Job loss leads to the trip of a lifetime for Fifer

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A Buckhaven man has recently returned from teaching abroad, which he describes as a ‘life-changing’ experience.

Darrell Van Vuuren (34) spent the past two months as a volunteer teaching at a primary school in Africa, and is urging others to follow his example.

He said it was a change in his personal circumstances that encouraged him to sign up.

“I worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland and I was told back in January that I was being made redundant,” Darrell said.

“For the last 10 years of my life I’ve been working in finance, I’m an accountant, so I decided to look at redundancy as a positive.

“I thought that as I’ve got a wee bit of cash coming I now have the chance to do something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Darrell says that it had always been an ambition of his to do some charity work overseas.

“It’s always been time and money that have held me back in the past,” he said, “Now I had the ideal chance.

“It was a bit of an impulse decision to be honest. I looked up different volunteering companies and I found a really good project in Ghana.”

Darrell set off to teach Maths and English in a primary school in a village and says he was shocked at how poor the people were.

“As soon as I got to the school it opened my eyes to how poor it was. It’s basically made up of traditional mud huts.

“There’s no drainage, no sanitation and no electricity. The school had been built by volunteers a few years ago so it’s very basic and rudimentary.

“For example there wasn’t even a classroom for Primary 6, they have to sit under a tree with a blackboard – that’s how basic it is. The poverty problem there runs deep.”

But Darrell said there was an even bigger surprise: “I couldn’t believe how happy and positive everyone was.

“As soon as I stepped out of the taxi, about 10 children came running up to me. There were really happy with big smiles on their faces.

“They took me by the hand and wanted to take me into the school. There was myself and another couple of volunteers and they were like that with all of us.

“It really surprised me what lovely and positive people they were. These are the happiest people that I’ve ever met in my life and they are also the poorest.”

Darrell describes his first week there as “a big culture shock”. He said: “It was simple things like not being able to drink water, you had to buy it bottled, And of course there was no hot water, no electricity so it did take a while to get used to it.

“But once you get over that you understand that it’s fine and it makes you realise how much you take for granted, like living in a house with a roof and running water.”

Having enjoyed the experience so much – “I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life” – Darrell says he is now considering a change of career.

“In my job I’d done some voluntary work in high schools in Edinburgh teaching kids about financial education so I have a wee bit of teaching experience, so I’m thinking of training as a teacher. I just need to make a decision but it’s something I’m giving serious consideration to.”

He also hopes his adventure will inspire others to do the same.

“If they can. I would absolutely say to anyone who is thinking of doing something like it to just go for it.

“It’s totally within your grasp. It’s relatively cheap to do, the flight is the most expensive thing, and it’s rewarding, it’s fulfilling and you’re making a difference to people’s lives.”