Stepping off the bus to be greeted by hundreds of smiles and cuddles from the children at Faith and Hope Primary School in Gako, a village in Rwanda, was a life-changing experience.
On our first bus journey to the school, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some of the classes we were going to teach had around 50 children who spoke very little English. How were we going to get them to understand the lessons? How were we going to manage so many children? What were they capable of doing? I had so many questions, but by the end of my first class all I could think about was how much the children loved learning – and how utterly infectious their enthusiasm was.
The majority of our trip – organised by the Together in Sport initiative, which was started by another Scottish teacher, Kari Spence – was spent delivering lessons to the children, along with some teacher-training sessions.
The children got to experience things that they’d never heard of before: they played new sports, such as cricket and basketball; tried musical instruments; learned about children’s rights and many other things.
Seeing the daily struggle these children face, with no reliable access to clean water and little access to food, was heartbreaking – but the energy they brought to every lesson left me feeling like this was what teaching was all about: giving children who are dreaming of an education the opportunity to learn.
Since beginning a new school year back in Scotland, I’ve noticed a huge difference in my own teaching. I feel more confident in trying new lesson ideas and experimenting with teaching styles – and am more determined to make a difference wherever possible.
My class has loved learning about the children in Rwanda. It has inspired them to write to companies asking for resources for next year’s Together in Sport volunteers to take out – and it’s also helping them understand their place in the world and how they can support those who are less fortunate.
Together in Sport is a truly special charity. It has made an incredible difference to the families at Faith and Hope. Children who once stood on the sidelines wishing they could go to school are now able to. They get an education and two nutritional meals every week – and very soon they will be getting regular access to clean water.
This sort of volunteering opens your eyes to a different way of living. It’s an opportunity that leaves you with unforgettable memories and a new perspective on teaching – and on life.
Elayne Gray is a teacher at St Cadoc’s Primary in Newton Mearns