Zambians touch teacher’s life
ONLY a rock stopped Stephanie McDonald from tumbling over the edge of the 400m high Victoria Falls in Africa.
The Tarwin Lower Primary School teacher was sitting in Devils Pool, a natural pool at the top of the falls, right at the edge before the water plummeted below.
“It was incredible,” she said of the thrilling experience.
“It’s not something you get to do everyday.”
Ms McDonald visited the falls while spending seven weeks teaching English to Grade 3 children at a school in the city of Livingstone in Zambia.
“I just loved it because I just loved the people. You just feel really appreciated and they are such happy people. They have such minimal things in their lives,” she said.
“They sleep in mud huts and wear secondhand clothes. It just puts things into perspective. We are lucky to live here and not just take everything for granted.”
Linda Community School was a world apart from the Prep class she teaches in South Gippsland. She led a class of 60 students, with two other classes – a total of 200 children – in the same building. She split the class in two and taught half of them outside so her children could hear her.
Facilities were poor, with just a blackboard, chalk and desks falling apart shared by up to four students.
Typical teaching methods entailed teachers copying text from a book onto a blackboard and the children copying the same words into their books. Few knew what they were actually writing.
Ms McDonald took a fresh approach, teaching students the sounds letters make and how blending those sounds makes words.
“There were children of all abilities in the class. If they did not get it, it was bad luck because the teachers do not have the resources to help the children that are falling behind or help the students that need extending,” she said.
Ms McDonald ran workshops for teachers about behaviour management and teaching methods to encourage them to improve students’ behaviour and foster a more hands-on way of learning.
“Most of the students want to be at school because school is better than home, because at home they would be doing chores all day or begging or collecting water,” she said.
“They know if they are at school they have a better chance of being employed one day.”
Ms McDonald was joined by other volunteer teachers from Europe, and lived in a house with dormitories at a backpackers’ hostel, sharing with teaching, medical and sports volunteers.
Most students were orphans and the community school did not receive government funding. Teachers are paid by the Ducere Foundation.
Another highlight was exploring the Serengeti National Park and seeing remarkable animals, such as lions, in the wild.
“You could hear lions roaring at night and an elephant walked past my tent one night,” she said.
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