My response to this article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22294205
From September 2011 to August 2012, I volunteered in Senegal, West Africa. I taught English in a middle school to classes with around sixty students in each and IT to slightly smaller groups. What I didn’t realise, before going to Senegal, is that there are already English teachers there, many who have studied English at university and were loved by the students. I effectively began shadowing a teacher called Madame Ndiaye, who happily told me about the days when she did similar work experience. The things that I was able to do to help in the school were correct the students’ and teachers’ pronunciation, use a few more learning games and songs in class and take a few classes off the hands of the only IT teacher in the town. My partner was able to help as well, by teaching German, as there was also only one German speaker where we lived. Our aim in going to Senegal was not to take over work from those who were capable of doing it and putting them out of jobs. However, it began to seem as though we were there for actual teaching work experience, to benefit us more than the kids. There were also strikes going on in schools throughout Senegal, so we felt at a bit of a loss at what to do when we arrived. Should we teach the kids who weren’t getting an education and wouldn’t be able to pass their exams, or was it not our place to get involved with political debates when perhaps the teachers’ had a right to be striking? Fortunately, gap years with Project Trust are for a whole year, so my project partner and I had enough time to learn about the politics and education system in Senegal, know when it was appropriate to teach and when to respect the strikes. We also had enough time to improve our French and learn some of the local language, Wolof, which made communicating with the Senegalese a lot easier and more enjoyable. We discovered that many girls were not in school and set up a club to teach them how to read, write, speak French and do basic maths. In order to make this a sustainable project, we teamed up with some Senegalese primary school teachers, American Peace Corps, who do two or three years abroad, and we have now been replaced new Project Trust volunteers. Creating a project such as this, which is on its way to becoming a registered organisation in Senegal shows that gap years or volunteering abroad can make a positive contribution to the locals and volunteers.