As a former teacher and retired senior university lecturer, I wanted to share my skills with the developing world. I jumped at the chance to volunteer with the international development charity VSO working on an English literacy teaching aid delivered by text message, SMS Story, as it was being rolled out in Bangladesh.
Even in the early morning, the streets are busy with garment workers. Young women, dressed in brightly coloured salwar kameez, (matching trousers and dresses) chirrup their way to work. Bangladesh always seems to be overflowing with people.
I travel to work with some other volunteers, negotiating the traffic and walking across the busy main road, watching the rickshaws, tuk tuks and buses rumble past below us when we cross the footbridge.
At the office, I need to cool down – summer weather here is hot and humid. When the rest of the team arrive, we talk about relationships with our colleagues, but also the excitement of living in a different culture, our cultural faux pas and bargaining for new and strange vegetables in the markets.
I leave the volunteers mid-morning to join my SMS Story youth writers. We are working with four youth clubs in three different regions of Bangladesh. Although many young people can read and write English, there isn’t much incentive to speak it.
SMS Story uses text messages to tell a story in 160 characters using phonics progression. The story is told over a number of instalments, progressively introducing new sounds and concepts to keep learners engaged.
Today’s story features a photo of a girl and boy stood next to each other at a wedding, which ruffles feathers when shared with the community. In Bangladesh, it’s not culturally appropriate for a girl to be with a boy unless they are chaperoned.
We hope that our storylines encourage discussion and raise awareness about various issues like child marriage. It’s a privilege to work with the young people here as they are so keen to learn.
Lunch here is one of the highlights of my day. We all share a delicious vegetarian lunch consisting of rice and dahl, and as it’s mango season, we have golden mangoes for dessert.
Another daily treat is to listen to The Archers, which reminds me of home. It also inspires our own storywriting, but of course our stories are about teenagers in rural Bangladesh rather than country folk in rural Ambridge. It’s great fun exploring what storylines might work in Bangladesh and which ones would be completely unlikely and inappropriate.
After the final session, I wander back to my flat, which I share with other teaching volunteers who are working on completely different projects. The variety of work we do here is amazing.
For more information about the VSO’s work, visit vsointernational.org/educationroles
Do you want to tell the world’s teachers about your working day, the unique circumstances in which you teach or the brilliance of your class? If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will give your school £100 if your story is published.