A Gambian teaching experience

Jane Eyre discusses how volunteering for VSO in The Gambia was one of the best things she ever did

“I’d been teaching geography as Head of Year for a large middle school for the last 14 years and I became increasingly aware of how little I knew the countries I spoke about.

I wanted to learn what it meant to live in a developing country and to really gain an understanding of the issues and challenges people face, but I also wanted to give something back.

I started exploring volunteering opportunities overseas and chose VSO. I liked what the organisation did and how it did it.

On a practical and important note, VSO was also the only organisation I came across that could support me financially throughout my placement.

When I eventually applied to volunteer, I thought, “If ever I want to back out, I will” and, to be honest, I waited for that feeling but it never came.

The VSO training was excellent and the organisation supported me every step of the way. Every time I had a concern, they would respond swiftly and all fears would pass.

When I was initially offered a placement in The Gambia, I did panic. I had heard so many negative things about Africa through the press, but when I researched the country, the placement and spoke to the programme manager, the fears passed.

On my first night in The Gambia, I remember looking up to the sky, listening to the Cicadas in the trees and thinking, “I can’t believe it, I’m here.”

I spent my year largely training local teachers in the country, raising awareness of phonics as a means of teaching to children to read. We used the jolly phonics scheme, which includes songs, actions and stories.

I also taught them how to develop teaching resources for their students. 

VSO mainly recruits teachers to work as teacher trainers in the developing world as it’s a way of having a greater impact, as you can, indirectly, reach a lot more students; I worked with more than 200 teachers in the West Coast region around Brikama. 

I’ve been back in the UK for more than a year now and I look back at my VSO experience with such fondness. The experience had a profound effect on me.

I went to The Gambia hoping to give a lot and receive a little, but actually it was the other way around. I learnt so much, about development, the people, the culture and more. I learnt what kindness and generosity really mean. My Gambian colleagues and the locals valued volunteers and I felt incredibly appreciated and I am proud of the small but still significant difference I made.“