Matthew Cooper's Gap Year Grant report 2019
We awarded a Gap Year Grant to Matthew Cooper. Matthew worked as a volunteer teacher in rural Kato, Guyana with Project Trust. This is his report on his return.
Matthew Cooper's report
On 23 August 2019 I finally returned from my year overseas teaching in Guyana, South America with the charity Project Trust. First and foremost, what an incredible year it’s been. Throughout my time I’ve had the opportunity to visit and teach in a part of the world far too few people will ever get the chance to see. During the year I was able to improve in all the areas I hoped I would and even further still, building my confidence, communication skills and many more.
The village I was in for the year is called Kato. Situated in the region 8 in Guyana, it is perhaps one of the most remote and poorest regions in Guyana and desperately in need of teachers. But what it lacks in economical wealth, it makes up for in its natural beauty, as Kato and the surrounding areas are one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
The village itself is classed as a ‘dispersed village’ as all the houses are quite far apart from each other. It also consisted of 3 main shops that, although expensive, stocked almost everything I would need and served as a good place to talk to all the people in the village. The village also had a market square that was mainly used for the occassional event.
Coming from a big city such as Birmingham I welcomed the drastic change. It was a refreshing experience to be able to interact with everyone, as in Birmingham this simply is something that wouldn’t happen.
Encircling the village were a variety of waterfalls that gave picturesque bathing and washing locations, or just spots to go swimming.
The first week
The most difficult part of my year was the first week. I arrived by plane from Georgetown and as soon as I got off the plane it seemed I had been thrown in the deep end. The village hadn’t been expecting us to arrive and we didn’t have anywhere to stay, as the teacher’s quarters were locked as all the teachers were on a workshop in a different village. Luckily the nice owner of the guest house allowed me to stay there for the time being. It wasn’t the most luxurious, electricity and water were intermittent, but it was a good way to get us settled in.
During this time, I was unable to contact anybody from home as there was no internet access and I was still overcoming the awkwardness of being new in the village. As a result, it felt a bit intimidating being there.
Soon enough I was set to work. I was meant to be working in a newly built secondary school, but it had not been completed yet. The school term had started and there was an ongoing teachers strike, so the village primary school lacked teachers. So me and my partner were set to work in the primary school by the REDO (Regional Education Officer). I very much enjoyed teaching grades 5 and 6 in the primary school. My time there only lasted a week, as the secondary school was then finished and I was to be working there.
During the first week I made a few friends in the village, most notably the village medic who me and my partner became very good friends with. We would see him most weeks. We also became friends with the other people who had been teaching in the primary school whilst the actual teachers were on strike.
Kato Secondary School
After the first week I was sent to teach in the secondary school, as I originally thought I would be. The school site consisted of a set of dorms with a hall between for eating, a set of teacher’s quarters and the main school classrooms. As the school had only been completed a few days before we started teaching it was all very clean and a great place to teach in. I thoroughly enjoyed all the time I spent teaching there.
Initially all the teachers were assigned a form class, I was assigned grade 73 (soon known as 7 Jasper). Although the first few weeks seemed a bit awkward, as the Amerindian children were very quiet, we eventually built up a great relationship. And now that I’ve left I miss seeing them, even if they did drive me crazy sometimes.
The school had about 300 students. They were split into 5 grade 7 classes, 4 grade 8 and 2 grade 9 classes. It was a very big school for the country considering it only had 3 grades.
Initially I was only a maths teacher for 4 grade 7 classes, however as the year progressed, I began teaching integrated science to my form class and I also took on the last grade 7 class for maths. By the end of the year I also added the 2 grade 9 classes to my list of teaching duties. By the last term I was completely up to my neck in teaching but looking back at the experience I enjoyed it. It was hard work, but it was rewarding.
As it might be expected, teaching the higher ability classes was much easier than the lower abilities. However I enjoyed the challenge, and it made it that much more gratifying seeing a lower ability student grow and develop in a subject.
By the end of the year our school had around 10 teachers, throughout the year teachers left due to various reasons. We were very understaffed which is why I had to take on so many more classes than I was originally given. Being one of the two maths teachers in the school I was in charge of organising end of term tests for grade 7s and preparing the grade 9s for their national exam through offering extra classes and making mock papers.
Overall, I enjoyed the teaching experience. Although it proved a bit stressful at times having a full timetable and having to coach the grade 9s through their exams I wouldn’t change anything about my time at the school.
Without a doubt, this year has been one of the best of my life. I have been able to do things I never thought I would, I have made some great friends and grown in ways that I could only hope.
Lastly, I would like to extend a thank you to all the people who donated to my gap year, without which I would not have been able to realise my dream.