Molo Titshalakazi! (Good Morning Teacher!) - Volunteer Teaching In Africa

You’re probably familiar with the concept of teaching overseas, as an opportunity to live and work in a foreign community – it’s been a popular option for educated and adventurous folk since we were first able to travel abroad with relative ease. People used to associate teaching in a foreign country with paid work, through TEFL programmes or initiatives like the UN Peace Corps.

Both of these options need a fairly lengthy time commitment and training period, due to the nature of the work. But did you know that you don’t have to sign up to leave home for months or years? You can also volunteer your skills as a teacher for a few weeks in a foreign schoolroom, while enjoying the holiday of a lifetime.

If you are an aspiring young teacher on a gap year, a qualified teacher who wants to take a sabbatical, a retired teacher who has lots of time and energy to offer, or someone who isn’t qualified as a teacher but likes the idea of volunteering your skills as an educator in a needy community - there is an education volunteer project out there that will suit you. Come to Africa and enjoy a sightseeing holiday in some of the world’s most spectacular surroundings, while you immerse yourself in vibrant cultures, help to nourish hungry young minds, and support and inspire the community educators. Time for the teachers to learn as much as the pupils!

Basic literacy and numeracy skills are obviously of huge importance in societies wishing to take their place in the modern world. Unfortunately, in developing countries with minimal resources, basic education often takes a back seat when pure survival must be paramount. Lots of schools in these areas are poorly equipped and overcrowded, and staff are few and undertrained. As a volunteer teacher, you will have the opportunity to work alongside staff assisting with teaching the basics such as reading, writing and arithmetic. You can also flex your teaching muscles with your speciality subjects, such as the geography and history of your home country, if the project allows for this. There will be be opportunities for life orientation lessons and extra-curricular activities.

Teachers in underprivileged communities are a rare breed – despite having limited resources and a possible lack of training and skills of their own, they are selflessly dedicated to helping children to learn and grow. As a volunteer, you can positively influence the community education system as a whole by helping to support these hardworking souls with your skills and knowledge, give them ideas on lesson planning and course materials, and even just give them a breather so they can catch up on reading or studying. Your influence can extend beyond just being “a stranger standing up in front of a class”. A flexible and energetic volunteer will find no limit to the valuable input they can offer to both students AND teachers, even if it’s only for a few weeks.

To paraphrase Carl Jung, pupils admire brilliant teachers, but are most grateful to those who nurture them with warm human feelings.  You don’t have to be on the short list for the annual Global Teacher Prize to make a difference as a volunteer teacher. Your knowledge should go hand in hand with being patient and positive, being willing to offer plenty of personal attention and encouragement, and wishing to develop a balanced and empathetic interest in the kids’ and their families’ lifestyle and culture. Kids primarily need the love and attention of their own families and communities, of course. But it’s inspiring to them to know that they matter in the bigger scheme of things – in a global society that cares about them, their education and their educators. You’re a part of that larger society, and you can help inspire them.

If you’re currently or recently a student or a teacher, you’re probably used to high-tech modern multimedia teaching methods and aids at schools. These is perfectly normal in our fast-moving Millenial culture, and have become so ingrained that we barely remember life before computers. As a volunteer in the developing world, you could well be faced with just a plain chalkboard and the sound of your own voice. Visual aids might be limited to whatever you can find nearby. But never fear, “old-fashioned” works just fine, and you’ll quickly learn to be resourceful. The best resource you will have as a volunteer teacher is - yourself. People around the world thrive on novelty, and kids raised away from the influences of iPhones and satellite TV are certainly no different. Be prepared to draw on your own experiences and interests to bring the lessons alive. Southern Africa, and particularly South Africa, has plenty of resources in less impoverished areas where you should be able to find and purchase material to educate and entertain your classes, if you don’t mind donating a little extra – although most projects will certainly not expect this.

 Alternatively, it’s a great idea to bring goodies from home that will be a source of fascination and inspiration. Leave space in your luggage for magazines and comics, stickers, card and board games, and photos of your own family and friends – these items won’t be too cumbersome and they’ll be a huge source of interest to youngsters and their teachers that have little to no access to luxuries. Any materials you can provide will also be used by the existing teachers to complement their lessons, after you’ve gone.

The prospect of volunteering in countries hovering between the old world and new, and undergoing dramatic social changes, can be pretty daunting. You will face challenges as a volunteer that will test your mettle both as a person AND as a teacher. The most important thing to know is that there is an enormous spirit of optimism in these communities despite their lack of resources, and a lot of enthusiasm to learn.  On top of this, you’ll meet incredible like-minded people and have incredible experiences – volunteer teachers are allowed to enjoy their time off as well as students!


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