Teachers from two Catholic secondary schools in Derbyshire spent two weeks helping to improve education for children in South Africa.

Joan McCarthy, headteacher at Saint John Houghton Catholic Voluntary Academy, returned to South Africa with Mellon Educate after her first trip with the charity last year.

She was joined by Fiona Molumby, Religious Studies teacher at Saint Benedict Catholic Voluntary Academy in Derby.

Mrs McCarthy and Mrs Molumby worked in Usasazo High School, supporting teachers and finding out more about the country’s education system.

Mrs Molumby said the experience would stay with her forever.

She said: “The whole trip is very hard to describe, it’s difficult to put into words.

“The teaching day was long, from 8am until 3pm but teachers are on their feet the whole time with only a 20-minute break and there are about 50 children in one class. The benches in the classrooms are so uncomfortable and there’s nothing on the walls, none of the children’s work. We gave them posters and pencils and they were so grateful.

“We tried to help by giving the teachers new strategies because when we were there the children would spend their lessons copying from a chalkboard. There were 1,400 children in the whole school and 38 staff.

“What struck me though was how the children wanted to do well, they were just so lovely and keen to learn. They took such pride in their appearance, their shirts were pristine and their shoes were so shiny. They have very little but they are so proud of what they do have. They know that if they can get to university they will do well but there are so many barriers.”

Mrs McCarthy said she was impressed with the attitude of the students at Usasazo High School.

She said: “We worked with the staff and the leadership team at the school on lesson styles and how to manage 55 students in one class. The children are very keen to learn but the staff simply don’t have enough resources.

“We wanted to help them teach the children about resilience, in the townships there are big problems with gangs, it’s quite volatile although we didn’t experience any problems.

“We worked with seven head teachers looking at how they can work together, share resources and the sorts of issues that they face.

“Education really is a choice of life and death but South Africa is full of hope.

“I think when I talk to my students about the trip it’s important that they understand the value of education and what life is like for people in developing countries. You don’t know what poverty is until you really see it.”

Mrs Molumby and Mrs McCarthy are already planning next year’s trip to South Africa with Mellon Educate and the charity is keen for more volunteers to join them.

With support from 25,000 volunteers, Mellon Educate has built houses for 125,000 homeless people in South Africa’s poorest townships and the charity has pledged to provide better education for more than 100,000 African children.

To find out more information visit the Mellon Educate website www.melloneducate.com

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