Mak­ing young

Af­ter be­ing in­spired by a vol­un­teer­ing trip to Africa, Bri­tish lawyer Ali­son Naftalin raised help­ing chil­dren learn, but also sav­ing lives

Friday - - Inside -

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

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