By Catherine Henderson
International development charity VSO is offering teachers in Scotland the opportunity to share and build on their skills through volunteering for up to 2 years in over 40 countries across Africa, Asia and South America. The project comes with the added benefit of a government agreed career break scheme which guarantees that jobs will be held for teachers whilst they volunteer.
In a climate where only 1 in 5 Scottish probationary teachers last year found a job, the scheme has the added bonus of freeing up valuable teaching opportunities for newly qualified teachers to then take up those jobs on a short term basis. The number of Scottish teachers claiming jobseekers allowance has soared from 150 in 2005 to more than 400 in 2008.
Susanne Darcy, Relationship Adviser at VSO says “Thanks to the Scottish Career break policy and UK Government pension fund the two biggest barriers to teachers volunteering with VSO have been removed creating a win win situation for all.”
West Lothian teacher Caroline Pitcairn took up the VSO challenge 2 years ago, volunteering for 18 months in Malawi. Pitcairn, whose role was to pass on her skills and experience of teaching in Scotland and support the introduction of a new curriculum, says “The hardest part was trying to change peoples attitudes to the concept of sharing ideas, there was a tendancy to re-invent the wheel. Personally I gained so much, you have to think on your feet and get your head round all the cultural differences.”
Returning to Winchburgh Primary in West Lothian, Pitcairn found her experience immediately gave her a new insight as a teacher “Volunteering made me feel more confident to develop a greater awareness of international issues into the school, we’re now working on our International Schools Award. I also felt skilled enough to go for a development role within the new Curriculum for Excellence, my VSO experience was vital in proving to myself and the interviewers that I could do the role.”
Pitcairn came back with more than just experience and skills, she also met her Ugandan husband, Jonathan. Pitcairn says “We got married in Uganda a year ago, it was a massive Ugandan wedding party but with a Scottish influence, quite a few Ugandan wedding guests wore kilts!”