As Martin Smidman prepared for his two-week, Extra Mile programme at Agape ‘Experimental’ School in Sierra Leone there were the inevitable, crucial enquiries, such as, ‘how long are the lessons?’ and ‘how big are the classes?’. Sadly, on one level the answers to these basic questions are a microcosm of what education is like in Africa today; whilst on a more practical level there are simply no definitive answers at all. Most classes depend on whether there is someone at least ‘half-qualified’ to teach them and who has mastered the traffic chaos to get there and who can fit it in between other casual jobs that at least pay; whilst the size of class depends on how many would-be pupils have paid their fees, how heavy the rain has been that morning and how many have been freed from their daily, family chores to ‘sneak’ into school.
This kind of two-week, Extra Mile programme in Sierra Leone, is the reality which more and more volunteer teachers from the UK are experiencing at first hand and beginning to appreciate how challenging the conditions are, which children and teachers meet all the time. On his first day, Martin observed that one of his classes was being taught alongside two very noisy kindergarten and primary classes in conditions that would have severely tested the most skilled and experienced of teachers. He noticed that the Headteacher’s old study was empty and created a new classroom. Over the course of the two-weeks he became greatly appreciated by his class, who learned more Business than they ever thought possible. The laminated, learning resources Martin had prepared, not only served his lessons but he was also able to bequeath them to a very grateful headteacher for his staff to use in the future.
As Martin said on his return to the UK, ‘Sierra Leone is a very, very poor country and yet is very welcoming to those who are prepared to go and help out. Teachers and young people have to work in conditions that we cannot imagine and yet they do so with fortitude and good humour’. We thank Martin for his wonderful work in Sierra Leone this summer and hope that he may feel moved to return to continue his excellent work sometime in the future.