In their own words: the volunteer teacher who built a school

O. Ballard

In 2009 Elisabeth Ballard took a leave of absence from her post as an English teacher at the University of Paris, France and volunteered to teach in India. She ended up building a school…

“My dream was to find a school in rural India and be a volunteer teacher there. I found a little NGO running a primary school in the state of Bihar, in the north of India. (Bihar and Orissa are the poorest states in India, with an illiteracy rate of 80 %).

 “I taught in the ‘school’ for five months. In fact, classes took place under a tarpaulin strung between two buildings – that was the school. At first I was lonely and sorely missed my family in Paris, being totally isolated in a little community that was absolutely foreign to me. But it was so worthwhile teaching children who were grateful, motivated and so respectful of their teachers. I enjoyed every minute. Also, I had nine fellow teachers, Indian colleagues, who made me feel accepted within a few weeks.

“Before I returned to Paris in December 2009, I was told the school had to close for lack of funds. As I had grown attached to the school I began prospecting for sponsors. A Dutch business friend decided to help when he heard the story. We created a foundation in early 2010.

 “In just two years we have built a new school from scratch and a guest house for volunteers as well as attracting more sponsors. Most importantly, we can pay the nine teachers a regular salary. The classes do not take place under a tent or in the fields any more but in a lovely white, clean building which can accommodate 130 children from the surrounding villages. There are adequate sanitation facilities and the children arrive in starched white uniforms, provided by another sponsor. A school bus collects children from the surrounding hamlets.

 “Now I am working on the pedagogical structure for the school and am therefore committed to travel to India for six months of each year for the foreseeable future.”

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