Olivia Marston, aged 24, is looking to forge a career in the development sector and wanted to get some hands-on experience before she started her masters in Development Studies at Sussex University. She volunteered with development charity Progressio in San Benito, Honduras for three months, improving a local school’s facilities and providing after school clubs for the children.
Olivia needed to raise £1500 to fund a place on the project and was awarded a £300 Individual Volunteer Grant by the Jack Petchey Foundation toward this. She raised the rest of the money herself by organising boot sales and completing the Jurassic Coast Challenge in which she walked three marathons in three days!
The school in San Benito taught 80 pupils with only three classrooms and no additional facilities. The project’s aim was to improve the quality of the schooling the children received and to improve the school building itself. Olivia’s team set up after-school clubs such as English Club, Science Club, Football Club and Glee Club, as well as teaching English to the children and adults in the wider community. The team also made improvements to the school’s infrastructure and aesthetic appearance by painting and renovating a disused storage room, painting several murals, installing a small garden made from recycled materials and building a playground area.
Olivia commented that “whilst the additions to the school’s facilities and overall appearance were… a valuable contribution, I think the greatest success… was the interaction with the students and the collaboration with the local community. The after school clubs were incredibly popular with the children, and several parents [said] that whilst their children previously disliked going to school in the afternoon, since the creation of the clubs, they couldn’t wait to go back in after lunch.”
The after-school project also contributed to a growth in self-confidence and self-esteem for the children. Olivia noticed that many of them were very shy at the beginning of the project, but after three months of interactive learning and being encouraged to participate in a safe and supportive space, they were significantly more comfortable with their peers and adults. The project also caused a shift in the community’s attitudes towards education; not only did the clubs provide new ways of learning and engaging with their classmates, but the improvements to the school’s recreational facilities fostered much greater enthusiasm and pride towards the institution.
The project has also made a difference to the wider community of San Benito. Those who took part in the English classes for adults have clearly benefitted, but it has also affected the community in ways that the team did not expect. For example, at an event held to register new national volunteers for the next phase of the project, an overwhelming number of people from San Benito attended. The volunteers explained that they had been inspired by the effect that Olivia’s team had on the community and wanted to be involved in such projects.
When asked what Olivia most enjoyed about the experience she said, “what I enjoyed most… was the opportunity to completely immerse myself in another culture, and to become a part of a new community. The students and teachers of the school, the parents and the residents of the town were so welcoming that the adjustment from life in the UK was incredibly easy."
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