After being inspired by a volunteering trip to Africa, British lawyer Alison Naftalin raised helping children learn, but also saving lives
Staring at the blackboard and listening to the teacher’s voice drone on, I could feel my eyelids begin to droop. “Keep awake,” I chastised myself as the children listened to how Earth rotates on its axis. I was crammed into a dusty classroom with 60 children aged around 10. “Repeat after me,” the teacher commanded, pointing towards the board.
I was only a week into my two-month volunteer teaching placement at a remote school in Ghana, West Africa, but was already stunned by the lack of creativity and stimulation in the classroom. The children looked as bored as me, but they were the lucky ones – at least they got to go to school. Many children didn’t get that chance.
I was worried. At a time when learning should be fun, entertaining and enriching, it was mundane and seemed pointless. The children were learning about things that had no relevance to their lives. But what could I do?
It made me realise how fortunate I’d been. I grew up in a middle-class London family with my parents Barbara and Richard, elder brother James, 36, and younger brother Guy, 29. I did quite well in my studies and became a lawyer.
I’d been expecting to be busy on a case for the entire summer, so when it was suddenly cancelled, I found myself with annual leave but no idea how to spend it.
A chance meeting with a friend, Joel, at my cousin Eve’s 30th birthday party solved the issue. Eve had been to Kolkata, India, the previous summer with a charity Joel worked for. “Interested in volunteering as a teacher in Africa?” he asked me.
I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I’d always loved travelling, having spent two months going from Kenya to South Africa while at university. I also had a passion for teaching, so, excited, I signed up and paid for my airfare and accommodation.
Back to basics
Three weeks later I was on a plane to Accra, the capital of Ghana. My home now was Jisonayili in Tamale, a town in the north of the country. Many of the villagers lived in mud huts, with no electricity or water.
In my first week I taught an average of 54 students in one class, with four students poring over one textbook. “Put up your hand if you
a revolution of sorts in education, helping children learn through play
Where: Alison brought about