The headteacher at Saint John Houghton Catholic Voluntary Academy has spoken of a ‘life-changing’ trip working to improve education in South Africa.
Joan McCarthy spent two weeks in South Africa with the charity Mellon Educate, working in schools, supporting teachers and finding out more about the country’s education system.
Mellon Educate has built houses for 125,000 homeless people in South Africa’s poorest townships and runs an education development programme to provide better education to more than 100,000 African children.
Mrs McCarthy spent much of her time in a secondary school called Silversands High School, teaching and supporting teachers.
She said: “It was a life-changing experience. It was what I was expecting and more, it was so humbling. You think you know what real poverty is until you actually see it, you just don’t realise.
“Although teachers out there have their qualifications they don’t have much teaching experience so we were running workshops with them.
“There were 55 children in one class and often there aren’t enough desks for them all. They also live in a township where there is a massive problem with gangs and violence.
“It’s a relatively new school but there are no heaters and we were there during their winter and the children opened the windows because they were terrified of germs.
“There were 953 pupils in the school and just 32 staff so we looked at teaching strategies and behaviour management. The reaction we got was so positive; the children really value their education.
“We met a 16-year-old girl who was amazing. She wants to be a psychologist and she knows that education is the only way that she can get out of poverty.
“At the end of our two weeks they did a fantastic assembly to say thankyou to us; it was a real celebration and I can’t wait to go back. I would just like to thank everyone who sponsored me ahead of the trip.”
Mrs McCarthy is planning to return to South Africa next summer and is keen to hear from any teachers who are interested in going out there.
She said: “I would encourage anyone who is thinking about going to find out more. If volunteer teachers can share their practice and I’m sure the project will flourish.”
To find out more information visit the Mellon Educate website www.melloneducate.com/