If it's Monday it must be Jordan

12th September 1997 at 01:00
Mention career development and many teachers will say 'extra qualifications'. But there are other ways to expand your professional horizons. Andrew Kittow and Sue Richardson received Pounds 5,000 from the Goldsmiths' Company to travel the world

Cassava is like thick wallpaper paste, but with a decidedly inferior taste. My companion and I used our fingers to form dense glutinous balls out of the starchy plant that we dipped in gravy before it found its way to the bottom of our stomachs. There the balls rested like lead shot. Sitting on a stark wooden bench in the local eating hut, we were overshadowed by the legendary "mountains of the moon" - the source of the Nile in this remote corner of Uganda. The word "hotel" was just discernible, scratched on the mud wall outside.

Nearby a local single woman had taken in nine AIDS orphans and, with no sponsorship, provided for them by making and selling peanut butter. My photo of Dorothy with her adopted family was later to touch the hearts of many in Guildford and result in a substantial sum being given to help them and a few of the two million other children who have similarly lost parents. But that was in the future.

Sponsored by the Goldsmiths' Company, I was at the start of a sabbatical study tour investigating conservation of resources in the developing world. I had taught at one of the finest schools in the UK for more than 20 years, but felt that the favoured boys at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford needed to have their eyes opened to the lifestyle of the world's majority. My experiences were going to change me permanently and, through me, their attitudes too.

Having never travelled beyond the comfort zone of the West, my arrival in Kampala a few days before was mind-bending. Even the recommended guest house was approached along a dirt track with waste water meandering across it, like a snake ready to catch the heels of the unwary.

A few days later, standing on a hill outside Cairo, I watched as the Zebbaleem (Copt community) scurried around with the vigour and co-ordination of an ants' nest recycling 80 per cent of the city's rubbish.

Several countries and a dozen air flights later I was to see a woman bent double in the street at Dhaka, Bangladesh, gathering fallen leaves to use as fuel in her simple baked-earth stove. Near the Khyber Pass a dedicated aid-worker showed me how used printing plates are recycled to make simple domestic solar-cookers. These are sold in Kabul, alleviating the deforestation caused by conventional cooking over wood. What could we teach these people of conservation, when we in the West consume 40 times as much of the world's resources, whilst they waste nothing?

These thoughts failed to prevent me from enjoying fresh strawberries and cream at the ambassador's residence in Amman, Jordan. But now I am nourished by the indelible memory of the crimson glow of the setting Sun on the spectacular desert landscape of Wadi Rum.

As a sports teacher and Scouter I relished the challenge of trekking in the Himalayas and gazing down on the deepest gorge in the world which bisects the massive Annapurna and monumental Dhaulagiri ranges. Such a pity to be missing the school inspection, I thought, as Dutch environmentalists and I debated soil degradation in a tea shop during a thunderous downpour.

How have these experiences changed me? Arranging 18 flights, staying at 30 locations in seven countries requires considerable planning, stretches organising and negotiating abilities. These have continued to be honed as I have collected, packed and personally delivered two tons of science books and equipment to a deserving school in Uganda.

Journeying in the African bush by a bus that repeatedly becomes stuck in the mud develops one personally. Debating with work-shy Israeli pupils who have escaped to a Red Sea resort enhances an understanding of politics and people. Gazing at sunrise from Sinai's summit with new friends from Korea is another of the rich experiences that enable one to be more fully alive and engaging. Teaching is about people and relationships. These I have encountered in abundance to the great advantage of myself and those I serve.

The Busoga Trust founded by teachers and run by volunteers, provides the most cost-effective aid available, the provision of clean drinking water to rural Uganda, recently rated the third worst country for quality of life, and where water-borne disease is endemic. The Busoga Trust, St Margaret Pattens, Eastcheap, London EC3M 1HS

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