Peter Reid, education adviser, Nepal

With 30 years’ experience as a teacher and twelve years as head teacher at a large comprehensive in Plymouth, in the UK, Peter Reid has the combination of hands on classroom teaching and management experience that VSO is looking for. After retiring in 2001, he and his wife Rosemary decided to volunteer. Here Peter tells us how his skills are supporting the Ministry of Education and Sports as it prepares to offer Nepalese children a further three years of free education. 

What are you doing as a VSO volunteer in Nepal?

I’m working in the Ministry of Education and Sports in Kathmandu, in Foreign Aid Coordination.  This is the section within the Ministry that deals with donors such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and also bilateral donors like Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Department for International Development in the UK.

Why is a position like yours important to Nepal?

At the moment, education in Nepal for children is only grades one to five. They plan from 2009 that it should be grades one to eight. The demands on funding for that will be huge – at the moment, 30 per cent of the education budget is provided by donors. In some countries it’s 80 per cent, so when Nepal’s budget increases, sections like the one I work in here in the Ministry of Education and Sports will be vital.

Do you think your knowledge of schools in Britain has helped?

I find that my education experience is a big advantage in Nepal’s Ministry of Education and Sports having been on the receiving end of Government directives in England. What I think I’m able to do with the Ministry is to show them ways in which the things they want to happen in schools can happen. I help them to consider the people that will be affected by their policies: head teachers, the teachers, and the pupils.

Why do you think experience is vital in a developing country’s education system?

The important thing for Nepal is that volunteers understand education through and through.  There’s no better training ground in Britain than as a teacher or a head teacher. I know I get credibility in meetings with government officers and donors because I know what it’s like in schools. I think that people from education, in particular people who have worked in schools, will have experience that a lot of government officers lack.

How do volunteers make the most of each other’s experience?

Here in Kathmandu the education volunteers meet on a regular basis and our experience is very different.  We learn a lot. Those of us who work in government offices in the capital learn a huge amount from people who work in the field, who work in remote districts. I think there’s a big strength in VSO being vertically integrated in the country. There are people who work in schools, in district education offices and then here in the capital there are people who work at the highest level in planning and strategy and this kind of joined up working works.

Is there a social aspect to volunteering?

Put quite simply: in Britain, I don’t get invited to birthday parties of 30-year-olds, but here in Nepal, you get very close to the other volunteers. It’s partly a sense of shared predicament, but it is also partly a real pleasure in being in such a fascinating country as Nepal.

What is life like outside of your placement?

VSO understandably publicises its work in HIV and AIDS, governance, education, health, but outside of the inspirational aspect of volunteering, there are other, shall we say, unwritten benefits. In my case it’s the trekking, the tiger reserve near the Indian border, travelling to Tibet and Kerala and immersing myself in the country. I think that being able to drink in a culture and to really take advantage of where you are, in my case Nepal, is one of VSO’s best-kept secrets.

How to apply

Interested in volunteering with VSO? Find out what you need to apply and begin your application process now.

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