Maria Casey from Co. Kerry volunteered as a Teacher Educator with VSO Ireland in Karamoja, Uganda last year.
Here she outlines her reasons for volunteering in the first place and why she encourages other educators to follow suit.
Why I chose VSO Ireland
I jumped at the chance to volunteer with VSO Ireland as I truly believe in their mission. I had been on several overseas volunteering placements before, but they had been mainly in schools, and I wanted to experience more of a multiplier effect. The overall purpose of my VSO placement was to improve the quality of education in Uganda through working with head teachers and college tutors.
Life in the capital city of Uganda, where I spent my in-country orientation is chaotic, hectic and magnificent. I was based ten hours from the city in a rural part of Uganda called Karamoja, where VSO are working through volunteers to upskill local teachers.
What struck me most about education in Uganda is how poorly teachers are valued in society. Many principals struggle to motivate their staff as they often do not get paid for months on end. What lifted my spirits was the fact that these teachers still really wanted to make a difference in their communities and truly believed in the value of education.
Personal and professional rewards
Maria's experience on placement with VSO benefited her both personally and professionally, and has led to a teaching role at Mary Immaculate College.
Teachers should volunteer with VSO because high-quality educational skills are in such demand in developing countries and teachers from Ireland have these in abundance.
The feeling of good-will and gratitude from teachers, parents and children when they see VSO volunteers is indescribable and one which filled me with pride every time I was welcomed to a school as a VSO volunteer.
I learned so much professionally too, both from the training and from the teachers themselves. Working alongside these teachers who have little or no resources made me realise how fortunate teachers and pupils in Ireland are.
In one particular school, the teachers had one piece of chalk to use per day, in other words he had to cover all subjects with the same piece of chalk, since the school’s budget didn’t stretch any further. A stark contrast between that and the situation in Ireland where we might get annoyed if the interactive whiteboard or WiFi fails to work!
I didn’t decide to volunteer with VSO because I was looking for a return. However, my experiences in Uganda ended up enhancing my life in so many ways.
My enthusiasm for education grew even more and I’m now spreading the knowledge of global issues to B.Ed. students in Mary Immaculate College.
I hear people say 'I wouldn't be able to do that' or ‘What could I possibly offer?’ but we all have our gifts and talents and VSO really need teachers to help in areas like
Karamoja where education is needed the most. You could be the difference in helping a child to read because you’ve trained his teacher in phonics or high-frequency words, or you could be the reason a learner with SEN is included in lessons because you’ve explored inclusive learning styles with her teacher.
Recommendations to other educators
So my message to teachers and principals reading this is: If you can do something, why not do it? It's such a privilege to be able to help others through VSO.
I strongly believe that the way VSO trains and sends volunteers is a fantastic way to encourage development worldwide. It really is great to see the learning that takes place between teachers from Ireland and Uganda, and other countries that VSO works in. I highly recommend that anyone who is thinking about taking a career break to give VSO a call as there are always opportunities arising. Volunteering with VSO is one of the most professionally and personally rewarding things I have ever done and it truly has a lasting effect in the communities you work in.