21 January 2013
It’s 8am on a frosty January morning in Oxfordshire. I’ve had my first swim of the year, in a 3°C lake, and my frozen body is covered in mud and duck poo. All I can think about is getting finished quickly (my fingers no longer work) and downing a flask of hot Vimto (one of things I missed most when teaching abroad). It never crossed my mind that taking a TEFL course would lead to this painful, but strangely invigorating moment, but I’m very glad that it did.
The reason for my early morning dip, is that I’m on an intensive training programme. Acclimatizing to the cold, learning to row, and generally improving my mental and physical strength, stamina, and endurance. On the plus side, training also involves eating around 8000 calories a day!! In May 2014, I’ll join my best friends and fellow TEFLteachers, to undertake the biggest challenge of my life. Rowing over 7200 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean, before setting out to become one of the first people in the world to cross the Arctic by foot, to reach the fourth north pole, better known as the ‘Northern Pole of Inaccessibility’ because it is the farthest place from any land mass.
During both expeditions, we will rely on web platform ‘WizIQ’, to teach young people all over the world through our virtual classroom. Our goal, is to be their eyes and ears and to really connect them with not just wild and remote places like the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, but to find a way to connect them to a world outside of their own, My personal goal is to one day provide every child with a tablet computer and internet access, so that I can teach online EFL, geography, and science, free of charge, and on a regular basis through the charity that I set up whilst teaching in Georgia. But I want more than that. I want to be a pioneer of teaching from a virtual classroom, to bring these children as close to the real thing, the outside world, as I can, through 3D film, webcams, worksheets, and live sessions from our boat.
The first part of the journey begins with raising the money through an ‘Educational Partnership’ which focuses solely on corporate responsibility. This will allow each business or individual to invest a small amount (£3025), in return for brand coverage, and the chance to give the gift to their chosen school, orphanage, or youth organisation anywhere in the world. That gift is an educational package, valid between 1st September 2013 and 31st December 2015 and includes tablet computers, a school visit, live sessions from the field, expedition food tasting packs, and a supply of fun and innovative lesson plans and activities.
The Educational Partnership doesn’t just have benefits for the 300 Partners and recipients of their gift. It also provides a teaching tool for any TEFL teacher and their students, all of whom will be able to log in to our daily sessions from the expeditions, giving them the chance to use their English language skills to ask us questions, and the opportunity to talk to children in other countries through our virtual classroom.
But our journey goes beyond this, to support three charities, by providing media coverage, and raising funds for them too, and we are extremely proud to have the opportunity to represent three youth centred charities: Oceans Project Georgia, First Step Georgia, and the Thai Children’s Trust.
Oceans Project Georgia is the charity that I founded with my students in 2011, in Tbilisi, Georgia. These young people are generally aged between 8-25 years old and call themselves ‘Oceans Ambassadors’ since they are in the best position to promote the Black Sea coast of Georgia.
The whole project began because I was using the BBC Oceans television series as a tool for teaching English and we started to go out around Georgia, collecting litter, and then connected with children in other countries such as Greenland. We no longer run the face to face sessions, since we now use WizIQ, based in India and the USA as our virtual classroom, which is really easy to use as well as being environmentally friendly and cost effective. Plus it means that we can regularly invite ‘guest speakers’ to join us online, allowing high calibre scientists and explorers to give up 5 minutes of their time to talk to us, but without the cost or hassle of leaving their room, film set, or whatever they are doing.
Oceans Project Georgia is the NGO founded by the children at my school in Georgia and focuses on environmental education and personal development, First Step Georgia has Georgian-Irish connections and promotes disability in Georgia, and Thai Children’s Trust supports more than 4,000 of the neediest children in Thailand. Providing food, education, medical care and, most crucially, a future for these children by funding carefully chosen projects and organisations in Thailand.
We are already dreaming of the journey ahead, but for now, we are busy with our crowdfunding campaign, contacting potential educational partners, visiting boat shows, fitness training, and planning an event at Claridge’s in London for World Oceans Day on the 8th June. But we’d love you to follow our journey, to share it with friends and family, and if you live in Monterey Bay, Hawaii, Cairns, Thailand, UK, South Africa, or Georgia, then get in touch, because we are keen to connect with local schools and children, and to visit them as part of our educational outreach work.
Please do suggest any potential recipients of our educational packages (anywhere in the world) as we hope to have Educational Partners wanting to support them, and if you would like to contribute to the development of our educational materials we’d love to here from you. Until then, enjoy your TEFL course or teaching, wherever you are in the world, and enjoy the path it leads you on.