I'm coming to the end of my volunteering sunny here in Malaysia, with just 2 days to go. I was going to do this all in one blog but the school trip I took yesterday is going to take the focus here so I'll give you all an overview in a few days.
Firstly, you should know, this is the first trip I have ever organised fully on my own. I had help and pointers but it was my trip from the start. I raised the money needed through friends and family who were willing to help the refugee students I've been teaching. Secondly, it's not exactly a normal school. The students ages ranged from 11 to 19, it's a charity that teaches the students and so there's no real scheme of work or actually any idea of what will be taught past the current week. Most importantly though, it seems they don't have to follow some of the stricter laws about trips and students as most other schools. You will understand this in a bit.
It started with an idea of mine a week ago, I wanted to do something nice before I left, buy new equipment, take them out for a meal, something different for them. My host, who works with, not for the school, suggested I could take them to the science museum. This sounded like a fantastic idea, but presented a problem in terms of time, I had just one week to organise this! It was Tuesday by the time I suggested it to the head of the school and Wednesday before I told the students. We settled on that Saturday (yesterday) so they only had a few days to get permission. Having been involved in some trips at the very least I knew we needed a permission slip, so I sorted this out and got it to the kids. By Thursday, the head teacher wanted to change the day to Friday, which I said no to (as I had plans to travel and see fire flies and monkey's). On Friday I got a message from the head teacher saying some of the students couldn't make it and she wanted to invite some other students who were not in my class. Again I said no, that wouldn't be fair on the rest of the school.
So it was with a lot of anxiety that I turned up at the school yesterday at the agreed time. I half expected just a couple of kids or even none at all. The head teacher had stopped answering my texts so I had not heard from her all day, and my host in her infinite wisdom decided I didn't need her help, she was too tired and she was going home. But what awaited me was 11 of my students, a good proportion of them, thankfully and just 2 students not in my class who were desperate to come. The big problem however was that it was raining, not a little bit, it was a tropical rainstorm!! We were supposed to get the bus, but that was not possible. Organising taxis was an absolute nightmare! I could easily use a few expletives here. I don't have a smart phone and the students didn't have data. The Hatcher ordered one can and another helper ordered one, but it took 20mins to sort out the last taxi. I was already stressed out and we have even left.
Having observed other trips, I have each adult a group of students and put them in their cabs, with instructions to meet me at the Petro science reception. I took the last taxi to ensure everyone was on their way. When I arrived, I was the only group there. I had no idea where everyone else was. I was panicking they'd gone to the wrong place it had problems with the taxi. I didn't have their numbers and that was my biggest mistake. After waiting 30 minutes I sent my group in, exchanging numbers (lesson learnt!). Eventually the second group arrived minus their teacher, I waited with them another 15 mins and sent them in too. Another group then arrived with the wrong teacher. Apparently there head teacher had gone ahead to book dinner. I got her number and she needed the money to pay in advance. I sent my other help back with the money and went in with the students. Eventually I had all the teachers and 13 students in the museum. And yes we are calling that a massive win.
The museum was actually amazing! There was so much to do, lots of experiments, activities and games. The kids loved it and they were all very excited. The helpers were not exactly great at staying with their groups but I kept track of everyone and we enjoyed a couple of hours in the museum. The last part was a 3d mini film and I told all the teachers to get their groups there for 5 to 6. We went in as everyone had told me they had their students, once in I counted and we were missing 2, from the head teacher group! She wasn't going to look, so off I went, luckily bumping into them on the way out. Again the film was great! 3d dinosaurs! The students loved it and so did I. Afterwards it was time to leave and lots of the students were telling me how much fun they had and thanking me. We still had an hour to kill before the students could break fast and the museum was closed so we headed to the gift store and then the book shop to look around. All when almost smoothly, just a few unruly children (that I can deal with).
After meeting everyone outside the book shop we headed downstairs for food. At the first escalator I did a head count and we were missing 2 students! The head was already so far ahead I couldn't stop her and she apparently didn't stop the whole way down the 5 escalators. I sent the other helper to find the missing 2 but he came back with no one. At this point I was hoping I'd miscounted. When we got to the restaurant it was clear I hadn't miscounted. But did the headteacher care? No. She was too busy ordering her food. We sent people to find them who came back without being able to, but eventually we got hold of them on the phone and they joined us.
While this is all happening, the students are desperate for a drink to break fast. Having done this myself for a day, I knew they were very thirsty. I told the waiter, who was still discussing food with the head, to stop and just get 16 juices on the tables ASAP. Thankfully he did and then we could sort the food out. Let me start by saying we had agreed for a local type restaurant and ended up in nandos, there were also 16 of us but the head ordered 18 meals and she didn't even think about dietary requirements; I'm vegan and another student was vegetarian. Luckily I managed to sort that out, but it wasn't easy. I cannot even begin to explain how frustrated and annoyed I was. I thought I would be taking a secondary role to the head teacher, but if anything she was more of a hindrance. I had to check on all the students make sure they had what they needed were free and had a drink. It was not easy!
Finally we were on our way home! We nearly lost 3 boys who weren't staying with the group, but at this point I'm continually counting heads! We got on the bus and we are nearly at the school when the final problem occurred. The head had lost her phone. Now I get it, we live in our phones, but when you have 13 children without you, there are priorities and your phone isn't one of them. We missed the stop because of it and when we got back to the school I asked what to do about sending the students home and I swear this is true, she said just let them walk I have to go. She got in her car and drive away, locking the school and leaving is on the pavement.
I was shocked! I spoke to the remaining students who were ordering taxis and made sure they were ok before I headed out in my own taxi.
I'm still angry that a head teacher would put her own needs above those of the students so carelessly and that she failed to help in such dramatic ways. Thankfully the students loved the trip and were so grateful, but I nearly pulled my hair out from the stress! It was so disorganized and there could have been so many actual disasters and lost children that it's a miracle we got everyone through the day. My hat goes off to any teachers who organise trips on a regular basis, I'm not saying I won't again in the future, but I'll make damn sure I have the support I need and it is far more organised.
I'm just so grateful the students made it home, had a great time and most importantly learned something. These students are refugees and sometimes I lose sight of that, they've been through so much, it's nice for them to have a fun day out that they don't have to worry about paying for. Looking back I can say I did enjoy the trip and boy, was it a good learning experience. But as can always be said there's a lot I would do differently. I'm sure in England I would have broken a few laws, there was no risk assessment for example. But in my naivety I thought the headteacher would handle those issues.
At the end of the day, the most important thing was that the students enjoyed the day and they did, so I'm calling it a success. A disastrous success!