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During my second ‘round the world’ trip in 2005, I was travelling with a relentless passion, hungry to see and learn about as much of the world as I could. I was travelling slowly and rather aimlessly but after a few months I had seen a decent chunk of Southeast Asia. I was eating breakfast in the courtyard of a small hotel in Hanoi when a girl came over and asked me and the people I was sat with if we wanted to go and help out at a school for the day by teaching English. No experience was necessary and I thought it sounded interesting so off I went along with a couple from Liverpool, and a Dutch girl.
The school was small and privately run. The aim was to give a free education to those children who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend school. The children were aged between 4 and 12 and some of the younger ones were really tiny! Even so as I stood before an expectant classroom with absolutely no idea what to do or say I felt very intimidated. The children, around 40 of them all immaculately dressed in white shirts and black trousers, sat quietly and patiently as I stood there and began to tell them my name, age and where I was from. After a short while their teacher said something in Vietnamese and the class stood up and applauded me. I wasn’t sure I had really deserved it but it was moving nonetheless. Then they each in turn stood and told me their names and ages in English – it was extremely cute and I was really impressed.
After the children had completed some exercises in their books and I had introduced them to hangman (which I like to think they enthusiastically play to this day) it was break time and the children went off for lunch and then were allowed to go outside to let off steam. Some of the boys had a flat football and were playing a high speed game that I soon found myself involved in. There was much laughter all around as I embarked on (as I recollect it at least) a mazy dribble reminiscent of Maradona in his prime whilst simultaneously carrying three over-excited Vietnamese lads who had jumped on my back! They were lovely kids, really open and honest – one of them accidentally kicked me in the shins and he looked so upset with himself. I told him it was OK, ruffled his hair and he shot off with a big grin on his face again.
The afternoon was again spent in the classroom - this time drawing animals and other objects on the blackboard and writing the English name underneath. The children’s eagerness to learn was really heartwarming and they were all very well behaved and courteous to their teachers and to me. The teachers, who were unpaid volunteers, were an absolute inspiration. Their dedication and efforts to help the poorest children gain an education against the odds was magnificent.
I cannot recall the name of the school so as to mention it here but I am sure that there are many others like it in the world, . This experience opened my eyes very much indeed and I have since volunteered in other countries around the world – painting a school in Uganda, teaching novice monks English in Cambodia, driving an old RAF Ambulance from Oxford to Banjul, The Gambia to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Research, playing cricket with and teaching English to the children in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum.
I still travel primarily because I love it and am passionate about seeing new places, meeting new people, and experiencing new cultures. But now, when I can, I like to give back as much as possible to the places I visit.