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"All children deserve good teachers" - Wim's story

Volunteer Wim in his office in Cambodia Wim Voskuilen

After 20 years working in Montessori education and another 20 years in curriculum development and teacher education in the Netherlands, Wim Voskuilen, 67, did not fancy a quiet retirement.

As a VSO volunteer he is spending two years helping develop a new teacher training curriculum for Cambodia. He explains the impact his work is having – both for the country’s next generation of teachers, and on him personally.

VSO volunteer Wim Voskuilen in Cambodia Wim Voskuilen

In the years leading up to my retirement, I began to ask myself, 'What shall I do next?' 

Some years had passed since the death of my daughter. She had multiple disabilities and I was her main carer for years. I’ve never been the sort of person to sit on the sofa at home seven days a week. And that’s when I saw the advert for VSO.

Giving something back

After working in education for 40 years for a decent salary, I wanted to share my knowledge as a volunteer. It might sound idealistic, but I wanted to give something back.

I was hoping to be able to contribute something - but wasn’t expecting for it to change my life like it has.

My role is advising Cambodia’s Department of Teacher Training in how to make a new curriculum for a teacher training programme.

Big challenges

Volunteer Wim visits a classroom in Cambodia Wim Voskuilen

Volunteer Wim visits a classroom in Cambodia

After Pol Pot and the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime most of the teachers in this country had been killed. There were less than 5,000 teachers left – so everybody with a little bit more knowledge could be a teacher.

Cambodia realises that there is a problem with the standards of primary and secondary education. If you want to change that you have to start with the teachers. I am part of a plan of reform that includes upgrading teacher training to a 4-year qualification at the level of a Bachelor’s degree.

My ultimate motivation is simple. All children deserve good teachers. The curriculum I’m working on is due to start being taught in teacher training colleges in 2018. It will be years before the impact of my work is fully felt but it feels good to be part of something that will positively affect children across the country.

The reality of being a volunteer

There are challenges. I had to get used to working within a political process. Sometimes it takes a long time for things to happen. Right now we’ve been without internet at the office for eight weeks. I’ve built a lot of patience! The training from VSO did prepare me for this, and I am supported in understanding the local context by VSO’s education programme manager.

When it comes to the job, they expect me to be the expert. Two years ago I would not have believed I would be working with ministers or in workshops led by the Secretary of State. But they trust me, they value my experience – that feels good.

The biggest surprise was feeling at home from my very first day. I surprised myself as I am quite bonded to home. I expected to have to fight for acceptance – but no. I am always welcome here.

A fresh perspective

It has also given me a different perspective on my own country and the education system there, having seen what it means to deal with people who have experienced real poverty.

People here often can’t believe that in the Netherlands you are required by law to go to school from the age of five to 18. I remember visiting a little rural school and seeing them trying to convince people to send their children to school. One woman just asked, ‘Will it help my son catch more fish?’

Wim visits a monk for a blessing in Cambodia Wim Voskuilen

Wim receives a blessing from the Venerable Vibol Penh on the eighth anniversary of his daughter's death

The experience is a bit like looking in a mirror. I see that I'm a richer man than ever before. I don't mean in terms of money - the experience with my daughter already made me rich, and so has my life as a volunteer here. It’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I encourage people to see this as a challenge and don’t be afraid. Sometimes you worry too much about what can happen. If volunteering fits you and your expertise, just do it.

Volunteer in 2018

Could you become a VSO volunteer? We regularly need experienced teachers and other education specialists to volunteer in our programmes around the world.

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