Teachers Helping Teachers - a different kind of outreach program

Of all the solutions put forward to address poverty in the world, education constantly ranks as most important.

Almost a decade ago, the Teachers Helping Teachers outreach program was launched by the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle to assist underprivileged areas of India, Cambodia and East Timor through the provision of funds to support the employment of teachers in each of these countries. 

Today, the unique program, now run in partnership with Catholic Mission, reaches over five countries and has raised over $200,000 toward various projects supporting this mission through generosity, passion and the ultimate goal of breaking the poverty cycle through education.

For many years, the CSO has deeply engaged with issues of social justice, both in Australia and overseas, with staff and students involved in various immersion programs. In line with these initiatives, the Teachers Helping Teachers program was launched in November 2006.

Due to a lack of basic resources and students living with disease and disability, committed teachers working in Catholic communities in developing countries around the world often struggle to make the most of their skills or the potential of their students. The Teachers Helping Teachers program was designed to provide a means to support education in less developed countries.

In the program’s first year, teachers, principals and support staff pledged over $16,000 which covered the annual cost of employing in excess of 10 teachers in India, Cambodia and East Timor. Ten years on, the program continues to support the employment of teachers in schools.

One of the initiatives currently receiving funding is Cambodia’s St Francis’ Professional High School. Located in Takeo, an hour and a half south of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, the Catholic school educates boys and girls no matter their religion. When established by Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler in 2003, the school site was barren and dry and had an enrolment of just 32 students. With the help of various funding initiatives, including Teachers Helping Teachers, the school now boasts over 250 students, 40 staff and a revenue stream of rice fields, fruit trees and silk weaving.

The quality of the education delivered at St Francis’ is also something to be proud of, with all Year 12 students achieving a final exams pass rate in 2014.

“Only 26% of the 90,000 Year 12 students across Cambodia passed their final exams which makes this a remarkable result,” says Catholic Mission Diocesan Director, Mark Toohey.

“This outstanding pass rate has encouraged the government to approve and support the establishment of two vocational streams at St Francis’.”

Early this year, St Francis’ established a second stream with a focus on agriculture and hospitality to help disadvantaged students develop skills and secure gainful employment. Students will learn sustainable agricultural practices assisting them, their families and communities.  The high school also owns a farm (located 25km from campus) for students to practise their skills whilst also generating revenue. For the students of St Francis’, the difficulty of getting a good education is compounded by the need to learn sustainable agricultural techniques and to care for the earth. Bishop Olivier’s vision is for this revenue to translate into an income stream for additional teachers for the school.

Last month, Vice School Director of St Francis’ High School, Mrs Lay Makara, visited the senior Agriculture students of St Joseph’s High School, Aberdeen. Delighted by the similarities between St Joseph’s and St Francis’, Makara spoke of sustainable agriculture and the challenges and rewards of student life in rural Cambodia.

“Our students value education highly as it is the surest way out of poverty and it is one thing that once gained, can’t be taken from you,” said Makara.

“In addition to the funding from the Teachers Helping Teachers program, at any time we also have graduates of St Francis’ return to teach for a couple of years as a way of giving back to the school.” 

One teacher who has been touched by the Teachers Helping Teachers program is Assistant Principal of St Mary’s Primary School, Scone, Kim Wilson. Kim has returned to Cambodia every year since her first CSO-led immersion in 2013.

“I have contributed financially to Teachers Helping Teachers since it started in 2006,” says Kim.

“I have always been interested in mission work but didn’t know where to start, so when the opportunity came to visit Cambodia and Vietnam with Director of Schools, Ray Collins, and a team of CSO employees, I jumped at the chance.”  

One of the most influential parts of the immersion experience for Kim was seeing how Catholic Mission supports various projects and how the funds raised by the Teachers Helping Teachers program were distributed amongst the communities and schools.

“It was great to see how the funds raised are making a difference over there and to see that the money donated is not being held up in admin,” says Kim.

“Everywhere we visited, Ray Collins would actually point out tangible objects such as laptops and other teaching tools and resources that were funded by Teachers Helping Teachers.

“Education is a way out of poverty for these people. Anything that makes it easier for the students to get to school, stay in school or for the teachers to deliver curriculums is one step closer to their getting out of that cycle of poverty.”

Education is the key to breaking the poverty cycle.

To learn more about this great initiative or to make a tax deductible donation, click here.

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Alyssa Faith Image
Alyssa Faith

Alyssa Faith was the Communications Manager for the Catholic Schools Office, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle from 2016 - 2017 and a regular contributor to Aurora and mnnews.today.

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