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SUAS

Suas Educational Development is a movement dedicated to supporting high quality education in targeted under-resourced communities, with programmes in India, Ireland and Kenya. Volunteers who choose to help build and improve community development along with teaching English to the youth providing them with opportunities for their future. The results are long term as your volunteer experience can change the lives of many people less fortunate than us.  Do you fancy getting your hands dirty for the summer whilst providing a world where all young people are given the opportunity to realise their potential to effect positive change in our society, then the SUAS programme is perfect for you.

Why volunteer with SUAS?

There are countless reasons, but the most common reason that volunteers have for getting involved with Suas is because they want to support the mission of high quality education for under-resourced communities. To support that, people want to donate some time and a skill they have. In all cases, SUAS ask for a minimum time commitment and this is to ensure that their investment in training is worthwhile and that the organisation benefits. Many of SUAS’ volunteers have gone on to paid positions either at Suas or another non-profit organisation.

Their view:

They view education as key to social transformation – change education and you change the world. Key issues are not just about access but also quality, helping children and young people to go beyond the 3Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) to realising their full potential to enable them to positively shape their futures and that of their communities and countries.

Teach, Coach, Learn

Their mission:

Suas is a movement dedicated to supporting quality education in under-resourced communities.

Strategic Framework:

Educate: They support partner education organisations, catering for 3 to 18 year olds, in under-resourced communities that share similar values to Suas.

Engage: They engage our active and passionate youthful volunteers in service-learning and fundraising programmes that address educational disadvantage.

Inspire: They operate programmes that help young people to be better informed and connected with global issues, with a view to engaging them in our vision and mission.

See www.suas.ie for more information on volunteer programmes.

A Suas Experience

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Understandable in theory but I had no idea how this would translate into practice. Prompted by a desire to do something constructive without quite knowing what, I applied to volunteer as a teaching assistant with the Dublin based charity ‘Suas’, destination: Kenya.

No guidebooks could have prepared me for its vibrancy, the size of its insects or its contradictions. The contrast of wealth never ceased to jar. Even after three months I could but disbelievingly nod my head as I passed the jet-ski showroom mockingly situated opposite the slum village where I was based.

My first day at school has left a permanent imprint on my memory. I will never forget racing through the labyrinths of Mombassa, tiptoeing over open sewers, dodging packed vegetable carts and ducking loaded baskets that seemed to be defying gravity on top of stately women’s heads. Amidst the chaos, the stench, the colour, the pulsing music and the surprisingly industrious slum, resides Kongowea Primary School: a haven for the 2000 teachers and pupils who attend there.

Greeted by a sea of smiling faces, the younger kids could barely contain their curiosity, dashing forward to scratch our skin, half expecting the paint to come off. Standing nervously alongside my teaching partners I was ushered into the Standard Seven classroom where I was to meet my students.

Education is somewhat different in Kenya. After the government introduced ‘Free Primary Education’ in 2003, schools have been swamped with intake. Therefore I was not introduced to 30, 60 or even 90 pupils but a mammoth class of 110.  This leads to a host of problems: limited resources, cramped conditions and worst of all, overlooked talent.

The spectrum of ability is so vast that 13 year olds study alongside 20 year olds, some of which can barely write their name let alone master the curriculum. Trapped in a ratio of 1:100, teachers find themselves buried under a literal mountain of marking everyday of the week.

Our first lesson was Creative Arts and with the World Cup in full swing, we thought it apt to teach the World Cup Song to our class. It was whilst singing at full volume to the driving beats of my students’ innate rhythm that I gained clarity as to why I was there. These students did not merely need education, they deserved it. I did not go because the teaching is poor or the interest is lacking, but because the demand is great.

Some children were so eager to learn that they would wake up at 5am to prepare for class. Indeed the secondary education system is so rigorous, that classes do not finish until 11pm, unbelievable considering the first begins at four in the morning.

The pressure on both teachers and pupils is insurmountable both within and outside the classroom and this inevitably affects performance. Yet as eyes became heavy and little heads began to drop, a flurry of questions would assault my mind. Was it because they were tired or bored? Or was it because they were hungry (the provision school meals were cancelled due to insufficient supply). Sick, (many of the pupils had inherited Aids from their parents), or selling their bodies to the night, as one third of children from aged twelve reportedly do in the coastal areas of Kenya?

I’m not sure I’d cope if I knew the answers. It’s not all bleak of course because amidst this backdrop of struggle and toil, eternal optimism and aspiration shines through. This optimism manifested itself in the passing of the referendum which, if the encoded ideals of equality and freedom are applied, could mark a new beginning for Kenya and a fresh chapter in history.

It wasn’t all work and no play for me and my team of course – the day was too long, living situation too intense and sun too hot for their not to be. Yet as we danced on bars and lazed on beaches a crisis of identity would occur; were we volunteers or tourists? The distinction between the two is tenuous. Yet there is one pivotal factor that distinguishes the former from the latter. Driving the volunteer is an unrelenting refusal to stay complacent looking from the outside in. This is what compels you to learn your hosting country’s language (even if to give your hosts a laugh), respect their values (out with the hot pants, in with the linen trousers); listen to its people and prepare to stand corrected when you do so.

The memory and knowledge of the very different existence you left behind is an irremovable wedge that is better accepted than contested. Living a double life is all part of the deal. Yet one thing is for certain, you won’t return to your world as you left it.

Kenya, as I see it (whether that be from the inside out or outside in) has incredible potential to be great, but this potential is continually curbed by corruption that riddles the political system and seeps through society. Its enduring appeal is however, its people, who despite having so little are so rich in love, humour and skill. I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge those who supported my trip to Kenya and to encourage you, the reader, to support the educational cause in all its forms, whether at home or abroad. Lastly, I’d like to thank the staff and pupils of Kongowea Primary School – for helping me learn how to teach but most significantly, teaching me how to learn.

Written by: Seana Henry & Karina Mulkerrins

Proofed by: Dara O’Conor, John Fagan & Emma Duggan

Uploaded by: Emma Duggan

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