SHE left her husband and her family for a year to dedicate herself to teaching children in Ethiopia.
Now, Patricia Gilhooley is preparing to return to life at Locks Heath Junior School after an extraordinary year in Africa.
The 57-year-old from Fareham volunteered to teach in Africa through VSO UK which fights poverty in third world countries.
Patricia said: ‘I came to Ethiopia for one year never having been to Africa at all. I’m a very normal primary school teacher in the UK, so I’ve taught children from reception through to year six.
‘I would reassure anybody who’s thinking of volunteering that there are no super skills needed.
‘You can hardly compare going to school in Ethiopia to the UK.
‘Children here struggle to take a pen to school and lots of children don’t have the set textbook that they need for a subject.
‘So there is a lack of resources on so many levels, everything from having water and electricity in the classroom to having a book that you can look at.’
Patricia worked to support and build relationships between the town’s teacher training college and the town’s primary schools to help improve the quality of teaching.
‘Unconsciously, in the west we benefit from so much education,’ she added.
‘We have learned many things that we take for granted, but people here are so pleased for you to come and share your skills.
‘The big impact is seeing the difference in how teachers teach in the school.
‘Not everybody has changed, but I feel there are enough teachers in each of the schools I’ve been to now, that there will be sustained change. They believe in the changes they’ve seen, and I think they will be enthusiastic enough to spread that.’
Now Patricia is getting ready for a new term as a teacher back in the UK.
‘My school governors were very supportive of my wish to volunteer with VSO and therefore agreed to keep my job open for me for one year,’ she added.
‘I think to leave your family, you’ve got to make the decision about how your relationships will cope with different lengths of time.
‘And I’ve been married for 30 years, so the idea of being away from my husband for one year felt like long enough.
‘I know I’ve had the chance to develop my skills. I know I teach differently now than I did when I first arrived.’