A 26 year-old Clonmel woman will travel to Ethiopia next week to begin two years of voluntary work educating teaching students at a newly built university.
Aisling Healy from Scrouthea, Old Bridge, Clonmel is swapping an Irish secondary school classroom for the teaching training faculty at the Woldiya University in Ethiopia’s remote Amhara region.
She is heading to the African country as a volunteer for international development charity Voluntary Service Overseas.
Her job will be to jointly run the university’s Higher Diploma training programme for secondary school teachers.
The Irish and geography teacher worked for the past four years at Scoil Mhuire Secondary School in Carrick-on-Suir but is currently on career break. She spent the past year travelling abroad but has decided to devote the next two years of her life to using her professional skills to help train Ethiopia’s future teachers.
“Volunteering is something I always wanted to do. I feel lucky and privileged. I am young and healthy and I can volunteer my time to something and I feel the time to do it is now,” says Aisling, who is daughter of Independent TD Seamus Healy.
She has decided to do her volunteer work with VSO because of its focus on using people’s skills to improve the lives of the poorest people in the world.
“VSO was the organisation I wanted to work with rather than any other. I believe the way they do things is more sustainable.
“They don’t send money or resources to countries, they send out you as a skilled professional. You are recruited on the basis that people are the best agents for change.”
Aisling leaves for Ethiopia this Sunday, February 3 and after a week of training in the capital Addis Ababa to acquaint her with the country’s culture and customs, she will head to the Amhara region to take up her post at its new university.
Amhara is two days journey from Addis Ababa and Woldiya University is located in a large town in the region.
This will be Aisling’s first visit to Africa so she is prepared for quite a culture shock when she arrives.
Fortunately English is widely spoken at the university but Aisling has been busy learning the region’s Amharic language since receiving the news of her posting with VSO in December. Amharic is also Ethiopia’s national language. “There will be no better classroom for me (to learn the language) than when I get off the plane and no once can speak English to me,” she jokes.
She explains that she will run the Higher Diploma teacher training course with an Ethiopian colleague at the university and part of her job will be to observe and assess students on teaching practice in schools around the region where there may be up to 100 students per class.
The Higher Diploma course is in place in Ethiopia about ten years but it is very new to the region she will be based in because the construction of the university has only been completed in the past year.
“It’s exciting to be at the beginning of something and maybe there will be less problems when you are there from the start,” Aisling told The Nationalist.
The idea behind leading the course jointly with an Ethiopian colleague is that it will foster an exchange of ideas and knowledge between them. “I will be gaining as much out of it as they will,” she stresses.
Aisling confesses she was initially a little disappointed that her posting to Ethiopia won’t involve teaching secondary children but is now looking forward to training the teachers, who will go on to educate literally hundreds of children.
While she is not obliged by VSO to do any fund-raising, she has set up a personal fund-raising page on the Internet where members of the public can donate money. Donations can be made by logging onto http://www.mycharity.ie/event/aisinethiopia/.
Aisling also plans to spend her periods of leave from the university over the next two years doing other volunteer work in Ethiopia.
And once she arrives in Ethiopia, she hopes to write a blog about her experiences in the African country. You can read it on http://aisinethiopia.wordpress.com.