Keziah Berelson: Initial report

Berelson la

My name is Keziah Berelson, and in less than two weeks, I will be leaving for Uganda to undertake a voluntary role for a year!

I will be working at the Good Hope Initiative in Kisweera village, just outside of Mityana, where I will be teaching literacy and numeracy skills to 4-7 year olds. The Initiative was set up in 2006 in order to empower the rural and marginalized disadvantaged children in the community so as to enable them to participate in a grass-roots process that will enhance their social and economic life through education. Having just finished my A-levels in Politics, History and Geography it feels like I’m jumping straight back in!

Educating others has been my passion for as long as I have had the ability to do so. From thirteen I have been involved in a local branch of the youth group ‘B’nei Akiva’, which has given me extensive experience in dealing with children, and oddly become very skilled at apple bobbing. After finishing my second year as co-head of the branch, I have now looked to branch out this education from my tiny Essex Jewish community into a far wider one, in which I can transfer usable skills to those who need it most.

My year in Uganda was borne out of a want to commit to a full year of voluntary service, so that I can get the most out of my year, and put the most in. I have always viewed education as the key currency across the globe, and as a teenage Briton, have always felt ridiculously lucky at the oodles of education that we have at our fingertips, despite the early mornings and seemingly endless exams. I understand that simply because of my birthplace, I have been given the opportunity, particularly as a young woman, to not only receive primary and secondary education, but also the opportunity of higher education. Therefore, I want to give this extraordinary gift to others, and also to continue to educate myself.

By staying for a full 12-months, I hope to create strong links within the community and really make an impression on the children I am working with. As a prospective politics student, Uganda is a country which fascinates me, and as part of my own education when I am away I hope to steep myself in the political issues of a modern-day Uganda, particularly with an election occurring in 2011, rather than simply viewing it from my comfy sofa at home. Perhaps it is this different view on life and issues that would never cross my mind in England, which has drawn me to take a year out. The ability to fully immerse myself in the local community will allow me to gain an insight into another’s life which is far different to my own, and gain a greater understanding of myself before I head off to university and return to being a student.

I have been given this incredible opportunity with the charity Project Trust, which is one of the oldest Gap Year organizations, having run for over forty years, and sends school leavers away to voluntary posts across the world. After a 4-day selection course on the Isle of Coll, in which many midges, potatoes and shocking attempts at Scottish accents were involved, I was told that I had been selected as part of the Uganda group – and then the hard work really began. I was fortunate enough to have some truly incredible sponsors, from the company who printed my leaflets and the aunt’s who came up with ideas for events, to Hazel’s Footprints. I have almost reached my total with the help of a bake sale.

Cakes

– which I think my sister should take most of the credit for!

I have recently finished a sponsored walk

Uganda housei

to the Ugandan embassy (14.3 miles) dressed as an ‘interpretation’ of a tomato in the baking heat, to learn that the embassy was closed for the day, but nevertheless, we found many along the way to be incredibly supportive, and decided to take the train home. Fundraising is still ongoing, and I hope to hold another clothes swapping party – not simply because of the amazing steals I got from the last one, also to promote a greener lifestyle, and use my sister to make some cakes to sell.

One of the biggest challenges I have faced in the lead up to my year out has been fundraising, particularly due to the shock received from my community, who are more used to supporting those taking a Gap Year to Israel. However, I have grown in confidence and belief in my year out, and am pleased to know that within Uganda we will be fundraising for the Good Hope Initiative in conjunction with the local community, which I feel I’m far more adept at now!

This has culminated in the 4 –day training course back on the Isle of Coll in July, where we learnt more about our projects and the country itself. Despite being adept at informal education, which I hope will come into use when I hope to run after-school clubs in my area of passion – performing – I have always feared teaching in a formal setting. However, the training course, which involved many hours of planning lessons, running lessons, and learning how to run and plan lessons has put me in a far more confident position. Yet training has still left me fearful for living in the country with regards to health and security issues, but I now feel fully informed and able to counter these situations when they inevitably arise.

Ultimately I continue to worry about fitting into the community, and missing my own, but my hopes to overcome these and make my imprint within the village far outweighs these fears. And so I’ll stay here and count down the number of jabs still to have, and wait for the day when I’ll fly to my new home!