Global Health Award 2016 Entries: Elliot Clissold

Gratitude

Bumbling along those orange, dusty 'roads' for the last time, in a van whose lack of breathing space we would not miss, we were tired. It had been one month since we left the now­ distant shores of home to travel half­way across the world, and half­way across Kenya, to the small, remote village of Kisii. One month since we'd said our goodbyes to concerned families and perplexed friends. One month since we left, full of worryingly childish excitement and optimistic expectations that were, in all honesty, tinged with a slight fear of not really knowing what to expect at all.

Our first teaching session was a small disaster. Even with all the training, you can never be truly prepared for a class of five year olds who don't care what you've got to say and more about when you're going to start playing hide ­and ­seek with them. As we spouted out our barely ­understood instructions to “always use mosquito nets!”, we eventually realised that they'd probably rather just pretend to be the mosquitoes themselves and run around the field chasing each other.

After that, in all our infinite wisdom, we decided that we'd conquered the art of teaching ­ just let the kids enjoy themselves and the learning will take care of itself. So, we rested peacefully for the next day, when we were sure to rock up at the next school in our customised SKIP t­shirts and once ­and ­for ­all stop the spread of malaria.

As we fought through the final stretch of the two hour journey there and stumbled over that last hill, our dreams were dashed. About three hundred students, from those who’d just about learnt to walk to those who seemed barely younger than ourselves stared, and then began to jump and scream with excitement at what they expected to be in for. Unfortunately, I don't think getting all three hundred running around pretending to be mosquitoes was practical, and I was sure having us seven, barely ­older, students instruct them to use their mosquito nets wasn't going to be useful. In such a desperate time, we were lucky to have a gem of advice imparted from the school headmaster ­ “You have one hour. Enjoy.”.

Adapt we had to and adapt we did. We were forced to depart from the comfort of having all of each other’s unwavering support, and reluctantly parted ways to teach in our pairs. Despite the fear that comes with having so many people hang on to each and every word you say and carefully observe every thing you do (or so we like to believe), we got through it. The session was of course not quite as smooth as we imagined, and we didn't quite put an end to the spread of malaria in that one hour. However, we could be happy that we managed to get some messages across, or at least had the students enjoy themselves in the process.

Each day the sessions went by, and on reflection, each seemed to be going better. All the emotions associated with standing up in front of up to one hundred students and making yourself look silly in the name of education slowly transformed from fear, dread and embarrassment to embarrassment alone, and the complete anxiety felt whilst proclaiming to students that you are here to teach them how to prevent malaria became more of an anxious excitement for the hour ahead.

Just as we felt we had finally mastered the art of teaching, our time in Kisii had come to end. We packed our bags, said our heartfelt goodbyes to the wonderful people who had looked after us so well during our time there, said our sad farewells to the amazing children who made our experience such a life­-changing one, and boarded the van to begin our two day journey back home.

Finally, during those goodbyes, all the words from past volunteers that you only ever half­believe (sorry), ring true. You realise that, despite all the petty arguments that come with spending a month in a tiny hut together, despite all the missing luxuries of home, and although you aren't actually going to stop malaria once and for all, helping improve the lives of some of the most underprivileged children in the world, however big or small your impact may be, is what you want to do. You realise that this feeling is not one experienced only by yourself, but one experienced by every team who has gone before you. The feeling that changed the path of so many lives, and will change the path of many more to come.

In that van, despite its lack of breathing space, there was a sense of appreciation. An appreciation that we had given something valuable, an appreciation of how privileged we were, thanks to SKIP, to be able to give it, and an appreciation, by all, of how much more we had been given in return.

Elliot Clissold
SKIP St George's 2016