In 2008 a colleague and I were planning our next big trip. We had been to Germany and France and even taken students to Florida but we wanted something different, something that was going to challenge the students in ways that other trips couldn’t. ‘I think we should go to Africa’ and that’s where it started. How was I going to make, what seemed like a crazy idea, a reality? Am I getting myself into something too enormous that I won’t be able to achieve? How am I ever going to get my headteacher, school governors and LEA to agree to a teacher, in her twenties, taking 20 students to Africa.
If Africa was going to be my first trip as a lead teacher, I wanted every part of it to go right. I did lots of research to see what the possibilities were and where we could go, safely, in Africa. I investigated a few companies but nothing quite had what Schools Worldwide offered. I got the answers I needed and reassurance that this would be an amazing trip. I was not pushed into anything. I was given time to make my own decisions knowing I had their support and wealth of experience. We spoke at length, came up with a plan, talked through possible itineraries and chose beautiful Namibia as our destination. All I had to do now was put my proposal to the headteacher and governors …they said yes!
Wait! What if the students are not interested? I hadn’t even thought about that. I teach Design and Technology in a state school in Derbyshire, with a mixed catchment area. Many families do not have the funds to send their children on school residential trips in Britain, let alone to Africa. However, the support and encouragement from these parents over the years has been tremendous. Students now come to our school knowing from year 5 that they want to go on the Africa project, which gives their family time to save.
As a teacher it is incredibly easy to get weighed down with all of the planning, assessment, monitoring, marking, teaching and all other responsibilities that job entails, why would you take on a trip to Africa? Don’t we already have enough to do? Please believe me when I say that it really is worth every second. When you get to Africa and you see your students bonding with the children you realise that the planning has been worth every second. These will be the memories that you and the students have for the rest of your lives. Schools Worldwide take on a huge amount of this planning for you. They set up parents and student meetings and complete risk assessments for the trip. They organise the project location and transport and they organise a leader who will travel with you and who will take on the main responsibilities while in Africa. It really is fantastic and superbly organised.
African schools are unlike British schools. You would be shocked at how little they have but how happy the children are. Many schools have children from 5-15 years old, some classes can have up to 50 students. Many schools have dormitories where the children live throughout the year and I cannot begin to describe the sleeping conditions. The quality and quantity of food that they eat varies and sadly, there is limited support for these schools which is why visits from foreign/British schools are so valuable.
I have been the lead teacher on four Namibia project trips and completed projects at four different Namibian schools. Each project has been as unique and as special as the next. Over the years we have, amongst other things, painted the outside of school buildings and the inside of dormitories. We have painted classrooms with educational artwork, built a poly tunnel, fixed some basic plumbing and built football pitches and netball courts. With two years of planning we have been able to raise money to donate musical instruments, books, several football and netball kits, hundreds of pairs of underwear, endless stationery and we have bought hundreds of mattresses and blankets so children in Namibia can sleep in warmth and comfort. In return we have had songs created for us, dancing, letters, precious gifts in recycled jars, painted ostrich eggs, the offering of a goat, a braai (Barbeque) and much more. This relationship that you form with the schools is so precious. The African school will be preparing for your visit months before you arrive. It is so important to do as much fundraising and planning as you can before you travel to create the best outcomes for your trip.
During the trip you travel around in a truck that will become your home from home. These trucks carry all of the essentials. They have the tents (did I mention it was camping?), mattresses, cooking equipment, tables and chairs. They have a safe, a water tank and even have a freezer. The tents are perfect for camping in Africa and by the end of the trip you will be a pro at constructing them and packing them away. These trucks are also fantastic for sightseeing and safaris.
At the end of the trip our students have had the opportunity to see a little more of the country, travelling to places such as Spitzkoppe, which is beautiful and where the night sky is breathtaking. Time on the rocks gives them the opportunity to reflect on their projects and write a letter to someone they care about. We also travel to Etosha. The campsite is next to the most unbelievable water hole where the animals are so close. During the day we go on safari in the truck around Etosha. At the end of the trip we take time to come together as a group and have a meal out in Windhoek. Time to reflect daily on the trip is invaluable and gives you a sense of how the students are feeling and where your support and the support of others may be needed.
As a teacher on the trip you will worry, you will have sleepless nights, you will question if you have made the right decision. This is completely normal. When you are in Africa you will be a teacher and a parent. You’ll feel emotions that you didn’t know you had. You will beam with pride, you will be tearful, you will laugh until your insides hurt. You will be nervous and excited, you won’t shower for days and you won’t care. You will want time alone to gather your thoughts and reflect and then you will miss your group and want to get back to them. You will want to soak up every second and you will exhaust your camera taking endless photos and videos.
Choosing a company to travel with is possibly the hardest part of setting up any trip. You want to make sure that they have the students' and your best interests at heart, that they are going to be there at the other end of the phone when you need them or if you have a question. No matter how many questions you have or phone calls/emails you make, that each and every time they treat them as the most important question. I can honestly say that Schools Worldwide have never let me down. I have invested nine years of trust into this company and experienced four trips to Namibia which have changed the lives of 82 students at my school and hundreds of Namibian children.
If you are thinking of setting up a trip to Namibia with students at your school, stop thinking, just go for it! It will be one of the greatest experiences in theirs and your life.