Hello everybody. I’m writing this as I’m sitting in Mthatha airport waiting for our flight to Johannesburg where we will have a leaving ceremony with lots of the other volunteers before we fly to Heathrow on Wednesday evening.
As you know my project was Bethany Home Place of Safety in Mthatha and I was teaching grade R and looking after very small children.
In the mornings I taught preschool English, Maths, and Life Skills. This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life as I could watch the children develop and grow, seeing them recall what I’d taught them weeks after having taught them it. The glowing pride I felt and still feel from that has confirmed that teaching is my passion in life, and finding that out was one of my key goals for this year.
Of course, it has not all been sunshine and roses. Teaching was only my morning job, in the afternoons I cared for the toddlers in dayroom. I’d love to say that caring for the little ones filled me with the same sense of pride, but when you’re singlehandedly changing the nappies of 14 two-year olds it can be hard to keep up a positive mental attitude.
Of course, singlehandedly is how I had to do most things come February, as my partner, Chloe, unfortunately left project and South Africa altogether. This made things much harder for me, being expected to work and live without a partner. Luckily, I had the Thembelihle girls down the road who I visited often, but working alone, surrounded by people who constantly speak a different language and having nobody that shares my interests or experiences, for 6 months, was very isolating and challenging at times.
But somehow, although I had my moments I got through it. Even despite the fact that my workload seemed to further increase at Bethany. My organisational skills had been noticed and suddenly I was expected to make a syllabus for the entire year, for even after I’ve left. With absolutely no basis to work off, I used the UK National Curriculum as a guideline and came up with a theme for every week of the year and appropriate lessons for every single day, making my own worksheets as I went which I photocopied every Monday lunchtime. It was an immense amount of work, an entire curriculum for a mixed ability class all done by one person, but I’m also incredibly proud of what I achieved. Bethany Home finally had some organisation and I know that no matter what future volunteers are like they can use that syllabus, my lesson plans and worksheets to teach children for generations to come.
And from all of this I’ve learned two things that are very important to me. The first is that despite having a taste for the stress that teachers and primary educators in particular face, teaching is definitely the career for me. The second is that I learned just how far my abilities can go, that I can do amazing things with enough effort and time, but I also learned when too much was being asked of me: when deadlines were just far too short, and when requests were just unreasonable. Having been in education for so long we’re not really accustomed to really outrageous demands, but sometimes it felt as though I was expected to be superhuman in my work, which I suppose in comparison to mamas who would come into work and go to sleep on the floor instead of looking after the children, might not be such a ridiculous thing.
It’s cliche I know, but the past year really has helped me to grow as a person. To become tougher and more resilient, to confirm things that I thought about myself and occasionally learn something completely new about my own character. It has had it’s ups and it’s downs, it has definitely been the most difficult and testing time of my life and could well remain that way for some time to come, but overall I’m grateful for it, and while I might have done some things differently if I knew then what I know now, I think if I could go back in time and I was asked if I still wanted to do it, I’d definitely say yes.
Thank you to everybody who made this year amazing. Jess and Georgia thank you for helping me through my worst days, thank you Chloe for allowing me to realise how tough I was, thank you to Rose for pushing me to my limit, thank you mama Kris for keeping the kids under control, thank you to my parents for supporting me every step of the way, thank you to all of my donors who helped get me here, thank you Dylan for being incredible and never giving up on me, and finally, thank YOU. The person reading this. Thank you for reading this blog and showing you care.