Friday, 14 August 2009

WorldTeach Application

The process to apply to become a WorldTeach teacher is a long one, presumably to weed out any people who are only applying on a whim. There is an online application form; which once recieved and processed is followed by the following:

* 3 essays which form your personal statement
* A resume (CV for us Brits)
* 2 references
* Academic Transcripts (University and school grade reports)

After all of this is completed and submitted you are then given an interview with a returning volunteer. In my case it was over the telephone at 10 at night!

My reson for telling you all of this is because I want to share with you my 3 essys that I wrote, as these I feel, help to address the question of 'why' that I keep getting.

1. At this point in your life, what is your motivation for wanting to be a WorldTeach volunteer in the country to which you are applying? What personal goals do you aim to achieve by participating in the programme? What contributions do you hope to bring to the community in which you live and teach?

I have been a qualified teacher now for six years and throughout that time I have been volunteering in my holidays in schools and school projects that the African Children’s Choir run. I came to a realisation the last time I was leaving that working with disadvantaged children was something that I really desired to do. On a very simple level it is very narcissistic and selfish, fulfilling self-worth criteria. However, it goes much deeper than that into the very core of a human being. The human nature is to help others; not to pass by suffering on the street. There are children out there in extremely desperate situations that need help; and I feel that I am in a position, at this time in my life, to do whatever I can to help relieve their suffering. There are many, many teachers in the UK who are committed to the students here; I want to commit to students who are not as fortunate. Education is a way out of the vicious circle that is poverty.

As a music teacher I am extremely interested in other cultures and traditions and crave the opportunities to visit places where this is so different to what I am accustomed to. My school choir in the UK performs a mix of Western European, American and Africa music; all of which have been influenced my by travels. When looking for a volunteer position this was forefront in my mind as I was deciding on a country for application.

I would hope that, as a music teacher I could bring some extra enrichment into the children’s lives with some sort of extra-curricular musical activities, depending on the school and principal. The transformation that music can make in a child’s life is phenomenal; shy, introverted children become more confident and out-going, they are more able to converse with their peers and adults and their self-worth and self-esteem sky-rocket. If a child has something to look forward to at the end of a school day then they will have a more positive attitude to school as a whole.

2. Describe the best experience you have had teaching a new skill or concept to an individual or a group. How will your prior teaching experience (formal and informal) inform your experiences as an educator in a developing country?

The one teaching experience that really stood out for me was when I was at the ACC boarding school in Cape Town, SA. A group of children had been at the school for about 4 weeks before I arrived and they had just started to learn English. I was asked to take small groups for literacy, numeracy and 1-2-1 support. There was one little girl who did not speak for the first week with me, she was very shy but her mathematic skills were excellent. Her English skills, however, were extremely weak. We were learning how to say simple words and she was struggling with combining sounds together, as they were very different in her language. I was really despairing as nothing I was trying worked. One lunch hour I was out in the yard and some of the children asked me to teach them a song from home so I sat down with them and taught them ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’. This girl was attracted by the singing and came to sit with us. After a few minutes I looked over to find her singing along pronouncing the words correctly. She had missed the pronunciation bit at the start of the song but picked it up through singing it. Every lesson after that we started off singing and then saying the words she needed to learn; soon she was conversing in English with all her teachers and friends.

I feel in this circumstance that none of my prior teaching experience had helped as I tried everything I could think of and nothing was working. As a teacher you have to learn to think outside of the box and come up with new and interesting ways in which to teach the material. No two children learn the same. This experience was back in 2004; it has influenced my teaching over the last 5 years and made me realise that teaching is not a strict textbook approach; it is much, much more.

3. Living and working in a developing country for an extended period of time is quite challenging.

* What qualities do you possess that will be valuable as you face these challenges? As you are responding to this question, think about the cultural and lifestyle differences you may encounter in a developing country.
* Please provide an example or examples of how you have adapted to a significant lifestyle transition (home or abroad) in the past.

Even though I have experienced some very contrasting cultures these last 6 years I am in no way making any assumptions on how different, or the same, Rwanda will be to anything I have experienced thus far. I feel that I am a fairly adaptable person with a bright and positive outlook who can make the best of any situation. This alone has gotten my through some difficult and awkward times. I am not a high-maintenance girl; I don’t require constant stimulation as is becoming part of the Western world. I would much rather go out and see the areas that I am living, meet the people and experience the culture. I am aware that as a woman in certain countries I will be treated differently to how I am at home; I was in South Africa. Usually at home I live in trousers, jeans and khaki’s; in SA I was expected to wear skirts and dresses a lot of the time. I have no problem in adapting to cultural demands; it is part of respecting the culture in which I am living. Part of what excites me about living in a place that is so culturally different is the adaption’s I will have to make in order to fit in and not to offend and also the different foods that I will eat.

During a home visit to a family in Nkomazi, SA, the gogo (grandmother) asked me to stay for dinner. I could see a pan of, which at best could be described as, brown mush cooking on the fire and a pan of boiling water and nothing else; it really did not look appetising at all. I agreed so that I would not offend her. A gogo is more than a grandmother; she is the matriarchal head of the household and can be caring for upward of 10 children, all of whose parents have died and also may not be related to her. A gogo’s word is law and to offend one is one of the worst things you can do.

She asked me to play with the children until dinner was ready and wouldn’t accept any help when I offered. At dinnertime I was served a plate that had brown mush, white mush and corn on it, nothing apart from the corn looked appetising. However, it was one of the most delicious meals I had tasted. The brown mush was stewed meat with lots of herbs and spices from her garden plot; the white mush was flavoured pap (a bit like mashed potatoes) and the corn was the sweetest I had ever tasted. I was so thankful I had stayed. Not only was the gogo please but it eased the way for us in that village and everyone always came and greeted us warmly from then on.

Hope this helps. Part II on Rwanda coming in the next day or so :-D. For more information on WorldTeach please go to

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


When I have mentioned to people that I am going to live and work in Rwanda for a year, possibly more, their reactions have been pretty much the same. Most have expressed their admiration but followed it up with ‘but I couldn’t go there, isn’t it still very dangerous there are wars there?’ or some variant on this. The reality of Rwanda is far different. Over the next few blog posts I will try and address the ‘issue’ of Rwanda; it is a very long and complicated history full of major mistakes and oversights, which lead to the catastrophic events of 1994

Rwanda’s problems cannot be traced back to one single occasion; rather they are a culmination of a number of events which escalated uncontrollably in the 1980s and 1990s due, mainly in part, to the blind eye the Western world turned.


In the mad dash for land in the late 1800s Germany claimed Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi as its own territory. However, because there was little interest in the meagre export potentials of the country, and because there was civil unrest in Tanganyika, the Germans had little interest in the tiny country of Rwanda. During WWI, the Belgians pushed through to Rwanda from the Congo and after the war Germany conceded Rwanda to the Belgians. After WWII the UN declared Rwanda a ‘trust territory’ administered by Belgium and this is where problems started.

Belgian colonists viewed Africans in general were children who needed to be guided; they had a much more hands-on approach with Rwanda and used the divide-and-conquer rule to force their rule over the Rwandese. They introduced identity cards upon which had their ethnic status of Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. However, because of inter-marriage between the three ethnic groups it was difficult sometimes to categorise people, so they merely defined "Tutsi" as anyone with more than ten cows or a long nose. The problems this caused the country and population, from the time of inception in 1933 until 1994, were catastrophic.

Hutu’s tended to be arable farmers whilst the Tutsi’s raised cattle with the Tutsi’s being the main upper and ruling class. The Roman Catholic Church, the primary educators in the country, subscribed to and reinforced the differences between Hutu and Tutsi. They developed separate educational systems for each. In the 1940s and 1950s the vast majority of students were Tutsi.

There was still a system of King-ship in the country at this time and this was passed down through the Tutsi’s; further isolating the two main ethnic groups. The Belgium’s relied upon and exploited this King-ship and thus the Tutsi’s collected taxes and enforced Belgium policies and laws upon the Rwandans.

In 1956 the current king called for independence from Belgium which made the Belgium’s switch alliances from the Tutsi’s to the Hutus. The Tutsi’s favoured a fast-track to independence, whilst the Hutus wanted to go down the slower but more self-governing route of establishing a democracy first. The king died in 1959 and this lead to a major clash of arms between the two main ethnic groups. Whilst the Tutsi’s had been the main clan in power, the Hutu’s had a significantly larger population and this lead to lots of Tutsi’s fleeing to neighbouring countries of DRC and Uganda in the wake of the fighting.

During 1960 and 1962 moves were made to create a democratically free country from Belgium in both Rwanda and Burundi; Burundi managed it and established a constitutional monarchy. However, the elected Prime Minister in Rwanda was soon executed and the monarchy with the help of the military seized power. Finally in 1962 Rwanda was created as a republic governed by the majority Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement.

The new government introduced quotas for Tutsis, limiting opportunities for education and work, and small groups of Tutsi exiles began to launch guerrilla raids from neighbouring Uganda. In the round of bloodshed that followed, thousands more Tutsis were killed and tens of thousands fled to neighbouring countries.

Next time on Joisaway…LOL…I’ll try and explain what happened in the lead up to the 1994 genocide in which (approx) 1 million people lost their lives in only 100 days!