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  • Writer's pictureDeb Smithers

Tales of the travelling teacher

The beginning of this venture began back home in Australia a few years ago when I decided to enrol in a TEFL course, which is teaching English to students of a foreign language. Having decided that although I was happy, of course, I have a wonderful family and am blessed to live in what is often referred to as one of the most beautiful places in Australia. Still, something was missing. Those wonderful feelings of passion and drive for something were no longer present. Life felt very safe and comfortable but I had itchy feet as they say. It is quite a great idiom as that is exactly how it feels. You cannot keep those feet still. Ready to wander. Ready to explore and ready for something new. I felt the need to do something more than what I was currently applying to.

I was in my fourth year of hosting international students. Having them live in my homestay at times for up to 6 months. They were such good times, filled with wonderful memories and which always came with many laughs, learning new things and endless sessions of charades or guess this word to overcome the initial language barriers. This was indeed one of my fondest hosting memories. What these interesting young people gave me over the years was insight into the lives of people in other countries. Different religions, culture, foods and lifestyles. I loved it. Dinner time was when we all came together to talk and eat. Often a dining table with 6 different nationalities from Japanese, French, Swiss, German and very limited knowledge of the English language. What a mix we were and how we had the most interesting language sessions around that dining table.

So, there I was hosting, working and coming home to hours studying the art of teaching English and I continued until finally the course was completed. And should I just add, with flying colours. I just love that feeling when you achieve something that in the beginning you doubted that you would complete.

I had read about an organization in the Lonely Planet that immediately took my attention. It was in Sapa, North Vietnam. It was called Sapa O'Chau and it was a tiny school in an old cement building high on the hill in the town of Sapa. It had been founded by a young H mong girl by the name of Ms Shu who came on to be awarded the 2019 Asia's Woman Leaders award. She herself grew up in the villages that were nestled throughout the mountains. Many being over 10 kms from any school and with almost no income, education was not an option for many children. What an extraordinary young woman. Truly inspirational.

The school was run by charity and donations that allowed up to 30 students from ages 15-21 to live all together and have the opportunity to gain some form of education.

The focus was also to allow students to learn that there was more to life than trekking, and selling handmade goods on the streets. This to them was the only way they knew to make money to support their families, to survive really. Being at school gave them insight into many more opportunities that could arise in their lives, once they were given the knowledge and tools to pursue other dreams and ideas. It sounded amazing. I studied more about the placement, application, and process. I studied for hours about Sapa, the ethnic minority groups, and the school, and with that, I came alive!

I knew instinctively that was where I wanted to go!

But could I do it?

2024 Debbie Smithers. All rights reserved


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