RNLI lifeguard returns from Sierra Leone

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Robin Howell, an RNLI lifeguard from Perranporth in Cornwall, spent a week in February teaching pupils at a school in Sierra Leone as part of a voluntary charity scheme. Alongside the rewarding teaching experience, during the first two days he also found himself using his lifeguard knowledge to ensure bathers were safe at the local beach.  

Robin, who teaches at Humphry Davy School in Penzance, spends his summer break working as an RNLI lifeguard on Perranporth beach. He wanted to get away this winter, so chose to spend the February half term week working with Extra Mile, a charitable organisation which specialises in placing volunteers in teaching posts in Sierra Leone. Robin says;

‘Eight years ago, Sierra Leone’s civil war, in which some 30,000 people died, was coming to an end, so I can understand that it might not be on the top of everyone’s list of places to go. But I was committed to the charity work I had signed up for and once the wheels touched the ground there was no turning back.

‘I teach Geography and am fully aware of the poverty that exists in the world but to experience it first hand was something else. Many people there lived in huts made of primitive materials and the road to school was nothing more than a dirt track. But the people and scenery were amazing. There was tropical rainforest backing right onto the beach and the sand was finer than any in Cornwall.

‘I spent the first weekend at the beach body surfing in one to two foot perfect waves in 25 degree sea temperature. But just like back home, the sea is still dangerous and, as RNLI lifeguard, you are never off duty. There were small rip currents along the beach and I became aware on several occasions that swimmers were struggling to get in. Thinking I might have to rescue someone, I kept an eye on them and checked their progress. Fortunately, they made it back to shore without assistance. 

‘The rest of the week was spent teaching pupils geography at the Sengbe Pier secondary school. The schools were very basic, with blackboards the only resources in the classroom. I had taken material out with me but large class sizes meant resources were shared - just like the tables and chairs! The people and their culture were amazing and I hope to return next year to carry on with my work in the local schools. Throughout the week I realised I was falling in love with a country that has a lot less than ours but in some ways has a lot more to offer.’

Extra Mile is recruiting successful, retired and serving teachers, other professionals and gap-year student volunteers to work in schools in Sierra Leone. Visit www. extra-mile.org for information.