My time volunteering
It's getting on for 50 years since I fetched up in the then North Central State of Nigeria, armed with a bit of West African history, a smattering of Hausa and an unabashed awe at what I was experiencing. Funtua was far from the battlegrounds of the Nigerian Civil War, but it was thoroughly marked by the experience. It was a time of renewal and optimism, and most of my students, aged 13 to 30, were the first from their family or village to got to secondary school. My job was to teach them English and their own country's history. My fitness for the latter they rightly sometimes questioned.
The impact of my placement
The school was a large one, and I'm sure I left no lasting trace on the institution itself. Who is to tell the impact on the students it was my privilege to work with and for. Some of them passed exams and went on to higher things, and there are individuals whose talent and courage I remember to this day. We debated then, as people debate now, what difference we made; but any impact was surely as part of a wider team and community.
My unforgettable moments
Life could be harsh for my students and my neighbours, not least during the terrible drought of 1973; their forbearance was admirable and humbling, even as I inwardly seethed about the injustice of it all. The best moments were when people suddenly revealed an unknown skill or unsuspected characteristic or unpredicted achievement, from carving a calabash to overcoming a stammer to setting a broken limb. My abiding memories are of long conversations late into the night, and a lot of Nigerian conviviality, under those vast African skies of the savannah. Laughter was never far away.
The impact my placement has had on me
I had more responsibility thrust on me at the age of 22 than for many years after. That brought a sense of perspective to successive workplaces over a subsequent 35-year career in education and educational administration. It left me in no doubt about the transforming power of education, and the consequent profound responsibility on providers; but also with troubling questions about prevailing models of education, and about ethos, which have never really left me.