No ordinary holiday for Sarah


While most school teachers around the State were enjoying a relaxing six-week break during the Christmas holidays, St Norbert College teacher Sarah Gardner was in Uganda helping to strengthen a severely under-resourced educational system.

The 29-year-old science teacher spent four weeks – including New Year’s Day – in Uganda, as part of a program that provides training for teachers in economically disadvantaged countries.

Ms Gardner, who has previously spent time in India and Haiti serving local communities, said this time she wanted to be a part of creating long-term change.

“Even though I couldn’t see the direct impact of my work, I was doing whatever I could to help a teaching profession in Uganda that is not very healthy because of government funding, and because of corruption in the country,” she said.

“Hopefully the knowledge and the information that I gave to these teachers will impact the children they teach, which could make their lives better.

“Even though I did all I could, it was like a tiny drop of water on what is a burning fire of injustice in the educational system in Uganda. I can only hope and pray that it has made a difference.”

Ms Gardner said she was drawn to volunteer for the program, called Limited Resource Teacher Training (LRTT), after enduring a challenging 12 months.

“I was really trying to find myself in a way,” she said. “A colleague of mine encouraged me to do it, and I literally went home and the LRTT advertising popped up on Facebook and it was just perfect.

“I always want to give service, but I also want a bit of adventure and to see the world, so there’s no better way of combining all of those things together.”

After departing Perth on Boxing Day, Ms Gardner spent a week with a friend’s family in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, before travelling to the town of Kanungu for the three-week teaching program.

About 120 Ugandan teachers, most of whom are virtually untrained, took part in the program, where they were taught a range of universally-used practical educational skills to use in their classrooms.

Ms Gardner said she was shocked to see the limited resources available to teachers in the African country.

“These teachers have nothing,” she said. “A lot of the government schools don’t even have tables and chairs. For a school to have tables and chairs they need to fundraise or the church needs to fundraise so the kids can have a desk.

“It really made me more savvy of things I could do, on the spur of the moment, without a computer. To see that these teachers have nothing and they make it work; I took a lot from that.”

The experience not only made Ms Gardner more appreciative of the resources at her disposal as a teacher in Australia, but also strengthened her hope that lasting change can occur.

“There are times when you feel so defeated, but slowly but surely, if we do all we can, we will make a difference,” she said.

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