This from Dianne – our Volunteer Programme Advisor.
It’s now three years since I started volunteering as programme advisor for people and places and in that time I have visited nearly all our projects, in nine different countries – Morocco, Cambodia, India, Nepal, South Africa, Swaziland, Kenya, the Gambia and Saint Lucia. In all these countries I have talked to our local partners and to people at each of the projects about what sort of help they would like from our volunteers and how we can best contribute to the work they are doing there. I thought you might be interested to read a summary of what I have learned – maybe one of these projects would appeal to you as somewhere you could volunteer next. So, in no particular order . . . . .
In Morocco we are helping Education for All, a charity which has built and runs boarding houses for girls from the Berber tribes in the high Atlas Mountains to enable them to access secondary school education. Here we need female volunteers who can speak some French to work with the girls in the boarding houses, helping them to catch up with their French in particular but also helping them to learn English and generally to help their house-mother provide a welcoming and comfortable environment for them outside of school.
Here we work at Grace House, a community centre set up to work with families from rural communities who are living on or just above the poverty line, helping them to learn the skills to survive as families. We can use a wide range of volunteer skills here. Children from these families attend the centre for half a day (they are at school for the other half), and you can help the local Khmer teachers and children with their English, Maths, Science, and do various art, craft and topic work with them. Or maybe you have the skills to work with the young adults who attend the centre to learn various vocational skills (e.g. wood-work, electrics, weaving, computer literacy) which will hopefully enable them to get paid work to support their families.
Our project in India is at a school in rural Rajasthan. The school’s motto is ‘Learn Through Play’ and volunteers work with the teachers to help them make learning English a more active and fun experience. The children are keen to learn and very well behaved (even when there are no teachers in the classroom!). I have volunteered here twice myself so I’m may be a bit biased, but this is definitely my favourite of all our projects! They haven’t had any volunteers for a while, so if you are a teacher or a classroom assistant maybe this is somewhere you would like to go.
We work in three places in Nepal, although current problems over the need to get work permits means we are currently not sending volunteers to this country. However I will tell you about the projects as we hope to find a way of overcoming this problem and sending volunteers back there soon.
The first is Amar Jyoti, a primary school near Pokhara in central Nepal. The government of Nepal has decreed that all teaching should be in English and school books have been translated into English, but little or no training has been put in place to help teachers with what is for them a foreign language. So our volunteers here have been helping the teachers both to develop their own language skills and to develop enjoyable teaching methods for use in the classroom.
Our second project in Nepal is in the village of Sermathang, high in the beautiful Himalayan Mountains. In 2001 the village school was destroyed meaning that there was no school within two days’ walk for children from this region. A group of determined local people managed to raise the money to reopen the school in 2009 and are working hard to provide good quality education and staff training for the people of this area – they would love your help with this. All teaching is in English and understanding of English among staff and pupils is generally good. A clinic is attached to the school to provide basic healthcare for the village, so if you have medical experience you could make a valuable contribution here. This is a lovely school with an excellent working atmosphere; it is also a great opportunity to experience living and working in a real rural community, getting to know the local people and experiencing life up in the mountains.
Our third project is in the capital city of Kathmandu where we work with an established and reputable orphanage where the concentration is on rehoming the children and on enabling them to lead productive lives after they leave the orphanage and finish with school.
We work in two places in South Africa: in the Eastern Cape and in Johannesburg (Soweto).
In the Eastern Cape I visited some of the schools where our volunteers work, though there are other volunteering opportunities here too which I didn’t have time to go to. We are currently placing volunteers in 6 different schools in the townships of Port Elizabeth and in the countryside near Addo. These schools are well used to having our volunteers now and we have built up a good working relationship with them. Real progress is being made in various aspects of curriculum development and classroom management and if you enjoy working with young people there are lots of opportunities for a great placement here.
In Johannesburg we have new local partners and I really enjoyed staying with them at the only backpackers’ in Soweto. There are many volunteering opportunities here based around the work of a local community centre, Sizanani. There are after-school clubs for children, vocational training for members of the local community and opportunities for nurses and health workers to go out with local workers into the local community. The ending of apartheid has solved some problems in this area but there is still a great deal of hardship and the people here would be very grateful for our help in many different ways.
In Swaziland our link is with six neighbourhood care points, looking after some of the poorest families in this very poor country. At each care point the children receive basic care and education, with the aim of providing them with enough pre-school education to enable them to start school, as only children with enough basic knowledge are allowed to access the education system at all. The care points have minimal resources and the teachers have almost no training and only receive a very small stipend, so anyone with experience in childcare or early childhood development would be able to make a valuable contribution here.
It’s also possible to volunteer in Swaziland on conservation projects, but I haven’t visited these.
Our main project in Kenya is at a special school catering for children with two types of disability – hearing loss and cerebral palsy. Don’t feel you have to be an expert on working with physical special needs to be able to make a good contribution here. The local staff are well trained in how to teach these children, but they need some support in looking after children who are often ostracised in their own community – having volunteers would be a real boost for them.
Or, if you would like to work in conservation, you can volunteer in Kenya at the Turtle Watch project.
There are many different volunteering opportunities in the Gambia which is one of the most popular countries for our volunteers. They fall into two broad categories: education and business. If you enjoy education and childcare, you can work in one of the local schools or at the Futures Training Centre, where Lisong (one of our local partners) runs teaching training sessions for local staff. If you have experience in health care, there are clinics attached to several of the schools, and we also hope to place volunteers in a hospital at Bwiam, a rural area of the Gambia. Business volunteers usually work with one of the small businesses which are members of ASSET, (Association of Small Scale Enterprises in Tourism), helping them to develop their businesses in a variety of ways. Because ASSET members include a wide range of businesses, we can match volunteers with many various skills and experiences, ranging from marketing to catering to building to hotel management – and nearly anything else you can think of in between!
Most of our projects in Saint Lucia involve working with teenagers who have in one way or another been let down by the country’s academic education system. Some of them have left school with few or no qualifications; others have dropped out of school for one reason or another; others are at special schools to cater for their particular needs. All of the projects want help to build these young peoples’ confidence and self-esteem, to help them with basic life skills and in some cases to help provide them with vocational training which may help them into employment. This would be a great volunteering experience for those of you who enjoy working with teenagers and young adults – and in a beautiful location as well!
We also have a project linked to Saint Lucia National Trust.
So is there a project here that appeals to you? Where will you go in 2014? – You’re spoilt for choice!