Thursday 14 December 2017

Retired teacher Tom goes back to school in Zanzibar



TOM O'Donoghue may be zooming around his apple trees on a little Honda, but he assures us there is no cause for concern!

The Wexford man is merely practising his motorcycle skills before he sets off for two years of voluntary service overseas.

Tom (61), a Ferrybank resident, retired as Principal of Crossabeg N.S. at the end of the 2008/09 school year after 40 years in primary education, with 36 of those as a school principal.

On October 3 he will begin a new chapter in his life when he sets off for Zanzibar, the Island off Tanzania, for two years, where he will share his extensive teaching and management skills to try bring about positive changes in the education system there.

Tom is travelling to Zanzibar with Voluntary Service Overseas ( VSO), the charity that recruits volunteers to work in developing countries, and is set to take up a challenging placement working as a School Leadership Facilitator at the Ministry of Education.

'I have committed to two years,' said Tom. 'I've done a lot of volunteering and been back and forward to Kenya a good bit in recent years, but it has always been short-term stuff.'

'I always thought for years that when family and career wise it was appropriate I would look to give something more back,' said Tom, who has been volunteering in Kenya with his brother Gerry's charity, Maintain Hope.

'I didn't hand pick it or anything,' said Tom, pointing out that VSO will see where in the developing world your skills could be best used and get back to you with the options.

Tom said his only stipulation was that it wasn't an 'extremely hot' country, 'given my age and tenderness!'

Tom will be staying in Stone Town, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. He recently visited Zanzibar with his wife Mary on 'a fact finding mission'.

He found that there are two sides to Zanzibar, the tourist side and then the side where he will be working and where the ordinary people live.

'They are a lovely pleasant people, very warm and welcoming,' said Tom. However, they also have very serious issues when it comes to education.

He also pointed out that the esteem of the teachers needs to be addressed. He said that some years ago they were not paid for a couple of months and when they went to the District Commissioner about the matter he had his guards beat them away from the door.

'It's a tough enough brief, but I'm still fit enough to give it a good go and my background should stand me in reasonable stead,' said Tom.

'If I'm sensible about it and have a proper level of expectation it shouldn't be too frustrating,' he said.

He revealed he has the blessing of his wife Mary and their children Eoin, Ronan, Grainne and Siobhan for his VSO job.

'I've always wanted to do it and if I didn't do it now I'd always be wondering,' said Tom.

While working in Zanzibar he will be using a motorbike to get around, visiting schools. He said the main roads can be driven on with four-wheeled vehicles, but once you veer off those you're in motorbike territory.

With the day of departure now looming he said he has 'the usual mix of opportunism and excitement'.

'It's a hefty task, but I'm looking forward to it,' said Tom.

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