Learning on Wheels

Two British school teachers are on a mission to promote grassroot level education projects around the world

Written by Debesh Banerjee | Published: June 17, 2013 12:32 am

For Richard Sears,a Religious Studies teacher from England,education has been a means to achieve development. But it was a holiday trip with his childhood friend and colleague Nick Gough,in Thailand eight years ago,which took that theory to another level. “I saw tuk-tuks (autos) everywhere in Thailand and was fascinated by them since we do not have them in the UK. They were compact,light,fast,and I always wondered what it would be like to travel the world in that vehicle,” says Sears,who has now managed to combine his passion for education and travel through a one-of-a-kind expedition.

The 28-year-old teacher along with his friend,Gough,an Economics teacher from a secondary school in Guildford,Surrey,are on a world trip in their Piaggio tuk-tuk to raise awareness and funds about local level education projects. “We did not want to tell everyone how disastrous the educational system is around the world. We are instead relying on inspirational stories where people are responding to the problem of education,” says Sears,currently in Kolkata,after covering over 20,000 km since they left UK in August 2012. The duo have covered 29 countries across three continents — Europe,Middle East and Africa — and are on their Asia leg.

This expedition was in the pipeline for over eight years,says Sears. But it received the final fillip a few years ago,when he was in the Ratanakiri province of Cambodia,aiding a French NGO with their educational projects. They set up a charity in the UK,and a website,where people can donate funds for various educational projects they wish to support. So far,they have encountered many inspirational stories in parts of Africa,including that of a 28-year-old man in Malawi who started an initiative to impart elderly widows in villages with vocational training in sowing and handicrafts,a project started by two young genocide survivors in Rwanda,and visiting refugee camps in Eastern Burundi.

The duo travels through each country documenting projects through a video,blog,and posts on their website,only after consulting their trustees about it,to receive donations. “We are looking for sustainable initiatives. We do not want a situation that these projects crumble after we leave. We can only give them a page on our website,” says Sears,who has narrowed down on 10 potential projects so far — six in Africa,two in India and two in Nepal. The duo are looking at a wide range of projects covering vocations courses,initiatives in pre-primary schools and adult literacy projects. “We search online for local projects,ask locals. In Malawi,for instance,we spoke to NGOs and locals. We are restricting ourselves to one project per country,” he says.

In India,the duo narrowed down on Delhi’s Kat Katha initiative,which works with sex workers on GB Road and their children to provide better educational opportunities. In Mumbai,Sears is looking to promote Sakhi for Girls Education,an initiative for girls in slums started in a loft with a mini library and resource matter to build their confidence. “These were inspirational examples of local people standing up and responding to the educational challenges in their community,” he says. The duo travelled through Gujarat,Rajasthan,Mumbai,Delhi and Lucknow without any GPS,and only a road map. The greatest challenge,besides the language barrier,was that they picked the worst possible time to travel. “Dealing with the humidity of pre-monsoon India was emotional and getting used to vehicles flying at us from all angles was challenging,” chuckles Sears,who will travel to other South East Asian countries after leaving Kolkata,on June 13.

The duo are not under any illusions of changing the world with this expedition. Besides identifying initiatives,they want to increase the accountability of world leaders towards the Millennium Development Goals of providing education to everyone and spiking interest among students to participate in global education matters. “We have spoken to 25,000 students so far. If five students look at educational development then we would have succeeded,” says Sears,who will conclude their journey in UK in December 2013.

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