as Think Pacific really does make a difference.
Bruce Torrance - Dollar Academy - Project Trust in Guyana , 2009
As published in Conference and Common Room
A Sky filled with stars
Bruce follows his mother’s example
Within my dining room bookshelves, nestling amongst world atlases, encyclopaedias and other such nondescript non-fiction, lie the rather florid family albums. Within these much perused volumes are snaps from the dawn of time – my parents dating, my entrance into the world as an embarrassingly fat and pink baby, my brothers following behind in similar fashion – but, in a much more neglected album, hide much more interesting pictures. It has a plainer and more modest covering than the others and, as such, is largely overlooked; its spine is simply entitled: “South Africa” and contains my mum’s photographs taken while on her gap year with Project Trust. All 145 of them. To examine its content closely was, and still is, always something of a shock: did mum really have hair as blonde as that? Why is she sitting on an ostrich?
Scattered about the house are other additional subtleties of African origin: tiny clay houses which form a small village; a mask-like musical instrument; wood carvings of tribesmen; but always having had them around me when I grew up, I didn’t realise until very late that they hinted at something far from normal: I had thought nothing of them. Until I started expressing an interest in taking a gap year – and the stories came forth.
A gap year had long appealed to me. 7 years of primary education, 6 years of secondary education followed by a further 4 years of tertiary education all rolled one on top of another? Utter madness. A break was needed, if only to preserve my sanity. I got involved with Project Trust as a direct result of my mum. She was very quick to point towards the support structure which an organisation like Project Trust could provide. Inevitably, I gravitated towards Project Trust, although I did show some interest in other organisations sending teenagers abroad, but Project Trust’s record is hard to contend with: 40 years of operation is quite simply staggering. Also, the places that Project Trust could offer to send me were innumerable and fascinating: almost every single country was far-flung; none were the surf-swim-snorkel-build-something-afterwards-then-go-home-after-three-weeks type of experience which sadly typifies Gap years at the moment.
The wildness and remoteness of some of the countries was a real attraction for me – Guyana, the country I would go to and eventually fall in love with, I had never heard of before. Further investigation revealed nothing: Guyana, once a proud colony of the British Empire, has been largely abandoned and forgotten. Next to no useful information could be gathered on it – until, miracle of miracles, a BBC documentary was released 3 weeks before I departed, documenting the abundant wildlife of Guyana. What followed was an eye-opening 3 hours of television education – I had never seen video or pictures of Guyana and the series was just what I needed to get me really interested in the country, wildlife and people of Guyana. I think it also terrified my mum to her wits ends when she saw just how remote a place I was nonchalantly departing to.
Outside of work there were far, far more things to get used to: from the sudden absence of running water, electricity and sanitary facilities in our house (and much of the village for that matter) to the intense humidity and heat throughout the day; from the shrieking of insects and the occasional bat, which felt the need to fly into our house, and then into all our walls, at night, to the omnipresent cockroaches which quite literally got everywhere. It was definitely a step outside of my comfort zone and at times things were a struggle, but at the end of the day, that is what I wanted my gap year to be: something out of the ordinary, something challenging, something rewarding and something that I would ultimately be proud to say I did. It certainly turned out to be all of them.
During my year I saw some amazing places: the rainforest, Machu Picchu, the utter blackness of night and a sky filled with stars; met awe inspiring people: Dru, school Headmistress, Uncle Mac, village elder; and did some truly unbelievable things: gold mining, eating “bush meats” freshly caught in the rainforest, and helped all the unqualified teachers pass their English exam.
Now at university, when asked what I did last year and I reply: “Gap year”, I can see the eyes glaze over in front of me. I can tell what they think: huh, run-of-the-mill. I wonder if he went skiing or backpacking in Australia... I enjoy seeing them scrabble around the floor for their jaws when I reveal the details.
I would have had it no other way.
I owe much to many people who made my Gap year in Guyana so enjoyable and rewarding. I think the things that I saw and encountered whilst over there have changed the way that I see the world indefinitely. I feel unique and enlightened, even amongst the vast majority of people who opt to take a Gap year, just for doing something so different and beneficial with my time last year. I know that I shall never regret doing it.
Amy Foster – Alleyn’s School – Project Trust, Guyana 2010
As I sit down to write this, my final newsletter for the year, it is hard to commit words to paper. It is not that I have nothing to say, for believe me I could talk about Orealla forever. It is just that at the time of writing this I have just two days left in Orealla and I guess writing this makes leaving more real.
When I left the UK, I was cool as a cucumber right up until the day I left. Then I started to wobble a bit and the reality of what I was about to do hit me. It is the same now I am leaving my new home. I have been trying blissfully to pretend that my time in Orealla is not coming to an end by going about my life normally, but it is pointless to pretend any longer as I start to say goodbye to all my friends and pack my whole life into a bag once again.
I'm not really sure where to start, but I guess the beginning is as good a place as any. I am honest enough to admit that when I first arrived in Orealla, I didn't really enjoy myself. However, I'm pretty sure that's a normal reaction to being plucked out of your nice, comfortable, familiar life and being plonked in the middle of nowhere with little more than your wits and those of a virtual stranger to rely on. I'm sure you will remember the challenges I faced at the start of the year - the seemingly impenetrable "language barrier", the sweltering heat on top of the humidity, the frustrations of the Guyanese education system and my own inexperience. Time passed slowly at first and every day brought a new problem. Should I ignore animal conservation laws and eat this turtle? How many mangoes can I eat without making myself sick? Will any students ever turn up to school? How best to make school engaging for those who do bother? Again I think it was natural to question whether I had bitten off more than I could chew. I stuck with my oversized mouthful though and I look back on my first fully positive day in Orealla as an achievement to be proud of. I love to laugh at stories of foreigners who reach Guyana, find out that they won't be staying in a five-star hotel and turn around and head straight home. At the very least I can say that I was willing to take on the challenges that I was faced with.
After the much-needed Christmas holidays, time began to speed up and whole weeks were virtually over before I knew they had even begun. The main thing that made life easier was learning to speak Creolese. As with learning all new languages, I started with being able to understand other people, then learnt little phrases like "me no know" and eventually became fluent (more of that later). I say learnt a "new language" because I think that Creolese is significantly different from "deep English" to be able to be classed as a separate language. If you don't agree with me then tell me what "de disc a freak out" or "de rain a hambug we" really mean. Once I had learnt to talk the talk, I could gaff with people (chat, make jokes etc.) and I made friends. Amerindian are notoriously shy and every time I got another person to open up to me, they confessed that they had been shame (embarrassed) to talk to me because they worried that I wouldn't be interested in what they were saying. Everyone was genuinely surprised that I was desperate to talk to them. Even though I became physically fitter from walking everywhere (no buses, trains etc. in Orealla), it began to take me longer to go everywhere, as I would stop to catch up with people. I have also become accustomed to saying "Good morning / afternoon" when I pass someone on the street (like my grandfather). Much of the UK will seem very hostile in comparison. Woe betide me if I make eye contact with anyone on the tube. People in Orealla love it when I shock them by saying that when you travel on public transport in London, you should pretend that you are the only person on the bus/train carriage. Unless, like the Good Samaritan, you are offering your seat to an elderly/disabled/pregnant person, I guess.
Another thing that surprised people about me was that I was more than willing to try new things. Again people were shame. This time they were shame to give me traditional things to eat like cassava bread and fish stew made with cassava water or take me to a pine farm. I had a hard time explaining that doing all these different things was the very reason I came to Orealla. If I wanted to bathe in a shower and watch TV all day I need never have left the UK. People who didn't know me so well kept their stereotype of the "precious white girl" with her "soft hands" but people who were brave enough to get to know me and vice versa came to understand my motivation for spending a year in such an isolated community. I am always flattered by the mixture of surprise and disgust that foreigners who visit Orealla express when they find out that I have lived in Orealla for so long. They never believe that I bathe riverside everyday and can't understand why I would politely decline chow mien in favour of cassava bread. They don't know that back in the day when Amerindians ate sheer traditional food, they stayed healthy and strong well into their old age. Even today the Captain of the village can keep up with any young person climbing the hill in the village, and he is 70+.
After my partner left in February, I had no choice but to speak Creolese all the time. The head teacher at school quarrelled with me for not "speaking properly" and I probably drove my mother crazy as I tried to translate from Creolese inside my head to normal English out loud when I rang her occasionally. On the other hand, I was a source of endless fascination to visitors who would question me for hours just to hear how I talk. You would imagine that that would get annoying, but I learnt to laugh at myself along with them (which I was never capable of doing before). I was always offered lifts and free lunches too, which no gap year student ever turns their nose up at. Another bonus was that the students at school and I could relate to each other. In the first school term we may as well have been speaking different languages, but my speaking Creolese made the lessons more accessible. Plus, making the children laugh at my Creolese made them more engaged in the lesson.
As I mentioned earlier, very few students turned up for school at the beginning of the academic year. They began to filter in after a month or so, and even in the second term I would arrive in class to find a new student who had just come back to school. Needless to say they were hopelessly behind and my "education is important" talks probably fell on deaf ears. Teaching is not an easy job anywhere, but a remote Amerindian village is probably one of the most challenging places to teach. Orealla School has virtually no resources other than an endless supply of chalk. Whilst that frustrated me, it didn't really bother most of the Guyanese teachers with their ‘chalk and talk’ style.
Another issue with the school is the Headmaster. At first glance he looks like a genuinely good guy. He makes long speeches about the need for interactive lessons which cater for "all learning styles", he talks about including all students in lessons and treating them equally, he doesn't "drop lashes" even though he is allowed to, he fabricates elaborate "maths month" plans and plans inter-class quizzes. This all sounds great but... a 3 hour talk on special needs is too long. He never follows through on plans he makes, he doesn't lead by example or follow his own advice by teaching and he is overly obsessed with the records that the Ministry demands. This last fault is not his alone but a problem with the whole Guyanese education system. If only they could realise that it is more important to impart knowledge and enthuse students about the subject rather than make sure that records are complete. I guess also I can't totally put the blame upon the HM. He isn't supported by the staff for petty political issues that makes it difficult to work together towards the goals he sets. Yet he doesn't do himself any favours or endear himself to people though. He doesn't know how to talk to people as a leader. He doesn't give praise when you do something good or give constructive criticism only shouts and complains when you do something wrong. Just like the students, the teachers eventually become disheartened and stop making an effort. The HM has just one year left until retirement and I will be excited to hear what happens when someone new takes over.
This term I started a remedial program with a group of grade 7 boys who can't read or write. They desperately needed help, as the lessons they are taught in normal school are useless to them. I was pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic they were and I was over the moon when some of them even came and asked for extra lessons. The teaching was fun actually as we played games and ate fruit. I am only sorry that I won't be able to finish the program as my time is up. Someone wrote me that a two-year commitment would be more beneficial to everyone (including myself). I totally agree with them. Now that I have settled in I know how to go about sorting out problems and on whom I can rely. On the other hand though, I am still young, and going to University and learning more skills will enable me to help more in the future. Besides no one will even let me defer an offer for medicine twice. I'm excited about the opportunities I have ahead of me and know that I will appreciate them all the more knowing that few people in Orealla ever have the same chances in life.
I came to Orealla to teach but I have actually enjoyed my time outside the classroom more. It's depressing but true that I have probably learnt more than I have taught. But than again, I have made more effort than the majority of the students. As I said before, people were shocked by how willing I was to experience new things. Even more than last term, this term I made an effort to find out something new or try something different everyday. I couldn't wait to reach back home (Orealla!) after Easter. The Easter holiday was enjoyable, it was nice to relax a little and see a different part of Guyana, but I was desperately excited to come home.
Hammocks are a large part of Guyanese culture and I have become a little obsessed with them. I will probably be seen as an eccentric hippie when I return to the UK but here I am totally normal. I had decided to try to make my own hammock as a souvenir and my friend Auntie Esther showed me how. Technically it's not that difficult and Auntie Esther patiently explained each step and then I set about the actual work. It is back breaking work. It takes hours (even for an Amerindian who works much faster than me) and you have to sit hunched up on the floor. My hammock-making antics only gave people in the village another reason to laugh at (with?) the crazy white girl. I am sure though that they were impressed by what I was doing and I appreciated being told that I am the only volunteer so far who has made such an effort to learn a craft like that. My hammock took a long time to finish but one of my best moments from this year was the first time I sat in it. I would be hard pressed to find anything more comfortable or satisfying. A hammock is not the only thing I learnt to make though. Initially I ended up spending a lot of time with Auntie Esther to work on my hammock but I persuaded her to show me other things as well. By the end of the year I can now bake competently in an oil drum oven and make almost any Guyanese snack/dish. Another of my best moments in Orealla is the day I made a cake all by myself for Esther's father for father's day because everyone else was too busy. I have also collected up various seeds from plants and my favourite fruits in Orealla and have made necklaces and earrings that will do nothing but encourage that hippie label.
In the first term I felt like life was passing in slow motion, in the second term I was jogging through life, but now in the final term I am sprinting along like an Olympic athlete. I can’t really get my head round the fact that my time is coming to an end. It's difficult to explain how I really feel. I am excited about going home to the UK and seeing my family again but I love living here. There is always more to learn and see and it will be very difficult to say goodbye to all the friends I have made. Also, to be honest, I am anxious about living in the UK again. I am worried that no one will understand what I am saying and will get bored of my endless stories and anecdotes about Orealla. The UK will seem outrageously expensive too and I will have trouble keeping up with the fast pace of life. I will have to adapt all over again like I had to when I moved here.
People ask me if this year has been worth it. If I had to go back and choose what I wanted to do in my Gap Year again I would always choose the same thing. This year I have spent in Orealla has been one of the best years of my life. I have learnt so much - about myself and the way that other people work as well as how to make things like hammocks and cassava bread. I feel like I have matured as a person too. I mentioned that I know how to laugh at myself, I have become less selfish, I am now willing to help other people and have become more tolerant of others (and maybe more tolerable as a result?). I am sure that some things in life will seem easier now that I have had these experiences. I will be able to relate to other people who I have nothing in common with and I am more self-reliant. I will no longer need to ring my Dad up at 4am screaming that there is a mouse in my bedroom, and I am sure that will be a relief for him. I always knew that I wouldn't be able to change the whole world, I was never that naive, but I will leave with the satisfaction or knowing that I have helped a few people - even if it is just encouraging Auntie Esther to bake bread everyday to sell, or enthusing a few students about learning to read.
Whilst some memories will inevitably fade and become more distant I know that I will always carry a little part of Orealla with me. The experiences that I have had here are incorporated into myself as they have helped shape what I am today. I will also never forget the kindness and hospitality that I was treated with by the locals. I only wish that everyone had the same opportunities that I have had. I realise that a year in Orealla isn't right for everyone but lots of people could benefit from something similar. This year has definitely made me want to travel more. I have learnt that there is more than one way of doing something and they are all good, just different. There is plenty more to see out there. Hopefully in the future, when I have more skills, I will get the chance to do something similar and make more of an impact by spending longer.
Once again I cannot thank the people who helped me realise this opportunity enough. I can't imagine what I would have done had I not come to Guyana, but I'm sure it would have been less exciting, less fulfilling and I probably wouldn't have learnt so much. As I said at the beginning, I could talk about Orealla forever. If you are interested in hearing more please "don't shame for contact me". I will probably be desperate for a willing audience, as after a few days I'm sure my family will have had their "belly full" of my stories.
Once again thank you,
Alastair Bounds - Monmouth School
Malawi - Africa and Asia Venture
As published in Conference and Common Room in Autumn 2010
Dedza Library Report
When I started my GAP year my plan was to work in the UK and then go to Malawi in Africa, spend 3 months teaching and 6 weeks travelling. When I look back on my time now, that description seems woefully inadequate, and I feel that this report could grow into something of a dissertation.
I was volunteering in a Primary school in a town called Dedza, in Central Malawi near the border of Mozambique on the western side of Malawi. The town had a population of 20,000 and the school had about 2,000 students, or learners as they are known in Malawi.
Originally, there were only three volunteers in the school, but due to changes in circumstances and the gap-year organisation, Africa Venture, having to pull out of one school, that number increased to five. We were living in a house with no electricity, a communal well shared with around five other houses and a dirt floor, which, although basic, was a fantastic home for three months.
Our neighbours were very friendly and I made close friends with one boy in particular, Ephraim, a 17 year old who would often come to me for help with mathematics homework and taught us a lot about Malawian way of life and about Dedza.
The school day started at 7.15 am with assembly, with lessons starting at 7.30 am and continuing until 1.40 pm, with only 20 minutes of break during the day. At 1.40 pm school would finish and learners would go home for lunch. With the day finishing so early, we set up around seven after-school clubs, like mathematics, science, English, French, art, football and rounders.
We noticed that there were some children that would consistently turn up to every club available, and were determined to learn as much as possible from the clubs that were only available when western volunteers were in the school, as most of the teachers would leave as soon as their day was finished.
With this in mind, we started looking for ways to leave a more permanent impact on the school. Many of the children were so keen to learn and better themselves, the best way out of the poverty that affects Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa. The nearest public library was over 150 km from the town so when the idea of building a library came up, I was very keen to pursue the idea, and started looking for quotes and talking to the school about the possibility of building a library on the school grounds.
I also raised the idea with my parents, who were very supportive. I am very involved with the local church in my village and when my mother, a Sunday School teacher mentioned the project to her friend, the other Sunday School teacher, she took it to the priest who publicised it in church. The village magazine wrote about it and, through word of mouth in our tight-knit village, people started donating to the cause. A similar thing happened in one of the other volunteer’s village.
After around eight weeks at the school, we agreed a price with a contractor found through the school of K650,000, around £3,000, for the building of a 12m by 6m library on the school grounds. Africa Venture had offered £350 to the project and Monmouth School, my old school, agreed to do a Mufti Day in aid of it, raising another £350. The other volunteer raised £1,000 from her village and my village, Shirenewton, raised £1,960 from fundraising, getting to the point where we had enough money not only pay for the basic structure, but also to add a storage room in the library and hire an electrician to fit the building with lights and electrical sockets. Additionally, a volunteer at the school in 2007 had been planning to return to Malawi and agreed to spend eight weeks from November to January in Dedza, overseeing the fitting of the library, sourcing books and showing learners how to use it.
Africa Venture was operating in 4 schools in Malawi, so we would occasionally meet up, normally at a group’s house but sometimes at Lake Malawi or in one of the big cities like Blantyre. It was fun meeting up and seeing how the other groups were getting on in their schools and also seeing new parts of Malawi. Whilst we were in Dedza, I tried to learn as much as possible about Malawi from Ephraim, our neighbour, who was very happy to talk as it gave him a chance to practice his English and learn about the UK. He taught us how to make nsima, the main form of food in Malawi, made from maize flour and water, with a texture like raw dough, and talked a lot about Malawi, the political parties, the religious make-up of the country, and the different tribes in Malawi. We tended not to eat meat because there was nowhere other than the market to buy meat and we’d been warned about the health hazards of that meat, but we did buy some chickens and Ephraim showed me the Malawian way to kill and pluck chickens, much to the horror of the girls in the house.
By the end of the 12-week teaching secondment I felt that we had been able to make a genuine and permanent difference on the school, and that our time teaching had affected us all. The library had been started, but only to the point of building the foundations and buying building materials when we left the school. I had confidence in the Headmaster to ensure the building went smoothly and we had agreed with the him that he would contact me when each stage of the building was complete so that we could transfer the next payment for the library.
The school arranged a leaving party for us, with the children waving us goodbye at the bus station. I remember leaving the school with a strange mix of excitement at the prospect of the travelling to come and sadness at leaving a town that had been so good to us for the previous three months
I feel as though my gap year has been a chance for me to challenge myself in ways I had never even imagined, from teaching 80 children at a time to reaching the peak of Africa, from leading a project to build a library to planning out a six week period of travel through four different countries.
I found the entire experience like nothing else I have ever known and cannot begin to describe the impact it will have had on me. I like to think that what I did will have had a beneficial impact on those I taught in Dedza and I do believe that the library we built in Dedza will be an asset to the school that all learners in the school, now and in the future, will reap benefits.
I would like to thank the Bulkeley Evans Scholarship Fund for all its assistance to me.
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