Spending a Month in Africa by Sabrina Mannion

Sabrina Mannion, a recent graduate from St. Patrick’s College Drumcondra shares her experiences of volunteering on VLM’s summer programme in Bulbula.

“To start off with, I would like to thank Mary Anne and the VLM organisation for making this whole experience possible. I loved every minute of it, the month flew by and I just long to go back in the next couple of years.

Before departing, I can admit that I was guilty of having a lot of stereotypes and expectations in my mind. For example, everyone imagines Africa to be really hot and suffer from drought. However, Mary Anne had us forewarned that we were going over during the rainy season and this would most definitely not be true. Not going to lie, but a small part of me thought that there may have been some truth behind the stereotypes.

Sabrina Mannion with Grade 4 students in St. Joseph's Primary School, Bulbula, where she taught during Summer 2014.

Sabrina Mannion with Grade 4 students in St. Joseph’s Primary School, Bulbula, where she taught during Summer 2014.

When arriving in Addis, this was not true. It was raining a lot in Addis, it was quite cold and wearing a hoodie was a must have while being there. However, when arriving to Bulbulla, it was much more humid but still not the heat we were expecting.

Another stereotype I had was that the children would be so different, would be really appreciative of anything we gave them no matter how big or small.  Sadly this was not the case the whole time we were there. Most children brought copies and pencils with them but still there remained many children who had expected us to give them everything and brought nothing with them. We just had to be honest and ask them all to bring copies as we couldn’t go handing out copies to that many people, we gave loads of paper but just not full copies. Aside from that, when giving the children any resources for arts and crafts, they would tell us what colour was their preference instead of just taking what we gave them. But sure that just goes to show that children will be children no matter where they are.

However, in Bulbulla in the countryside, it was evident that the children grew up really fast. They took on roles and responsibilities from a young age which was something we were not always used to in Ireland. For example some children just simply couldn’t possibly be on time for school as they would have to go to the river, collect water for their family, bring it home and then come to school. Therefore we were extremely understanding and would not question them on why they were late at all. It was a great feeling to see the children wanting to come to school and running up from the gate to the classroom.

At times, it felt like there was a huge language barrier between us trying to teach and what the children could understand. Therefore, what made life easier for us was by writing down on the blackboard exactly what we were saying that the children found difficult to comprehend. And aside from that, by learning a few phrases in Amharaic (the local language) and using them with the children, I felt that really grabbed their attention. Elsa, Marage and Meseret really helped us with this which we were very appreciative for. Phrases such as ‘salam, nige inagine, chawu, set balu, malcom missa’ etc really helped us out.

Sabrina with her fellow volunteers and some of the staff of St. Joseph's Primary School.

Sabrina with her fellow volunteers and some of the staff of St. Joseph’s Primary School.

On a final note, I will just conclude by saying, no matter how much preparation we did with fundraising, gathering resources and that before our departure…nothing could have prepared us more than the actual hands on experience of being there. And that is something which will stay with me forever.”

Read more about Sabrina’s adventures on sabrinamannion.blogspot.ie