Tegan Phillips, Volunteer Maldives
Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
Contrary to the popular belief, the group of small, spectacular tropical islands that is the Maldives is comprised not entirely of expensive holiday resorts but also of many poorer local islands, which are in desperate need of native English speaking teachers. I volunteered there with an organization called Volunteer Maldives as a primary school English teacher for six wonderful months. My timetable and responsibilities varied from week to week, but usually I’d spend the days preparing and teaching three to five lessons as well as doing private tutoring and planning extracurricular environmental activities for the kids. The schools and island officials were very flexible with the other volunteers and myself about how much and what type of work we wanted to do, and on such small islands it’s hard not to get involved in every aspect of the community despite specialties and preferences, including Girl Guides and soccer tournaments and even government work. The organization and the local friends I made also ensured together that during school holidays and on weekends I got to travel around the country by boat and experience every part of it’s unique culture.
Share a favorite memory.
I will never forget the way my grade two and three students would rush through their worksheets and various other exercise as quickly and diligently as possible just for a chance to play Simon Says at the end of the lesson for a few minutes, and also the way they were so affectionate and appreciative of all the volunteers. Also we had so much fun cleaning up the beaches, it was amazing being able to watch the children play games for the first time on litter-free sand; they were so happy when they could see the results of their hard work and realized what they’d achieved.
What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
I’ve learned about living in a culture entirely different to my own (the Maldives is a strictly Islamic country and everything is different, from appropriate dress to regular diet – and school is from Sunday to Thursday!) and embracing every part of that. Traveling and staying alone after coming straight out of school taught me so much about the significance of being independent, and definitely enlightened me to the vastness and diversity of our world. Of course, by far the most important thing was learning how to help others in a way that they want to be helped, and how important and effective this kind of service is in a global context. After my six months I came to the decision that I never want to stop teaching, even if only part time, and have now applied at my university to join a program teaching English to children in a nearby Xhosa community.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
There were many challenging aspects, particularly as a young Western female alone in a typically male-dominated country. I often had to be fully covered in unimaginable heat, at certain times of day I had to deal with swarms of mosquitoes (some with diseases) and sometimes there was conflict within the school or island due to miscommunication and such, and dealing with the results of the conflict could mean anything from moving house to moving island. But there wouldn’t really be opportunity for growth if everything was easy!
Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Consider every unplanned event to be an exciting turn in your adventure. Treat the beliefs, values and ideas of others with interest and respect, no matter how much they differ from your own. Don’t complain about basic living standards; if the majority of the world can do it, so can you. Actively learn as much as you can about the culture by which you’re surrounded; the traditions and festivals and the languages – it’s a good way to grow close to the community and enrich your experience. Don’t stress, don’t have too many expectations of anything and don’t be to hard on yourself, just enjoy it.