Portia volunteered with Project Trust in Cambodia in 2009/10. She told us how she’s remained an active Global Citizen since returning to the UK:
“Primary school children coming home every day and washing their own school uniform in a metal bowl in the yard, desperate to take any opportunity to learn a second language, getting themselves up by themselves and arriving early for school, always having their homework done on time.
“These were my children I volunteered with for 12 months in Cambodia. This is where I learnt how important education was and how highly valued it is.
“But the British education system is far from a utopia: did you know that nearly 50% of children claiming free school meals achieve no GCSE passes above a D grade? 7% of children go to an independent school yet 46% of Oxford students attended one. These types of figures worried me: family background should not determine a child’s future, how do we break this cycle, what could I do to make a difference?
“I am currently on the Civil Service Fast Stream Graduate Programme which allows me to meet some amazing, inspiring people, one of whom was a school governor herself and urged me to find out more. I applied to SGOSS (an independent charity dedicated to recruiting volunteers to serve on school governing bodies across England) and was matched with the Manchester Federation of EBSD schools that provide education for children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties.
“The Federation has around 200 children across four day schools and one residential school and has many challenges that mainstream schools do not necessarily face – behavioural issues, poor attendance etc.
“The reason I chose to become a school governor was to give back to my community and help improve (even in a small way) the education of our children here in Britain. This role will help me to understand our education system in more detail, especially around specialist education, and I hope to use the opportunity to focus on where to take my career, as I believe it is in improving education.
“As a governor I attend a meeting once every half term where we as a board ensure clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction, hold the head teacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils and oversee the financial performance of the school. Another vital part of my role is visiting the schools and getting to know the pupils and how they find their education. Luckily the Civil Service allows me three volunteering days a year so I will be using one of these next week to go into one of the schools, which I am really looking forward to.
“I would really urge Project Trust Return Volunteers to consider becoming a school governor – no qualification or special skills are required, just enthusiasm and passion, although you’ll realise you have more skills than you thought (in a similar way to your year abroad with Project Trust).”