'I've never forgotten her': a heartwarming reunion between teacher and African pupil

11th August 2017 at 16:37
Ari Damoulakis says that a visiting UK teacher changed his life when he was seven years old at a school for the blind in South Africa. Now, thanks to Tes, he has made contact with her again

It began with a letter in Tes. And it ended with a heartwarming reunion between a former schoolboy and the teacher who changed his life.

Ari Damoulakis (pictured above, as a schoolboy) was seven years old in 1993, when a British teacher called Rachel Carter came to work at Prinshof School for the Visually Impaired, in the South African city of Pretoria, where he was a pupil.

Ms Carter spoke to him about British authors and books, Ari said, and played him music on her flute.

“She was one of the very few people from my school who I really liked, enjoyed being with and respected,” he wrote, in his letter to Tes. “They were some of my happiest school days.”

Writing 24 years after their last meeting, he asked whether anyone knew Ms Carter, and could pass on his thanks to her: “Even though she definitely probably wouldn't remember me at all…I have never forgotten her and what she did with me.”

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A matter of days after Tes published his letter, Rachel Carter – now a human-rights worker living in Shanghai – received an email from her cousin, telling her that someone had written a letter to the magazine about her.

Ms Carter had worked at Prinshof for a term during her gap year, before taking up a more formal placement at a school for the blind in Poland.

“I felt quite emotional when I saw that letter,” she said. “I had very little knowledge or experience to give then. So you never know whether you’ve had any impact.

“Teaching’s an art and a skill, but I think a lot comes from that connection – if you have that emotional connection with someone as a child, it’s really powerful. Technical skills are important, but you also need empathy and connection and passion. The relationships you forge can be as important as all the formal stuff.”

Weaving magic

Mr Damoulakis and Ms Carter have now exchanged several emails, and plan to speak on the phone once Ms Carter returns to Shanghai from her holiday in Europe.

While she had extremely good experiences with her own teachers, at boarding school in England – “They really shaped me” – she says that receiving the letter from Mr Damoulakis has made her reconsider the role that teachers play in children’s lives.

“What teachers do is critical,” she said. “They hold the next generation, don’t they? They’re the ones who will weave their magic and prepare children for what’s to come.

“I was there one term – this shows the potential of a strong relationship that’s built in a short time. How much magic can a teacher weave in a year, or throughout school?”

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