Alumni Spotlight: John Fewtrell

John is a retired engineer with a passion for photography and travelling. Spending three months a year, and sometimes more, travelling, John wanted to give something back to those who did not have access to the resources and opportunities he had.

Why did you choose this program?

The choice of GHTA as a volunteer location was the result of several months’ work by my wife.

As an ESL Primary School teacher, she wanted the opportunity to be able to make use of her experience to teach adults. Since we were travelling and volunteering together, the programme also needed to provide me with an opportunity to contribute. Since retiring, I have a CELTA Teaching Certificate and the programme also offered me the opportunity to use my recently acquired skill as well as my business experience.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

After several email communications outlining the requirements of the programme, we had a long Skype Call where Monika provided us with much more detail. As seasoned travellers we knew all the medical, legal and visa requirements, however, Monika was able to answer a number of additional questions we posed. She was particularly helpful with the special visa requirements of the GHTA Volunteer Programme.

Monika was also helpful with some additional elements that we could bring to help support the project.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

In terms of advice, there is really only one. After a very short while in Africa, you hear the expression ‘TIA’, meaning, “This Is Africa” – things do not happen to any western schedule, time is a moveable feast and anything can and regularly does happen in its own timeframe, so flexibility and enjoying all the new experiences is key.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

A typical morning for me at GHTA would involve teaching a group of 15-20 women some very simple and basic business skills. How to set-up and run a small business, and the challenges, rewards and problems they may typically encounter.

The afternoon would often be taken up with coaching and helping students with their homework or the assignments set during the morning.

An evening meal was often followed by preparation for the next day. A beer or two in town would sometimes follow.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest shock was one afternoon when we were involved in a vocation class and we asked the women to paint some pieces of wood. Not one of the women had ever held a paintbrush and they had no idea of how to apply and paint on a piece of wood. The event was incredibly humbling and it made me realise how much we take for granted.

How does volunteering feel like?

In terms of what people might like to know about volunteering and the project at GHTA, I would say most emphatically that you will leave Africa with the knowledge you have been given and experienced more than you were possibly able to give to the students.

They arrive every morning, full of enthusiasm and determination to learn and improve their lives and very little dampens their spirit. During visits to the homes of our students, we were treated with a welcome that you rarely experience at home.