A Cork teacher tells us why she spent six weeks in Africa this summer

A Cork teacher, Jean O’Sullivan, tells us about the six weeks she spent this summer volunteering in African schools, which have strong Leeside links
A Cork teacher tells us why she spent six weeks in Africa this summer
Cork Teacher Jean O’ Sullivan spent six weeks in Africa volunteering this summer.

SUMMER, 2019, in Eswatini will always bring a smile to my face, as I recall my time in the kingdom.

Unlike a lot of people who say to me “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to Africa”, I would have to admit I was not in that category!

After completing my MA in Education, I spent two weeks in July, 2018, in Malkerns at the St John Bosco mission, and it was special experience. I couldn’t wait to return and landed home in Cork talking about going back.

The generosity of teachers, pupils and schools in Ireland made my fundraising project ‘Schools Sing for Eswatini’ a huge success and €5,000 was raised in December, 2018, which was used to pay school fees for orphans in the mission schools.

Jean O'Sullivan with some of the students in Eswanti.
Jean O'Sullivan with some of the students in Eswanti.

Fr Martin McCormack, SDB, is from Cork and is school manager to the nine mission schools, three high schools and six primary schools.

More than 4,000 students attend the schools and approximately one quarter of these are orphans. He has banned corporal punishment and provided training workshops on classroom management and positive discipline to the staff in each of these schools.

As a teacher himself, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his role as manager and this is much appreciated by the staff. He has worked towards motivating the students and staff and regularly presents awards for academic excellence, sports and celebrates the successes of individuals and teams.

Fr Martin runs a leadership academy and at St Anne’s High School has set up a women’s empowerment centre.

Education is not free in Eswatini and so many drop out if they cannot afford school fees.

Primary education is from Grade 1 to Grade 7. High school is Form 1 to Form 5. Each of the mission schools have a soup kitchen so that the students can be fed twice daily.

Water tanks have been put in place. Many classrooms and toilet blocks have been built. One of the rural schools was connected to electricity in 2018.

The structural improvements have been beneficial to all concerned.

Jean during class, class sizes can vary from 40 to 60.
Jean during class, class sizes can vary from 40 to 60.

Class sizes in Eswatini range from 50-75 in the primary schools and 40-60 in the high schools.

During my six weeks this year, I worked mainly with the Grade 1 teachers at Salesian Primary. A new programme, Competency Based Education (CBE), was introduced in Grade 1 this year and will continue to be phased in over the next several years. There will no longer be an exam at the end of each class to pass to move to the next class. The focus now will be on developing skills and is far more child-centred than the previous system.

The teachers were keen to learn about teaching methodologies that are used in Ireland and I taught a number of lessons to the Grade 1 pupils. Station teaching and Literacy Lift Off were popular, so the Grade 1 and two teachers came together with a group and teachers and pupils enjoyed the lesson.

As I had been lucky enough to be one of the winners of the Folens Teaching Overseas Fund, I was able to bring a lot of resources to the school. Posters, whiteboards and markers, triangular pencils and other materials were much appreciated.

The Grade 1 teachers worked with me to create displays in their classrooms and we purchased laminators for the school so that they can print once and re-use the material.

Jean O’ Sullivan presented awards for leadership.
Jean O’ Sullivan presented awards for leadership.

Classroom walls tend to be bare in Eswatini and the children loved seeing the visual displays and their own work making it on to the wall. The enthusiasm of these motivated teachers meant I found the whole experience very rewarding.

I was lucky enough to attend the annual awards ceremony at St Anne’s High School at the beginning of my trip. A total of 20 awards were presented for Leadership.

I presented an award in my name which I sponsored for the top academic and leader, and the Queen Labotsebeni award. The girls sang and danced to celebrate the special occasion. One Form 5 student was successful in a national Science competition for building a solar powered car. She drove around on the day to big cheers!

 Cork teacher Jean O’ Sullivan visited Eswantini this summer.
 Cork teacher Jean O’ Sullivan visited Eswantini this summer.

One of the wonderful things about Eswatini is the smiling faces. In the midst of poverty there is always a smiling child wanting to hold your hand. As John Hemingway said: ‘If I’ve ever seen magic it has been in Africa’.

The warm welcome from the Swazis and the beautiful sunshine are two attractive reasons to return.

For anyone thinking about volunteering in Africa, I would highly recommend it — as the saying goes, just do it!

Anyone wishing to find out more about volunteering can contact Jean at eswatinicd@gmail.com

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