Charlotte volunteered as a teaching assistant at a local bilingual school in Honduras, 2017-18, working with children of all ages across the school.
Now about to go into her final year of law at the University of Nottingham, she regularly puts the teaching skills she gained in Honduras to use at The Refugee Project. As the new Director of The Refugee Project, Charlotte runs two projects which aim to give refugees a place to belong.
1. What kind of volunteer work did you do?
My main role was being a teaching assistant in 2nd Grade though I also led classes with Nivelacion (an intense English course). I’m definitely much better suited to younger kids, who feed well off my excited energy, but I ended up working in almost every grade in the school during the year! Often, we covered classes and were always pulled into different rooms when an extra hand was needed.
Then, outside of school, my partner Giselle and I set up English classes with children in Yam who couldn’t afford to attend our school or just couldn’t get in due to lack of spaces. We ran these twice a week after school for two hours and they were always such a highlight of the week for me, as we use to sing songs, make up dances and play silly games, all whilst ‘learning English’.
Charlotte in Yamaranguila village, Honduras.
2. What is your happiest memory from being overseas?
I don’t think I could pick just one! I have so many fond memories of Giselle and I having adventures every single day: going to the market, sitting outside sipping coffee with our neighbours who became a second family to us, or attempting to cook food on the orneia (which is basically an outside fire) with them when the power went out (as it often did), after we’d made a dance routine up surrounded by candles. Something new was in each day. It was such a joy to live with someone who is now every bit a sister to me as my real family. We also were incredibly fortunate to have some of the craziest travels, with two other amazing volunteers (Meggie the Veggie and Rachel). We took buses around five countries climbing up a volcano, jumping into a waterfall and doing the highest zipline in Latin America along the way. These are all close contenders for the best memory, especially the waterfall, which was the best birthday I’ve ever had.
However, if forced to choose, my favourite still has to be walking down the path to my classroom each day to cheers of ‘Miss Charlotte!’, kids running at you and hanging off any and all parts of you and being swarmed in hugs. My kiddos genuinely made the year for me. They made me laugh, on occasion they made me cry and they taught me so much.
Charlotte with Project Trust Partner, Giselle.
3. What was the greatest challenge you overcame while away?
I really want to say working with the autistic boy in my class which was my main role, and an experience I’d never previously had. The first time he went into a melt down and cried I literally ran out of the classroom, head in hands, thinking ‘I can’t do this. I’m still a child.’ But! I’m so happy to say we became incredibly close over the year and many games were invented to suit his specific learning style. We even developed a very technical handshake, ending it with ‘kapow!’ which we did whenever he completed a task. When it was time for me to come back to the UK, we both cried saying goodbye (which I didn’t expect from him) and I’m in contact with his mum even now. He was such a light of my year and I can still hear him saying ‘the sun is shining, the birds are singing, it’s a beautiful day’.
Charlotte and Giselle with a Honduran flag.
4. What do you currently do?
I am currently going into my third and final year at the University of Nottingham, studying law (which brings different challenges in itself!) and I am the new Director of the Refugee Project. I would never have had this opportunity if I had not gone to Honduras. The Refugee Project is an initiative set up by ELSA Nottingham (The European Law Students Association, not the Disney character) about four years ago and we run two projects which aim to give refugees a place to belong. One project involves teaching English on a Wednesday afternoon and it is no surprise which one I got involved in during my first year! I saw the opportunity once again to teach, be part of a community, and feel like I was making a difference and as I was still freshly mourning the loss of my gap year, I had to go for it.
I’ve been teaching in the project for two years now. As I was really the only volunteer from university with any formal teaching experience, I ended up lesson planning and being the main teacher for a class during my first year – but it was nothing like being in Yam! I’ve gone from seven-year olds to adults, but I still love teaching and I’m always so proud of the work we do. We have the amazing opportunity to work with people from all over the globe, I get to use my Spanish skills to translate for our Salvadorian participants and sessions are always so much fun. The first hour is spent learning English through playing games such as ping pong, though UNO is forever a firm favourite with everyone. We then split up into our groups and have up to an hour and a half of more formal English lessons. I’m most proud of our final session of my first year, where after learning poetry for a month, my group wrote a poem together about how much the sessions meant to them. To see such an improvement in English and confidence after such a short amount of time is truly incredible. We are now spreading this to other ELSA groups in different universities and I cannot wait to see where it goes this year!
Charlotte at The Refugee Project.
5. How did volunteering with Project Trust influence the rest of your life?
I can never underestimate the impact of my year with Project. It was genuinely the best year of my life. The experience completely changed the course of my life, even steering me away from human rights and more into global development law. I cannot stress how different I am now! For one, I discovered that I loved teaching, which was something I previously thought I could never do. I now have another family on a different continent, for which I’m more than grateful. The friendships I made still stand to this day and I don’t want to imagine where I would be without Honduras. It is still incredible to me how I left with just a backpack and created this entire new life on the other side of the world.
I’ve grown so much and understand different global issues in a much better way. I’m so much more aware now and this has pushed me into so many of the things I am now involved in. I also developed a strong faith in my own capabilities which I never imagined I would. An example I think accurately sums up how I feel is that one day I was complaining about myself to a co-teacher, who just turned, looked me dead in the eye and said ‘Charlotte, you have led a class of 39 children who don’t speak your language. You can do anything’. I cannot wait to start volunteering more after University, and teaching English abroad is really where I want to start.
6. What impact is Coronavirus having on your life/work?
All of our volunteers understandably left university to go home due to Coronavirus, as did I, which left us not being able to attend the project as we are scattered around the country. We are very fortunate that everyone was still willing to help in whatever way they could, so some volunteers do lessons over the phone and zoom calls, and I make teaching videos. Videos quickly became really important to us, as many of the people we work with may not have consistent if any access to WiFi, a computer, or phone. This means I make and edit little videos which get put onto USB sticks and sent to participants houses, sent via Whatsapp and put up online to maximise the amount of people who can benefit from them. It is definitely something different, as I have no active class in front of me and my editing skills are next to none, but I knew I had to do something, and this is the best I can offer. As with many things, the entire way we operate next year may well have to change, so this summer is a time for us to decide what that may look like, and how we can best help.
Charlotte teaching Refugees.
7. How did Project Trust impact your global view of the world?
Project helped me see with my own eyes what the world is like, instead of mindlessly being told it in a classroom. There is never an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ and nothing showed me that more than my year. People with nothing would be willing to share everything with us and the kindness we saw was just incredible. By far the biggest impact was that I learnt is that it is enough if you focus on helping just one person. One person is enough to change the world, because if everyone helped just one other think about how much better things would be!
To continue offering the next generation of young people life-enhancing experiences, please consider what donation or support you could provide Project Trust as part of our Urgent Appeal campaign.