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.“