We speak to Ms Hina Patel, Principal of EtonHouse International School, Dongguan who spent the summer of 2017 in East Africa as a volunteer teacher.
What inspired you to be a volunteer teacher?
I’ve always had a passion for education and travel. In my 20’s, I went backpacking around the world and saw many underprivileged people in need. I knew that it was my responsibility to make a difference through education no matter how big or small.
Where did you go this summer?
I went to Tanzania and Zanzibar in East Africa. It was sad to see children living in extreme poverty, where basic needs of sanitation, clean water and food are not met. It was heartbreaking to see children having limited access to a basic necessity like water and watching children drink water that is disease ridden.
Why did you go there? Why volunteer?
I believe it’s good to get out of your comfort zone and to remind ourselves of just how privileged we are. I think everybody has a humanitarian side and I strongly believe that volunteering and helping others less fortunate can be very rewarding. It is a great way to give back to local communities, while immersing in the culture and essence of the place.
What was the most difficult part of this trip?
The most difficult part was the roller coaster of emotions I was on. There were so many times when I felt completely helpless. Volunteering in a poverty stricken community, there were moments I felt like I wasn't able to make any real impact. There were times I just wanted to give up and start crying, but I realised that my gestures and contribution, no matter how small I felt they were, really did make a difference to the community. I realised that any basic skills and knowledge that I was imparting to the children can impact somebody’s day and life.
Can you share with teachers what they can teach there? What is school there like?
Often, the only resources available are a chalk board and chalk; this is both challenging and exciting because you have to be very creative in how you teach. The children are very curious about you and want to find out about you and the country you come from. You can share and impart any basic skill or knowledge that you have! Seeing the joy on the children’s faces when you spend quality time with them, teaching them new things is indescribable.
What are the similarities and differences between children in Africa and in your school?
Children are children anywhere in the world, full of positive energy and laughter no matter their circumstances. We need to remind our children of how privileged we are. I think as an educator, it’s important that we teach our children to give back to those less fortunate than ourselves. We need to lead our children by example, and empower them to bring about change on a large scale.
What influence has it had on you after this trip?
Helping out others has a way of bringing out the best in us. I got back to school with a newfound understanding and appreciation for life. I also gained a whole new perspective on being a school leader. I hope to instill in our children empathy and social consciousness and empower them to discover that they can play a part to impact lives and effect change in our world.
After sharing my experience, I was contacted by many colleagues, friends and acquaintances with positive messages, all wanting to find out how they could get involved. I was greatly encouraged that I could continue raising awareness for the cause even after the trip.
What advice would you give to others?
Be open to all experiences, and be prepared to work hard. The amount of joy and life-changing moments that you get out of an experience like this is directly relative to the effort, dedication and hard work that you put in.
A big part is getting involved with the people you are there to help. After just a short time I knew who everybody was and vice versa. Very quickly, those relationships became very close knit, like being part of an extended family. Try to do the little that we can, and really, that every little bit that we do, combined, can make a big difference.