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Bruce pioneers a new teaching placement in Guyana

A gap year had long appealed to me. Seven years of primary education, six years of secondary education followed by a further four years of tertiary education all rolled one on top of another? Utter madness. A break was needed, if only to preserve my sanity. I got Bruce's mother Louise on her gap year in South Africainvolved with Project Trust as a direct result of my mum, a volunteer in South Africa, 1982-83. Scattered about our house are subtleties of African origin: tiny clay houses which form a small village; a mask-like musical instrument; wood carvings of tribesmen; but always having had them around me when I grew up, I didn't realise until very late that they hinted at something far from normal: I had thought nothing of them. Until I started expressing an interest in taking a gap year - and the stories came forth.

The wildness and remoteness of some of the countries offered by Project Trust was a real attraction for me - Guyana, the country I would go to and eventually fall in love with, I had never heard of before. Further investigation revealed nothing: Guyana, once a proud colony of the British Empire, has been largely abandoned and forgotten.

Ironically enough, I spent my break from the education the Bruce with local boyseducation system. I was employed by the Ministry of Education in Guyana as a volunteer teacher to teach in a remote rainforest village's local primary/low-secondary school. When one talks of being pushed in at the deep end, I can think of no better embodiment of the phrase than the situation my partner Matt and I found ourselves in: we were the first volunteers from Project Trust to be sent to this village (Chenapou), we had no means of communication with the outside world apart from a very haphazard mailing system, we arrived in our accommodation to find literally nothing inside it - we had to ask around the village for a spoon and cup each, we arrived in our village on Sunday afternoon and we taught our first lesson on Monday morning. And yet, because we had been to secondary school, we were automatically more qualified academically than all but the Headmistress.

There were, as to be expected, things to get used to: in terms of work, the teacher status took a while to get to grips with; the children took a long time struggling to understand our strange accents when we talked and, just the same, us with them; although the syllabus was basically the same standard as GCSE or Standard Grade, it certainly didn't mean that we knew it all - there were several occasions where I had to teach myself some obscure (and, more often than not, obsolete) item hidden in the syllabus before I taught it in school the next morning. Outside of work there were far, far more things to get used to: from the sudden absence of running water, electricity and sanitary facilities in our house (and much of the village for that matter) to the intense humidity and heat throughout the day; from the shrieking of insects and the occasional bat, which felt the need to fly into our house, and then into all our walls, at night, to the omnipresent cockroaches which quite literally got everywhere. It was definitely a step outside of my comfort zone and at times things were a struggle, but at the end of the day, that is what I wanted my gap year to be: something out of the ordinary, something challenging, something rewarding and something that I would ultimately be proud to say I did. It certainly turned out to be all of them. I would have had it no other way.

Bruce Torrance's placement in Guyana was arranged with Project Trust.  Louise Torrance (nee Kemp), Bruce's mother, took gap year in South Africa on a placement also arranged by Project Trust.