My story with GVI started in 2011 when I first volunteered to teach novice Buddhist monks English in Laos. Later, I became a member of staff, and I am also privileged to be a GVI Ambassador. I have volunteered or worked with GVI in; Kerala, India; Pokhara, Nepal; Luang Prabang, Laos; Cape Town, South Africa; and Phang Nga, Thailand.
After my third volunteering stint with GVI and seeing the impact education has on children, I decided to give up my career as a Polymer Technologist and pursue a TEFL qualification. This allows one to Teach English as a Foreign Language. Having previously been more technically-minded, I found the qualification helped me in knowing the basics of teaching and how to impart education in an environment that is either ill-equipped or lacks resources.
I have subsequently completed my qualification as well as an internship in leadership skills with GVI. This allowed me to join GVI as a member of staff working on projects that are related to quality education and leading volunteers in these projects. GVI and its focus on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) have a big impact on the countries it works in and I am proud to be a part of that.
GVI’s projects are centred around making a positive impact. All the projects I worked on have been centred around the UN SDGs. I have been most involved in their work towards Goal 4: Quality Education.
On its website, the UN says, “Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to creating sustainable development. In addition to improving quality of life, access to inclusive education can help equip locals with the tools required to develop innovative solutions to the world”.
In all of the countries that I’ve had the honour of working with GVI, education has been a key focus. We’ve focused on assisting schools and monasteries with English classes as well as assisting at kindergartens and daycare centres. These are key to planting the important seeds that grow within the minds of the children. This is similar to their parents because by making them aware of the importance of quality education, they can prioritise it for their children.
In many of the countries I’ve volunteered or interned in, education is seen as a luxury and not a necessity. When there is a lack of resources, this adds to the misconception.
GVI’s presence and assistance at the schools and centres aids with valuable resources that can contribute to locals realising the need for quality education and gaining access to it. Together with formal classes, the work done towards quality education overlaps with a few other UN SDGs, such as Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing, Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, and Goal 1: Zero Hunger.
On a personal level, working with GVI allows me to be able to give back to society and work with many wonderful locals in beautiful locations. It also enables me to meet so many other people from all over the world who share the same outlook on life. It has taught me to be humble, to truly appreciate and be thankful for the many blessings I have in life.
It has taught me the importance of education – something most of us take for granted. There is no other absolute joy than when a student “gets” what you are trying to teach. There’s nothing like that feeling when a young child uses a synonym that you taught a week ago. Or, when a shy little child who normally sits in the corner hums the nursery rhyme you have been singing with the class, and then later joins in on circle time.
I think anyone working with kids will agree that there never is a dull moment! I recall a particularly funny, awesome story. Kids have this wonderful way of reminding us adults to just have fun. One of the teaching resources used when working with kids is playdough. This allows the child to work with their hands and use their creative skills and can be used for teaching shapes, colours, letters, numbers and a host of other things.
At one of the projects it was decided to work with playdough that day and that it would be a wonderful lesson in textures as well. The idea was to help the children make the dough themselves. If you have made playdough before, you would know to slowly add water to flour a little bit at a time.
Of course, everyone’s idea of “a little” is different and we soon found that out. Suddenly there was gooey, coloured dough on every surface – tables, chairs, the floor. It was on the children and the volunteers, on their clothes, in our hair, absolutely everywhere!
It quickly turned into a game to see who could be covered in dough the most. Luckily playdough can be washed off with soap and water, though, I will admit it took the rest of the session that day to clean up. Once the day in class was done, there was a race by the volunteers to see who would get back to the homestay first for a shower.
Education is so important in our lives. It gives us knowledge of the world around us and changes it into something better. It develops a perspective of looking at life and helps us build opinions and have points of view on things. Education makes us capable of understanding life. It is not just about lessons in textbooks. It is about the lessons of life.
Having the opportunity to work in so many different communities and with so many different cultures has been a blessing. Not only did it allow me to assist in imparting world and book knowledge but also taught me many lessons about the different communities and cultures around the world.
Sadly in some societies, especially those with less material resources, education can often be overlooked as a priority. Once children are old enough to work, many of these societies prefer to send their children out to earn a living instead of attending schools.
Through the projects I worked on, the importance of education is emphasised and oftentimes parents who originally didn’t see the importance of education, change their opinions. To be in a position where your presence helps change people’s opinions and see the positive difference it brings to their children’s lives is truly a most humbling experience. I will carry my experiences with me for the rest of my life.
This story comes from GVI’s Impact and Ethics report. To celebrate 20 years of work in sustainable development, we reflect on and showcase our impactful stories and data. Read the report in full.