When Chrisann Meij went to Mozambique as a VSO volunteer in 1998 it was because she wanted to expand her horizons and gain new experiences. She wasn't necessarily thinking about her future career in teaching.
But as a citizenship co-ordinator at Shenley Brook End school in Milton Keynes, she is the first to say that it has enriched her teaching. And the school agrees.
Deputy head Glen Martin says her time with VSO has enriched her citizenship lessons.
"Her personal experience brings alive topics which can be sterile or theoretical. Pupils respond to that and see the situations she is talking about as real."
Chrisann taught for two years in South Wales before she left for Mozambique. It was meant to be a two-year placement, but she extended it to three. She worked as an English teacher and trainer of teachers in Lichinga, in the north of the country.
Mozambique, a Portuguese-speaking country recovering from a civil war which had left large sections of the community uneducated, had recently joined the British Commonwealth and was prioritising the teaching of English. "I was involved in lots of professional development," she says. "Opportunities presented themselves which I wouldn't have had in the UK. I had to write the courses and training materials for a Mozambique-recognised teaching qualification, and train students for an English Institute of Education teaching diploma."
She also had to be imaginative. The schools in which she worked had few facilities and resources, no electricity or running water. Desks and chairs were not provided so the trainee teachers, who often numbered as many as 60, sat on stones. If teachers were absent in Mozambique, the children didn't get taught - "which was hard when you had to pay for your education", she says.
These kinds of experiences inform and enliven her lessons and activities.
Year 8 is looking at school systems as part of "our place as citizens in local and global communities". Chrisann has been able to describe vividly the pressures on children in developing countries, and why so many drop out of school at the primary stage and are left unable to read and write. She is also able to discuss the issues which make it more difficult for girls to complete their education. With Year 9 she can compare political systems by drawing on her memories of the second round of elections in Mozambique and the instability within the country.
Recently she organised a human rights morning at the school which illustrated how schools function in many developing countries: pupils sat on the floor to give them a taste of how lessons there might differ from those in the UK.
Chrisann keeps up with developments in Mozambique through correspondence with the many friends she made, and finds it satisfying that some of the work she did there is still showing results. It was, she says, "a life-changing experience. It helped me to develop. We like to think we're going to change the world, but it's the volunteer who is changed."
VSO, with other partners, is developing a Global Educators' Register, an online database of former VSO volunteers, all of whom are qualified teachers able to use their skills and grassroots experience of development to support teachers in delivering the citizenship requirements of the national curriculum.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
If you are a qualified teacher with at least two years' experience and interested in becoming a volunteer, visit the VSO at Stand PV36. The international development charity is seeking applications from primary teachers with expertise in special education needs, education management, maths and science. VSO says its work is shifting from straight delivery of education towards training of local teachers, building up the capacity of schools and colleges, and the development of curriculum and teaching practices. VSO will be on the Global Perspectives stand with the Development Education Association, ActionAid, Geographical Association, East Midlands Network for Global perspectives in Schools, Oxfam, Save the Children and Worldaware.