Now all our 12 month volunteers for 2013/14 are in country and in their projects we thought we’d share some of their initial impressions with you. Helena Slater (Malaysia), Jack Mitchell (Botswana) and Ruth Webster (Dominican Republic) all wrote about their arrivals in their respective countries on their personal blogs:
Helena Slater

Week 1

Well, after a long journey, we were glad to reach our new apartment which, despite not really being what we expect, it now feels a lot more like home than it did two nights ago.

Due to the Muslim festivle of Eid, our first day at MRSM Kuala Krai was extremely colourful and filled with food. But it was not only all the colourful clothes and food that made the day so interesting, but we were also the centre of attention with nearly every student we encountered asking to have several photos with us. But even so, the atmosphere of the school is so welcoming.

The scenery is also extremely beautiful with hills covered in jungle in the distance and the staff are very friendly despite there being a language barrier. Moreover this weekend we have been invited to Maryam’s, our mentor’s, home, to celebrate Independence Day. Following this we will be attending our first Malay wedding! I think it’s safe to say it has been a brilliant first week.

Volunteers Helena Slater and Alex King were guests at a Malay wedding

Week 2

This weekend truly was a special weekend as not only did we attend our first Malay wedding, but we were also invited into the home of our mentor Maryam to meet her family and see her village. Despite the six hour coach journey to the most southern part of Terengganu, we still felt energetic enough to visit the local beach next to Maryam’s village.

That evening it was suggested that to celebrate Alex’s 18th birthday we collected 18 sand crabs… this was not easy as the crabs are well camouflaged and great diggers, but even so we managed to catch 18 and one for luck.

The next day we attended our first Malay wedding in the nearest big town, I have to say I have never seen so many colours and so much food (apart from Eid….) and it was a great experience. Everyone was so welcoming and the bride and groom both looked lovely despite having to sit outside in 33 degree heat.

All I can really say is thank you so much Maryam for such a lovely weekend.

Jack Mitchell

Week 1

Going down the dusty track that leads to our project for the first time was an experience that I will never forget. It was never going to be the most spectacular or crazy moment of my year. Instead, it was what all my hard work and all the support I have received from my friends and family had come to and it was just a fantastic moment: I had arrived.

The first thing Matt and I did was to go and see our new house for the year. First impressions were good: from the outside it looked like a spacious condo with outdoor space to barbecue. The inside however was a different story; It looked like a seriously disorganised garden shed, there was stuff everywhere, there was dust everywhere and there were spiders everywhere. It was an enormous mess, but it was our mess. We roughly drew out a plan of action about how we were going to clean the place and then headed on to bed. Our first night in our new home.

Bana Ba Metsi (“Children of the River”) has its name for a very good reason

Week 3

Another crazy week has gone by so quickly. While Matt was on duty I had to run a few errands, one of which was to drive with Maguowe to Shakawe to pick up a boat engine mechanic. The school boat suddenly sunk and both the engines we fully submerged in the river.

We left after my lesson in the morning and got to Shakawe for around 10.30. I had a lovely steak and onion pastry (a lovely change from maize porridge) from Choppies, I think it was worth driving all that way just for the pie. We managed to locate the boat mechanic in a nearby village and organised that he would drive up to the school after he had finished his current job. So Maguowe and I went back to Choppies to get all the things that the staff had requested. I treated myself to another pie.

I met one of Maguowe’s friends who is called ‘Problem.’ After exchanging numbers he said that he would call me up about any business ventures he comes across in the future. I asked what type of business he had and he simply replied; “investing.” So then we started the drive back to the ferry, crossed without a problem and headed back down the dirt road for 50 minutes to the school.

Ruth Webster

Week 2

Having been in the Dominican Republic for just over a week, it feels as though we’ve been here for a month. I could probably fill a book with my experiences so far but here are a few things that have stood out to me:

  • The heat and humidity that hit us as soon as we stepped out of Santo Domingo airport.
  • Pulling into the village of La Hoya, knowing this was going to be my home for the year.
  • Seeing shark as a filling option in a sandwich shop.
  • Being presented with various fruits and dishes and having no idea what they are, but eating them anyway and finding they’re delicious.
  • Drinking coffee, Dominican-style, with lots and lots of brown sugar.
  • The fact that all ice cream vans, no matter where you are in the world, sound alike.
  • The sound of chickens and turkeys outside my bedroom window every night.
  • Sitting on the roof of our bungalow, taking in the sights and sounds of the nearby mountains, sugarcane fields and palm trees.

Ruth Webster teaching in the Dominican Republic

I teach Grades 4 to 8 twice a week, totaling 14 classes, Monday to Thursday. Friday is reserved for planning for the next week, changing the weekly mural board and attending the extremely lively school assemblies. Once we have settled in a bit more we will begin helping students with reading and writing skills in some of our spare hours during the school day.

One of the most significant things I have noticed since we began teaching – and something I am counting as a personal achievement – is the sense of confidence I am beginning to feel when I am in front of a class. As someone who is usually quite shy and reserved, I have often come out of classes with my eyes bright and a spring in my step, unashamedly feeling rather proud of the last 40 minutes.

Of course there have been a few wobbles and a few ideas that haven’t worked out as planned, but I am assured by a reliable source (my mum) that things like that are always going to happen, and you just have to roll with it, as I am learning to do.