My first visit to Bo – the most incredible experience. Harry Purewal
I was keen to visit Sierra Leone to experience different teaching cultures and further enhance the partnership between my school, St Anthony’s, and our linked school St Francis Upper Bo. Being a part of OWL (One World Link) and having the opportunity to teach children in another continent was an eye-opening experience. This enhanced my world view and I was able to bring back teaching methods that I had witnessed that my own children would benefit from.
My visit to Sierra Leone was the most incredible experience I have ever had to date. Going to Africa for the first time was immense and the greeting I received from everyone that I met was full of joy and happiness. Having the opportunity to teach children at St Francis Upper Bo was surreal. It felt like a dream, the rapport that I had with all the children was immense, they would not let me leave the school, I felt like a famous person. I taught children in Year 4 and in Year 6 a variety of subjects including Maths, Literacy, Reading and Science.
There were 15 linked schools overall in Bo, that have partnerships with 15 schools in Warwickshire. On our ‘Field-trip’ day, two children from each linked school, visited the Bo Waste Management Centre. Here the children learned about recycling and why burning plastics is harmful to the environment. Even basics (to us) such as throwing rubbish in the bin and not littering in the street will help. They found out that re-using materials will reduce the effect of pollution, whilst recycling materials such as plastic you can create bags, wallets and rucksacks, which can then be sold at the market.
The boys from St Francis were enthusiastic, energetic and passionate when they were speaking to the other children
The children returned to their schools and talked to their peers about good waste management practices and the potential benefits it has. They spoke of how the waste collection services can help. This really developed their confidence, especially the two boys from St Francis, they were enthusiastic, energetic and passionate when they were speaking to the other children. In our project we wanted to model how pupils can be great teachers too, rather than always the adult sharing knowledge. It was really good to see this idea working.
Alongside the other UK teachers, I also presented a workshop to teachers from the 15 linked schools. Their opportunities for professional development are much more limited than ours, so it was exciting being part of this teacher development. Our aims were to get the teachers thinking about climate change, sustainable development and opportunities to develop new skills for teaching. Our chosen text, a story called ‘One Plastic Bag,’ (about a Gambian woman and her successful plastic recycling project) was used as the main stimulus of the teaching. During my input I spoke about story mapping using pictures and arrows, this helps aid understanding especially when each child does not have access to the book. I taught this lesson at St Francis and the children found it fun and engaging and were also able to create their own story board. The best aspect to this method is that story mapping is adaptable to any story and I was so impressed when we visited St Charles Lwanga school later in the week to see a teacher using this method to teach about Mary. It made me feel joyous to see and it was so encouraging to observe the teacher put it into practice.
On my final day at St Francis, I had requested to play some football with the boys. To my surprise the whole school was outside and the head teacher (Mr Wonneh) had two teams (both dressed in kit which OWL had provided in the past) He was playing for one of them and myself the other. The match went all the way to penalties and my side were victorious! It was the ideal send off, the school were brilliant to me the whole week, the staff were kind, caring and the head teacher even invited me to his house for lunch twice. What a privilege to have this inside experience of life in such a different culture, but where I discovered we have more in common than different.
Some other memorable moments from my visit were seeing different schools in a variety of settings (a town centre government school, a rural school, church and non-church). There were some schools that had class sizes that were over 100, with only a single teacher. The children’s colourful uniform was also a highlight of the trip, whilst their singing was beautiful. Going to church was also extraordinary, then finally being able to relax at Bureh Beach was the perfect way to end the trip.