Volunteering, an unexpected journey of self-discovery.
I couldn’t really tell you what started it all. It probably began with a penny slipped into a tin at a till. I donated my change, it felt good. One day I stopped and helped an elderly man look for the soap in the supermarket, he smiled and thanked me, that felt better. I ‘liked’ Random Acts of Kindness on FB, it liked me back. I started performing random acts of kindness, and it gave me a warm glow. I knew the warm glow was changing me and I didn’t know quite what to make of it, so I sat with the feelings for a while, kept quiet, carried on and noticed the changes. It was a slow awakening, like the petals of a flower unfurling in slow motion. Being deliberately and inconspicuously kind to strangers revealed an inner softness, a vulnerability and my deepest and most secret wish for the world to become a kinder and more forgiving place. It revealed what was written on my heart. Nothing else changed. I still lived the same life in every other way.
Fast forward to 2015 and I’m furiously searching ebay for a double decker bus to buy, convert into a mobile classroom and drive to Calais. I’d recently left my career in management in a secondary academy; I traded in my long holidays and pension for freedom and the opportunity to train teachers. I’d been teaching in schools for 15 years and mentoring struggling teachers. The support they got was too little, too late. I wanted to try and catch them before they even reached the classroom, before the rot set in. I wanted to kind of creosote them from the inside out so they would be protected from the rot and, in turn, might better protect their students.
But I got side-tracked, spectacularly, by the refugee crisis. I had been organising collections of aid for a year or so, involving my school and local community and I wanted to do something more closely aligned with my professional skill-set. I looked for someone to send teaching resources to. It was the summer of 2015. I quickly discovered that there was no one in Calais to send anything to. I mean no -one. No big NGOs, no small NGOs; just ordinary people muddling through. I soon realised that sending boxes of books and pens would be a colossal waste of time, I might as well set them on fire in my garden for all the good they would do on their own. They needed to be accompanied by teachers. They needed to be kept somewhere safe and dry. Students needed somewhere safe and dry to sit and listen and talk and learn. And that’s when it hit me: the reason that there wasn’t anyone out there for me to offer my support to was because I hadn’t got there yet. The person I was looking for was me.
Fast forward another 18 months and I’m back from spending a year volunteering in Calais. My family & I lived in France for 6 months, I did buy and convert a bus into a classroom, it did go to Calais, it was a success. I had a lot of help, obviously. A team of truly inspirational humans came together and made it all possible by each of us just doing our bit. But the refugee crisis is global. It affects 65 million people, half of whom are under 18, and less than 2% of global aid is spent on education. Without education, what will change? “Education doesn’t change the world, education changes people. People change the world.” Paolo Freire said it and I’ve seen it with my own eyes; education transforms lives. Especially your own. If you would like to be part of this growing network of volunteer teachers, if you’d like to do your bit, please come and train with us. You will learn more than you ever get to teach but you may never be quite the same again. You can find me here: Kate@crisisclassroom.com