Hi, I’m John from the UK, and I’ve been teaching internationally now for ten years ever since I successfully negotiated that beast of a grammar exam at the Language House back in February 2009! That month at TLH was honestly one of the best experiences I’ve had and led me onto a path I could never have imagined taking previously.
In this short blog I’ll talk about my experience as a volunteer teacher in Rwanda and all the joys and surprises that program delivered on an almost daily basis. The main focus here will be information about volunteering with WorldTeach, a volunteer teaching NGO based in Boston, USA.
Why WorldTeach Rwanda?
My reason for selecting Rwanda stemmed from my Masters thesis in which I researched the Rwanda genocide. I was then seeking volunteer positions in the country and after some online research I found that WorldTeach offered the role I was looking for; teaching in a secondary school for one year. Upon completing my TEFL course at TLH, I spent 6 months in Prague teaching and building experience in preparation for that year volunteering in Rwanda, which began in January 2010.
I chose WorldTeach as for me it offered extensive help and support both prior to, and during the year program. The HQ in Boston assists with all of the logistics such as flights, visas, school placements, etc and then once you are in country a Field Director is there to support you throughout. This includes a comprehensive 2-3 week orientation upon arrival and then a mid-year and end of year conference in which you come together with your fellow volunteer teachers in country to share ideas, problems, solutions and general life issues as a kind of family! The Field Director is also there to offer help and support whenever you need it. I know this as I later went on to hold the Field Director position in both Guyana and Bangladesh.
The organisation also offers a number of locations to choose from, so if you’re interested in South America, you can go to Ecuador, if you prefer the solitude of island life, you can volunteer in the Marshall Islands, or if you’d rather be immersed in the diversity and energy of South Asia, you can teach in India. WorldTeach also offers full year, semester or summer placements, so there is flexibility based on your preferences.
The Teaching Experience
I have to admit the year in Rwanda was one of the toughest, yet most rewarding in regards of my teaching experiences so far. I was in a secondary school with class sizes of between 40-50 students and very few resources. Essentially I was armed with a blackboard, chalk and the brain between my ears! However, as the year progressed I could feel myself developing as a teacher and able to have a positive impact on the students I was teaching. I taught English and Entrepreneurship (yeah, don’t ask!) and initially I felt a little overwhelmed by the task, but I soon found that collaboration with school colleagues and fellow WorldTeach volunteers was both rewarding and very beneficial.
The students were a pleasure to teach, and I learned more from them than they did from me I’m sure! They were hard-working, inquisitive and highly ambitious, so it was incredible to work with them and see them develop their English and academic skills. I am also still in contact with many and have twice been back to visit Rwanda and my old school since I left.
In general WorldTeach will place teachers in primary schools, high schools or universities depending on the individual needs of the host country. In Rwanda we were all placed in secondary schools and taught a range of subjects based on our background and interests. So for example, some of my fellow volunteers taught math or science.
As I mentioned before, if you sign up with WorldTeach they will assist you with all of the visa requirements and processes both before you arrive in country and once you are, there. In Rwanda, our Field Director organised most of this for us, so it was pretty stress-free. A number of my fellow volunteers remained in Rwanda once they had finished their volunteer position and obtained paid positions in other schools. In all cases the schools assisted them with a work visa.
Pay and living costs
In general Rwanda was a relatively inexpensive country to live and work in. As volunteers we received a monthly stipend of $200. This was enough to live on in terms of buying food and other necessities. Housing was provided by the schools, as were utilities such as electricity and water. I was the only volunteer placed at my school, but in some cases volunteers will be paired at one placement. I enjoyed being alone at my site as I felt it forced me to be independent and build relationships with my colleagues and the community in general and that was a really positive aspect of the year.
If you acquire a paid position after the voluntary program has finished, it is possible to earn a salary comparable with the US/Europe in some cases. This is generally only if you have a teaching license from those countries. In regards to TEFL roles, these are available (generally in Kigali, the capital) and can be well paid depending on the employer. However, they can be a little unpredictable and not well-advertised. In WorldTeach’s other host countries it is also not uncommon for volunteers to remain in the country after their volunteer role has finished and seek paid teaching positions.
Positives of volunteering with WorldTeach
My year as a volunteer teacher with WorldTeach in Rwanda was (cliché alert) life-changing. It posed many challenges and hurdles, which I sometimes feared I would not successfully negotiate, but by the time I had finished I had learned so much and undoubtedly grown as a teacher, but more importantly as a person. It can be intense at times and definitely disorientating, but the rewards far outweigh the costs. I really felt after that year I was far better able to take on a diverse range of future teaching roles. I was also able to travel during the school holidays and made my way to six other African countries during that year.