Category: Volunteering

Skyping with South America

If you’ve seen my twitter attempts to find a class in South America, for a class in the UK to Skype with, then this quick note is just for you!

A couple of years ago I volunteered as a helper/teacher at a local school, introducing blogging and Skyping to a class of Primary children. They loved it, as did I, but time constraints meant I had to give it up.

When a 10 year-old neighbour told me recently she was doing a project on South America I thought what better way to open up learning than to Skype with children in that part of the world. I presented myself at her school and, naturally, they need to first do background checks on me, but they were thrilled about connecting kids around the globe! They told me that they’d already looked at some physical geography aspects but now wanted to consider human aspects. With the Olympics coming up in three months’ time, what better topic to explore?! I said no promises but it should be possible to find a class of children (maybe wanting English language practice) by reaching out to my Twitter contacts, so that’s what I’m now doing. Tweeting it out and seeing if anyone would like to connect.

Fingers crossed, this could be exciting!

Update 2016/06/23: Still looking! The target date/time is Friday July 8th at 13:00 UTC. That’s 14:00 here in the UK.  It’ll be morning sometime in South America, depending on which timezone you’re in!

Update 2016/07/09: Well, that was a failure 😦  I found that Brazilian schools were on winter holidays, and Argentina had a public holiday on that date, and will soon be on their winter holidays.  Although my contacts were keen, the dates didn’t work out.


Farewell to my Students

It’s the end of the school year here in the UK and I’ve taken the last of my blogging classes with my little groups of Year 4’s, 5’s and 6’s. What I haven’t mentioned before is that I also started an after-school club a while back, for an hour every Friday – so that’s now come to an end too.  Thursday was the last opportunity to see all my kids and so I made the most of it  – spending time chatting, out on the playing field at lunchtime, saying cheerio.  I shall miss them all and I think some of them will miss me too. One little sausage got quite upset when I told her I wouldn’t be back. I tried to console her and asked her to think about things she is grateful for and to perhaps blog about them. This is the result, written today, Sunday: “I am Grateful For…” with, first on the list, “I am grateful for Mr.Elsmore and his teaching because without him I wouldn’t know how to blog” That makes me very happy!

Some children asked where I was going. I told them India, Nepal or maybe Cambodia. They wondered how I could afford to do that (kids can be so wonderfully direct!) When I told them my plan to rent out my house I could see the cogs whirring as they made sense of it. They were quite intrigued.

In the afternoon I stayed for the Key Stage 2 “Performance” for parents, with stringed instruments and songs. All of the children were involved with playing something – an achievement which the school is rightly proud of. The programme ended with one of those songs which just grows and grows and tugs at the old heart strings. And I had done so well… until that point. Oh well, only human after all!

0376 0378

PS, I should point out that it will be a few months before I set out on my travels – I have to get my house into a rentable state first!

Granny Available for Skyping

UPDATE 2013/04/03: Please ignore this request – a class in Brazil has stepped forward with Skyping sessions for my unemployed Granny!

A UK granny would like to Skype with non-native English speakers to help them practise pronunciation…

skype in progressBackground Some of you might know that for the last six months I’ve been working with the “Granny Cloud”, the brainchild of Prof Sugata Mitra and Dr Suneeta Kulkarni. I provide a bit of administrative and technical support to this great project (more: BBC articleSOLES and SOMES wiki, The Granny Cloud blog). Essentially this is English-speaking “Grannies” Skyping  with disadvantaged children in India and Colombia. When I say “grannies”, I use the term VERY loosely! It includes, grandpas, uncles, aunties, mums, dads… just about anyone who can spare the time to chat regularly with the kids. I’m sure that you can see that this would be a two-way street with many benefits on both sides.

The situation fluctuates but, right now, we really have more grannies than we do classes to Skype with. Trouble is, it takes quite a lot of effort on the ground to get these centres going and recent publicity has brought even more willing grannies out of the woodwork. I had the feeling that some were becoming a little frustrated so I thought I’d ask our registered grannies if anyone would be interested in occasionally Skyping into a regular UK primary school – reading stories with the school I work at. I found there was enough interest to run a few trial sessions over the last couple of months. It was always a bit of an experiment but we’ve now decided to drop them. The kids enjoyed the sessions but lessons at the school are constrained by a hectic curriculum and it was difficult to get a good fit. Some flexibility is also needed in the schedule to accommodate lessons that underrun or overrun while a Skype call is, by necessity, a relatively fixed appointment. It didn’t work for us but it might work better for you, especially if part of the purpose is language learning and culture exchange.

One Granny in particular is seeking to connect with a school and set up a regular Skype session. She is a retired teacher herself, very friendly, and loves the feeling of being back in the classroom. She is a young-at-heart 78 year-old, competent with computers (email, Skype, blogging etc) and comes from a village in Bedfordshire, towards the south of England. She has varied interests: animals, saving the planet, music and many others. She says she “firmly believes the young hold the future of our world but need guidance”.


  • Children ages 12+ but younger might be considered too
  • Less-privileged children who want to learn
  • Aim is to Skype to practise conversational English/cultural exchange
  • Available weekdays, 09:00 to 17:00 UK time.
  • Ideally one or two regular 30 to 45-minute sessions a week

If you can see an opportunity at your school, please email me: with some details of your class and its situation, and I’ll pass them along to my “Granny”.
Thank you!

Postponing Return to SE Asia

The lookIt’s been a difficult decision to make but I’m going to postpone my return to SE Asia by six months.

My original plan was to set sail for Nepal or India or Cambodia in April, to do voluntary teaching again for many months, maybe years, if it all worked out. I feel driven to go – it’s what I must do and it’s something that I can do.

When I go off again I’ll need somewhere to store my few possessions, a place I can stay a few weeks each year, and somewhere I can have post sent to. I’ve exhausted all the goodwill of family and friends. I don’t want anyone to feel obliged to put me up or help me out; I’ve already overstepped that line. This is my biggest dilemma – not having a base here in the UK.

The alternatives are expensive, especially when you’ve no money coming in. I’ve been worrying about long-term storage and considering things like living in a caravan, a van, a shed and so on. Coming back to the UK for 6-8 weeks a year would make a huge dent in my savings – the dent is already big enough when just staying with family and friends!

I’ve been reducing all my material possessions and trying to keep costs down by not owning a car and by living in a house-share. Everything I now own (apart from my two bicycles) is the room I’m sitting in! But reducing stuff is not the whole answer – I will still need some storage space, and the problems of where to stay and where to have mail sent to persist and worry me.

My income is not high – I only work three days a week – but I get by. I could probably find work for five days if I made a real effort but my heart isn’t in it. In fact working three days to earn some money and then having four days to recover and please myself is a pretty good balance, so long as I don’t spend any money during those four days! And this way I get to help out at the local Primary school during my time off which I enjoy hugely. Somehow, after two and a half years in Asia, my outlook on life has changed. I find it impossible to be enthusiastic about my old lifestyle and hard to readjust.  And always in my heart is the unsettling desire to return and do more.

Luckily I do have some savings which could be used as a reasonable deposit on a small house. Buying now seems as good a time as any.  There are a number of pros and they might just about outweigh the cons:


  • a foot on the property ladder as house prices inexorably rise
  • some income, if I buy to let
  • a place to store ‘things’
  • a fixed address for mail
  • a cheap place to stay on any short returns to the UK
  • somewhere I could have family/friends stay over perhaps


  • a constant worry/responsibility
  • maintenance costs
  • takes time to find and buy
  • time and expense to do up
  • management costs when renting
  • rental void periods/ variable income

But delaying also has some other advantages:

  • more time with my grown-up son and daughter!
  • more time with my elderly parents
  • can expand projects I’ve been helping with at school
  • more time to help with RSCON4 conference (coming up in May)
  • more time to sort out where I’m going in Asia
  • since Nepal visas limit you to five months per calendar year, I could have a block with several months in 2013 followed by more in 2014
  • can save a bit more cash (thankfully my employer is happy to allow me to stay longer)
  • can finish off some projects at work
  • it’s especially busy at work right now – delaying till we’re past the hump will allow more effective training of a successor
  • chance to consult GP about some minor medical issues
  • I’m sure there are other reasons but… old age, you know…

At the moment it feels the right decision.

Volunteering at a Primary School

I’m now a helper, one day a week, at a local Primary school. After a bit of a delay I had an interview last week and started work yesterday. I was looking forward to it and it turned out to be very successful. From my point of view, I get to see how the experts organise, manage and teach their children and, hopefully, that will improve my skills for when I go off volunteering again next year.

I love working with kids but I’ve left it too late in life to have a career move – a year studying a PGCE would make a huge dent in my savings and I’m probably too thick and slow to do well anyway. So, for the next six months I aim to pick up tips while trying to be helpful in the classroom.

It was very noticeable that I was the only male in the staffroom at lunch time. It’s a small school and there are only twelve or so staff but it felt a bit awkward. The head is a guy, in his early thirties I’d say, and quite dynamic. The few staff I’ve chatted with have nothing but praise for him. But he doesn’t take classes, as far as I can tell, so I guess I’m a bit of a token male role model. That might be useful as quite a few of these kids come from one-parent families in a tough neighbourhood. It’s quite intentional that I find myself here – some of these children are going to be a challenge behaviourally, and I relish challenges!

I get to act as a kind of benevolent grandfather in the classes. I can lean over shoulders and offer encouraging words or advice. I can go and chat with anyone sulking in the corner or read with, or do maths with, anyone who is struggling a bit. I’m helping with Years 4, 5 and 6, which are my favourite years – the kids are all sparky and have crazy ideas – it’s great chatting with them!

I know it’s not really realistic. I have neither the responsibilities nor the planning nor paperwork that regular teachers have. And if I was to ask about those things I’d just be adding to the teachers’ already-heavy burdens but perhaps I can learn by observing. There’ll be opportunities when I can add some value to classes; even yesterday I was able to sit and be an “expert” on India. Having spent 18 months in Kerala I was able to field questions on what happens to baby elephants if they lose their Mummy and Daddy, what’s it like travelling in trams and rickshaws, is the rain warm, how heavy is the rain, do they have winter, was it hot, do they grow poppies, did I wear a bindi, could I buy ready-made clothes… and many others! In the science lesson I was able to explain how the seasons work and why the seasons are opposite in the northern and southern hemispheres. We were talking about the Sun and I was able to tell them that I work somewhere where we are trying to create a small sun inside a big hollow doughnut (I think I lost them a bit and they now think I’m a mad scientist!)

All in all it was very successful, great fun, and I’m looking forward to next Thursday!

Volunteering Failures

Some things that make me despair:
[Later: OK, maybe despair is too strong a word… make me frustrated, annoyed, irritated, angry, mad:]

  • Volunteers travelling half way round the world to paint a classroom wall
  • Volunteers travelling half way round the world to lay a few bricks
  • Volunteers travelling half way round the world to cuddle a few orphans
  • Volunteers doing a job a paid local could do (a lot better)
  • Volunteers with no discernible skills
  • Volunteers with no respect for local customs and culture
  • Volunteers who spend their time complaining
  • Volunteers who wouldn’t consider volunteering at home
  • Volunteers who don’t understand it’s mainly all about them
  • Volunteers who think themselves unselfish heroes
  • Donated second-hand computers – they’re out of date and difficult to support, cost loads to transport and loads to import. Don’t the kids deserve something new?
  • Donated second-hand books. Would you buy them for _your_ kids?
  • Donated second-hand clothes/shoes. How magnanimous of you. Don’t the kids deserve a treat? And they’ve probably been produced locally in the first place – carting them around the globe comes at a cost!
  • Donated second-hand anything – buy them locally to stimulate local trade and save air-transport’s environmental damage. Give money, not things. (OK, give only essential things that aren’t available locally and are actually requested.)
  • Donated money which MUST only be spent on certain things you’ve decided are needed – don’t you trust locals (the experts) to make decisions? Do you really have any clue or understanding about what is really needed? Like unglamorous running costs and wages?
  • Handed-out pencils, “school-pens”, whatever (give money to the school!)
  • Toms Shoes – give me a break. In fact, yes, I need a break…

Would you? Could you?

I’ve been thinking about how it might be possible for a small Nepalese school to support itself. One way might be to have a rota of volunteer teachers coming from better-off countries, staying with local families, paying a small rent for their accommodation. They would bring their skills and a small boost to the local economy, which would mean that parents would be more willing, and could better afford, to send their children to the school. OK, the details need sorting out, but would volunteers come?

Would YOU volunteer-teach in Nepal for a month if you had to pay all your expenses?

Teach in a very-low-resource school, small class size, Elementary/Primary ages, mixed, poor.

Live with a local family.

Your flights, your travel, food, accommodation, inoculations, insurance… paid by you.

No pay but no fees or expected donations.

Volunteer-teach one month and then … go exploring, or relax and appreciate the culture, or research, or dream …

Please tell me – would YOU?

What would it take?

New Projects For Me!

I have two great new projects in the pipeline! After the CELTA I’ve been a bit lost for direction but now I have something I can get my teeth into!

1 – RSCON4

@shellterrell, on a playdate with an old dinosaur!

Yes, Our Shelly is pulling the stops out again! This is one seriously popular on-line conference with talks covering the whole education spectrum. Google RSCON3 and you’ll see just how popular last year’s conference was: 80 presenters, four concurrent sessions, twelve keynote speakers, three days, thousands of participants. It’s no mean feat! I was one of the organisers, along with a whole team of  enthusiastic others. All volunteers. My involvement was mostly with scheduling, and that’s what I’ll be doing again.  A considerable effort though. I seem to remember it averaged out at 12 weeks of 25 hours a week. Perhaps, this time, I’ll do things more efficiently 🙂

RSCON4 is pencilled in for mid January, 2013, so that gives us a chance to get organised. Shelly has new ideas up her sleeve which’ll be announced as things firm up. However, everything’s still very fluid – don’t be surprised if the date changes!

One of the great outcomes of RSCON3 for me was speaking with (well ok, emailing with) some of the big names on Twitter, and getting a boost to my PLN as a result. Some very inspiring people out there!

Few, though, more inspiring than Shelly herself. I have had the pleasure of meeting her in person on three occasions and I can tell you she’s lovely as well as being one very smart cookie!

2 – SAV

Govinda, Sir, @SAVSchool

Secondly, I’ll be working with Govinda Prasad Panthy, headteacher and founder of SAV school in Nepal, to help him set up a blog. This’ll be fun and rewarding! Do a search of his name and you’ll find him all over the place. That’s a good thing and a bad – his name is known but the focus is missing. My belief is that by setting up this blog with regularly updated news he’ll attract interest which should ultimately benefit his young Nepalese students. Watch this space!

Development Education

DevEd – Empowering communities through relevant education

“This is a our first scribing video that describes the aims and approaches of DevEd. Sign up to our channel for more future video releases.

DevEd is a newly established non-profit that aims to change attitudes and approaches to education in the developing world by focusing on the delivery of relevant education, both in terms of content and teaching methods. Join us, why don’t you?

Follow us on Twitter:”

This is food for thought. I’m not saying I agree 100% with it – limiting the scope of education to everyday needs will surely impose a glass ceiling, and where does religion and its impositions feature? (eg the restrictions of caste) … but yes, in principle, adapt the curriculum to make it relevant and realistic.