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Off to Ethiopia

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Gemma Hensey at Westport Quay
TRANQUIL SETTING Gemma Hensey at Westport Quay. Grianghraf: Cormac Ó Cionnaith


Off to Ethiopia

Padraig Burns

A RETIRED Westport school teacher will this week swap the comfortable surroundings of her home for the rather less salubrious setting of an Ethiopian village that will become her home for the next 12 months.
Gemma Hensey flew out from Heathrow (London) yesterday (Tuesday) with 24 other men and women as members of the Voluntary Services Overseas Organisation’s latest campaign to improve life for the people who live in one of the world’s poorest regions.
Gemma will be based in Dedre, a ‘village’ about 18k north east of the capital city, Addis Ababa. Despite a population of 50,000 people, Dedre is regarded as a village in Ethiopian terms, and given that the country is the third most populous in all of Africa – with over 75,000,000 people living there – it is probably an accurate description.
Gemma will bring all the skills acquired during her teaching career to her year-long stint and she will be working directly in a teacher training capacity at primary school level. She’ll also be helping to build up the resources within the school such as the practical equipment that is taken for granted in Ireland, but which is preciously rare in a place such as Dedre.
“Apart from the training and resource-building aspect of my time there, I also intend to run various courses such as methodology that will help the teachers be better teachers. I imagine I’m going to be busy when I get going,” she said.
Gemma first thought of doing some voluntary work overseas many years ago, but the idea was put on the back burner. Two years after retiring from her Career Guidance post at Sacred Heart School, Westport, however, the urge returned and now she finds herself leaving family and friends behind for the next 12 months. She’s looking forward to the adventure, but is not expecting a glamorous time.
“It’s a very poor region and from what I know there is very little to do. The day starts there at 6am and winds down at 6pm. It’s cold in the evening and Dedre is in the cool zone where the temperatures range between freezing and 16 degrees Celsius. But this is something I’ve wanted to do for some time and I intend to make the best of it. There’s a fantastic bunch of people going out there, of all ages, and one woman I met on the training course in Birmingham is 71 years of age and she is so enthusiastic about what she’s about to do,’’ said Gemma.
Before she left for Africa, Gemma was anxious to thank all who helped her prepare for the trip; her family and her friends. She also thanked the people who gave her money to buy material for the schools she’ll be working with.
“People are great, they really are. I think that when they knew I was going they realised that if they gave me money every penny of it would go directly to the cause, rather than just a percentage of it, which sometimes happens. I know it’s going to be hard at times but I think when it’s all over and I’m on my way back home I’ll have gained an awful lot more than I gave.’’