Five minutes with Carmel Bradwell...Teacher Trainer, Uganda
Why did you decide to volunteer?Once a teacher always a teacher...I retired recently but I was not tired. I have had a great life and loved every moment of my teaching career; so I wanted to give something back and I felt I had the required experience that VSO were looking for.
Describe what you are doing on placement?
I am working as a teacher educator; I travel to schools all over the western region of Uganda and deliver training to head teachers, on how to improve school standards. I also observe teachers and try to improve their teaching methods.
What’s the education system like?
There are thousands of primary schools here that can often be found nestled on top of mountains. They never have fewer than 400 pupils, in fact classes are usually over 100; even in the first level of primary school. It is all ‘chalk and talk’...that is when they have chalk. Pupils occassionally have something to write on and a pencil, but they certainly do not have the luxury of a textbook. Teachers may have one text book per subject. Education here is totally geared towards passing the primary level national exam because without it you cannot go to secondary school. Even if you pass the exam, many cannot afford to pay for secondary education. It’s often said that Uganda does not have an ‘education system’ it has an ‘examination system’. So many children get left behind or drop out in primary school.
Describe a typical day.A typical day here for me is spent visiting schools. I have long distances to travel which can be challenging at times. In the wet season the road conditions (where actual roads exist) are very dangerous and certainly not for the faint hearted. In fact the travel is the hardest part of my particular placement. I enjoy my days here as I get to interact with children, and the children of Uganda are truly amazing.
What are some of the challenges?It is difficult sometimes because children are generally hungry during the day, there are no school meals here and few have enough at home to pack a lunch. Families eat once a day, normally in the evening. School children also walk very long distances to school, walking 8-10km to and from school is not unusual. The saddest thing of all is that after walking this distance they may not even have a teacher...teacher absence is a great challenge here.
Most memorable moments?
It’s extremely difficult to pick out memorable moments. Everyday has at least one moment when you can stop, smile and appreciate what you have. The Ugandan people must be the friendliest people in Africa! Making a difference to individuals is the most rewarding part of the job. Little by little and 'slowly by slowly' as they say here... we make a difference.
What is it like living in Uganda?
Living in Uganda is not that difficult...it is a beautiful climate. Always warm and never too hot. It is just like a really good British summer every day. Even when it rains it does not forget to stop!
What would you say to someone considering doing VSO?
To spend time in a developing country volunteering and sharing your experience is possibly one of the most rewarding things you can do. It is said we make a difference and so we do but, the biggest difference we make is to ourselves. It is said that to never stop loving and never stop growing is the key to a meaningful life. It is great to think at this time of my life- the latter years – I am still doing both these things. I will never regret my decision to volunteer with VSO.