2018/2019 winners reports
Kenya - Portia Mason
Dear Mr Mason,
I would like to thank you once again for the contribution that the Bulkeley-Evans HMS Scholarship Fund made to my term volunteering at Pembroke House School in Kenya. Unfortunately due to the COVID 19 outbreak, the school was closed two weeks before the end of term by the Kenyan government and I immediately flew home to be with my family before the borders closed. Although my time in Kenya was cut short, I still had the most incredible time regardless and the early end has only made me want to return as soon as possible. Now I am home, I write a report to you describing my trip and what I learnt from it.
Initially, for the first three weeks I was assigned to the year five lower ability class where I assisted with classes of Maths, English, Geography, History, Science, French and Kiswahili. I also coached my own hockey team compromised of a very weak group of nine and ten year olds throughout the whole term, it was extremely rewarding when they won their first ever match! I was moved to the Prep-prep team due to a lack of staff, focussing particularly on the Nursery children. I had so much fun working with them and it was amazing knowing that the seemingly basic skills I was teaching them – reading, writing drawing – were fundamental as foundations of their future education. One of my favourite parts of working in the Nursery was on Tuesdays when I taught all ten four-year-olds on my own for the whole day. I taught them songs to help them learn their Phonics sounds, we read stories, did lots of painting, drawing, made a big paper puzzle out of all of their faces, and spent a huge amount of time outside with nature. Alongside my work in Nursery I continued to closely support a boy from year five for twenty minutes a day working on a dyslexia programme. On one of the last days I was at Pembroke I reflected back on my first weeks working with him and it was unbelievable to appreciate his significant development; I felt honoured to have achieved this with him.
My day-to-day life involved waking up in my very basic accommodation for a quick cold shower (no hot water!) before heading over to the girls’ house for wake up. I helped the girls put their nets up, make their beds and tidy their areas before breakfast and then straight to lessons. In Nursery I taught the children up to lunch time, I came to appreciate that their attention span was considerably shorter than that of my year five class, so lots of breaks outside and games were required! At times it was quite challenging due to having a class of such varied ability, the weakest were struggling to hold a pencil, let alone draw. However, the children were extremely entertaining and never failed to make me smile everyday. I learnt a lot from them about child development and the importance of early years education. After lunch I would help with the year five lessons before coaching hockey in the late afternoon. I supervised in the girls’ house during showers, I was often asked to French-plait their hair, and then after supper I read stories to the little ones before putting them to bed; one of my favourite parts of the day.
I would visit Restart Africa on a Thursday, a centre that takes in children off the streets of Kenya that previously led horrendous lives of deprivation and abuse, and provides them with a safe, healthy environment in which to grow up. I found this experience inspiring as I had been sending clothes out to this project for many years now. Getting involved in this initiative was particularly eye opening at times and very emotional to see how far the children have developed. Many of the children who grew up at Restart were actually sponsored by Pembroke to do their teacher training and then employed by the school as auxiliary staff, teaching assistants and sports coaches providing them with a constant income and a place to use their skills. I made a conscious effort to get to know the extremely generous local community in Gilgil and alongside this I explored much of the local area including Lake Naivasha, Lake Nikuru, Lake Elementaita and visited Lake Baringo.
My time in Kenya was an invaluable experience and without your contribution I would not have been able to pay for my flights out there, which were essential in enabling me to be involved in this rewarding and fulfilling project at the school. I learnt so much when I was at Pembroke and I left feeling like a different person. From simply just observation I quickly learnt how different children learn, methods of teaching, and even developed my own knowledge on topics the children were studying such as East African History, Kenyan geography and the language of Kiswahili. I feel privileged to have shaped the future of the children I taught through their education and now fully understand the vital importance of education, making me extremely grateful for the one I have had. I was touched by the trust the children put in us as adults but also recognised the great responsibility I had for these children. Pembroke is one of the most wonderful places I have ever been to, there is such a community feel to it and I was welcomed with open arms. I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to volunteer there, develop strong relationships with the both the staff and children, and to have lived in a country as beautiful as Kenya even for just a short time. I was extremely sad to leave after being surrounded by such positivity, gratitude and a common passion for the importance of education. There isn’t anything I don’t miss about being at Pembroke, it is an incredible place full of energy, support, care, motivation and happiness and one I know I will return to, potentially even as a teacher.
I was hoping to go back to Sherborne Girls and talk to the current U6 about my time in Kenya but currently this is on hold until further notice, but I will make sure I notify you when I have done this.
I am so grateful for your generosity, I hope you can tell from my report how fantastic my time was in Kenya, I cannot thank you enough.
I hope everything is well with you despite this uncertain time. I have also attached a few photos of Gilgil, the children I worked with, Restart and Mount Longonot.
Zambia - Ellen Whitehouse
If you had told me a week ago that I would be leaving my home in Zambia I would have laughed in your face, literally. But now I am writing this report with the sound of screaming children in my ears knowing that this is the last time I will ever hear them shouting and singing outside our house. To be totally honest, I guess I am slightly grateful for that.
Due to the coronavirus, I am being sent home to ensure my safety. This has meant that my supposed-to-be 12 months in Zambia has turned into 7 months. Even though, at times, it has been tough and the comforts of home (constant water and power) were greatly desired, I am devastated to be leaving. My time teaching and being part of such a welcoming community has changed me for the better and is an experience that I will never forget (I know, sorry, its cringy).
Most of my time in Zambia was spent teaching students from the ages of 14-23 in maths and the sciences. The syllabuses were, the majority of the time, in line with national-5 and higher work though every so often there would be a topic so bizarre that a lot of preparation had to be done before teaching the lesson, like teaching myself the topic. Sometimes the standard of what I would teaching would also rapidly increase. For example, teaching the students how to read a graph in physics to teaching them complicated gas law questions, basically going from 0 to 100 in a few weeks. This could be a pain, but I came to enjoy this struggled and liked to go to evening prep to provide additional support from the students who where really struggling.
Even though it took most students a full month to arrive after school had opened at the start of term, I always had my hands full; whether that was helping out with organising extra-curricular clubs, preparing the scheme of work or supporting other teachers in any jobs they needed assistance in.
One of my worries before I came was that I would not be excepted by the staff members because of my age or my culture or the fact that I did not have a teaching degree (only a week’s course provided by Project Trust). This seemed crazy to me that I was equipped with the skills to teach in a secondary school even though I had literally just finished being a student in one. Though, thankfully, all of these worries were disproven. I was welcomed with open arms and taken under the wings, which was great because if I ever had any problems, there where people that I could go and gain advice from.
As the weeks passed by my confidence in my teaching ability grew massively and, due to the fact that most of what I was teaching I had been taught at school, I was able to use the knowledge of how my teachers had taught me and then pass this onto my students. I got so much enjoyment out of seeing my students progress, especially the ones who were struggling. But it was not only the students who were gaining something from their education, I learnt a lot of valuable lessons about myself and the way I interact with others.
I was able to understand the value of patience and stay calm in stressful or irritating situations, in order to try and connect with the students. However, sometimes discipline had to be used. Students did not turn up, students would sleep in class, students did not write down the notes… and the list could go on.
Imagine trying to tell a 6+ ft 23-year-old man, when you are a short fresh-faced 17-year-old, that its rude to talk over the teacher. Yes, it was a struggle especially as some students found my accent hard to understand and did not see the punishment I gave as just because I was not beating them. Though, as time went on, the respect for me in the classroom improved and as a result, these problems started to diminish. As a result of this respect, some pupils viewed me as a role model of sorts and to show them that with hard-work and dedication you can succeed.
This meant a lot to me that I was seen as this figure, especially to the female students who were often told by their male counterparts and teachers that their education is important but nowhere near as
important as the boys. This had led to them often being ordered to do cleaning jobs whilst the boys are studying. So for me to show them that their right to education is the same as the boys, and treat all my students the same, meant a lot. This is why at the awards assembly I was very emotional to find that one of my female Grade 11 students was top of her class. She was the only female in the whole school to be top of their class.
The only side of teaching that I found somewhat tedious, was that everything you did or planned to do had to be recorded because it may be checked once in a blue-moon, even though the students jotters were never checked to make sure that they were being taught properly. But this is just the Zambian system and an annoyance so minor compared to everything I loved about being a teacher.
Myself and my project partner, Rosie, lived on the school compound, just outside the local town. Due to the fact that there had been previous white volunteers at the school, it was not a shock for our neighbours to see us (like it was for most Zambian people).
Due to this, our neighbours had already decided on their stereotype for young western white girls; in the way we act and behave. This was tough to deal with at first but did only made the feeling so much better when we got to disprove them and as a result, accepted into their community. We were welcomed into our neighbour’s homes and told lots of story and the traditions that were followed.
Some of these were hard to hear and others hard to take seriously, but I have learnt this year to have an open mind and even though I think something is bonkers, to others it is their beliefs. Whenever we wanted we could turn up to our neighbours for a meal of nshima and a relish of either vegetables or meat. This is the main dish in Zambia with most people eating it 2-3 times a day.
My friends joked that I would get addicted to nshima and they were right. As a result I had to bring back a 5kg bag of mealie meal (grounded maize) with me so that I could share some Zambian culture with my family and friends (also so I did not get withdrawal symptoms from nshima). A massive part of life in Zambia is religion and going to church. Everyone in the community goes and it is basically a big social gathering with food, singing, dancing and preaching. It is very lively and cheerful, something which, in my experience, the UK churches are lacking. By embracing the culture, I was considered a proper Zambian woman as I cooked my nshima in my colourful chitenge (fabric wrap).
My time without constant running water or power really opened my eyes to what actually matters in life and the things that you need to make you happy. In my whole time in Zambia, I rarely met one person who never had a smile and would not say ‘Bwanji’ (‘hello’ in Chinyanja, the local language). Being welcoming and friendly is part of the Zambian way and it is considered rude if you do not greet everyone you walk past.
This is why it was important to learn a bit of Chinyanja so that I could have a basic conversation with someone. In my experience, it made peoples day to know that I was interested in their culture and could greet them properly. It was also helpful in the classroom as for almost all of my students, English was not their first language.
This was also the case with most of the children that we babysat on a daily basis. In Zambia, your neighbours are your babysitters, there is no such thing as nursery. The upbringing of a child is a community effort which means that if the parent wants to go anywhere they send the child to a neighbour without asking or without saying how long they will be (timekeeping does not exist in Zambia).
It is just a given that you will look after them. This meant that we had basically become full-time teachers and full-time babysitters. Even though it took some getting used to, the children really made my time in Zambia and would always put a smile on my face, even if they were being a pain.
Even though I did sometimes experience sexism and misogynistic views, my overall feeling towards Zambian people is love. They are always happy, even when the most horrible things happen, and can always see the positives in a situation. Something which I really benefitted from.
Overall, my experience teaching in Zambia was incredible and I so happy that I had the chance to go. This year has truly changed me and made me a lot more appreciative of everything I have and the ability to access. I have met some amazing people and travelled to wonderful places, but most of all I have found that I love to teach. I got so much joy seeing my students progress and building a really good but professional relationship with them.
This definitely will not be the last time that I am at the front of a classroom. I will forever be grateful to my Zambian family who took me in, really making this place a home, and the teachers who welcomed me into the school and helped me out whenever I was struggling. I have done stuff which I never dreamt off, such a doing a traditional Zambian dance on the stage in front of over 1,000 women and the majority of the school students for International Women’s Day. I have been able to have these experiences due to the funding I generously received and as a result, will eternally be grateful.
Once again thank you for your support,