This week we focus on teaching in Liberia. We interview one of our most highly rated hosts, Nicola Sutton who is both the Volunteer Coordinator and a teacher at The Liberia Renaissance Education Complex.
Helpers love this HelpStay project because it is challenging, collaborative and a good place to meet and work with people from around the world.
About the interview…
In this interview, Nicola discusses the diversity in tasks available at their Stay and the rewarding work that comes from it. As one of the more selective Stays, Nicola describes the ideal Helper but also how everyone’s unique capabilities have a place at her Stay.
Tell us a bit about your Stay. (Where is it located? What is the organization called? Why does it exist?)
Our organization, The Liberia Renaissance Education Complex (LREC), is a school in Duazon, Liberia, West Africa.
It caters to over 360 students from nursery to 12th grade (aged 4-20). The school was founded in 2006 by Swiss funders wanting to make a positive impact on post-war education and teaching in Liberia by modelling progressive education standards for others to replicate.
What duties are expected of the Helpers when teaching in Liberia? Do you think these are challenging tasks?
As a mid-sized school with large grounds, there are a range of ways Helpers can assist. We try to make the most of each Helper’s personal skill set, so that both they and we get the most out of the shared experience.
Peer-to-peer teacher training…
That said, our first preference is always for qualified and experienced teachers who can develop the skills of our local teaching staff. We see peer-to-peer teacher training as the most constructive use of volunteer teachers’ time, as the effects are ongoing – even years after the Helper’s departure, you will still find our local teaching staff implementing ideas that have been shared with them by a past Helper.
Sharing of ideas…
Teacher training can be a nice challenge. For teachers not used to teaching adults, and often teachers asked to conduct training sessions start out thinking ‘I can’t do that’, or ‘I’m not trained to teach others to teach’.
The sharing of ideas is in and of itself valuable, and more often than not they walk away agreeing, and proving themselves capable of something they thought they couldn’t do.
There are also opportunities to help in curriculum development for those with skills in this area. However, teachers are unlikely to be given a class to themselves unless they are with us for a full academic year, as we need to ensure continuity for our students.
That said, there are plenty of opportunities for teachers to get involved in the classroom and help out or team-teach with our local staff.
Plenty of opportunities…
We have also had volunteers come and help in the following ways:
- Conduct after-school sports team coaching.
- Help with maintenance and repairs (painting and basic carpentry).
- Take stock photography for use in promotional materials.
- Help with computer skills development.
The need for this kind of help varies, though, and is often less challenging and thus a little less personally rewarding for Helpers.
Think about what you want to do…
I would suggest that anyone considering spending time with us thinks about what they would/could do in a school in their own country – the needs in Liberia are often the same.
If you find yourself struggling to picture yourself doing this back home, perhaps you need to look for a position better suited to your skills and professional experiences.
What are you typically looking for in a Helper? (Background, personality characteristics for teaching in Liberia)
Independence and self-motivation…
As a volunteer you are there to help out, but managing volunteers can take a lot of resources, especially for smaller organisations, so we always look for Helpers with a high level of independence and self-motivation. We need to know that a Helper can assess a situation and develop and implement an action plan, without necessarily receiving step-by-step instructions on what to do. In that respect, it’s a HelpStay position perhaps better suited to older or more worldly volunteers, but there are certainly some younger Helpers who also display these qualities.
A cool head…
We look for Helpers with an ability to handle difficult situations with a cool head – people with the confidence to walk into any situation, learn and ask questions, and then interact positively with those around them to achieve a goal.
It helps if the person has a good ability to read the safety or threat level of any given situation, and take precautions correspondingly. We also find that Helpers with strong people skills and the ability to build relationships beyond just the immediate host environment also get more out of their stay.
What would you say is your Hosting style? Do you interact with the Helpers much?
Our approach is fairly hands-off. We like to make sure Helpers get a solid introduction to the people they need to know and the resources they may need, but then trust Helpers to build those relationships in their own style, and develop a work action plan.
We’re there for guidance and support, but think the experience is far more rewarding for Helpers who have more control over the form and nature of their involvement.
After hours, Helpers share a guesthouse with the host, generally sharing meals, going out in the evenings, and exploring the local area together.
Can you tell us a funny story or a good memory with your Helpers?
Our senior students often like to teach younger volunteers some of the local dialect/street slang. You have to be careful though – not everything they teach you you’d want to say in front of your grandmother.
What is your favorite part thing about being a HelpStay host?
Being hosts gives us a chance to meet interesting people from a range of different backgrounds and countries. Some of these friendships go on long beyond the HelpStay experience, and this is incredibly rewarding (and some of our volunteers have come back to us more than once).
It’s also really nice when you have the opportunity to help a younger Helper develop their professional skills and independence.
About Nicola Sutton
Nicola Sutton is Volunteer Coordinator and a teacher at The Liberia Renaissance Education Complex. Nicola is a originally from Australia but has been based in Liberia for the past few years. She was one of the first hosts to join the HelpStay platform and has many years of experience hosting Helpers.
She is encouraging to Helpers but values independent work and self-sufficiency in her Helpers. She is an admirer of hard work and different cultures and currently accepting Helpers at her Stay in Liberia.
Before you go…
If you intend to volunteer in Liberia, you can get up to date and accurate information from the official website of the Liberia Ministry of Foreign Affairs.