I never expected in the autumn days of my life to be given so many exciting, interesting
and amazing opportunities which hit me as each new day started.
I had been teaching for 40 years in County Durham when retirement loomed up and I
zoomed out to AFRICA! It was no package holiday, however, as I lived among the
people. It was like a fairytale each day as I saw amazing sunrises and sunsets, tried
new food, shared very primitive sanitation, laughed with them over language barriers
and realised just how similar are human beings no matter how different the cultures and
You're probably wondering how this alI came about.
After seeing an amazing concert of the African Children's Choir, I was really by their joy
and energy despite their background of abject poverty. The tour leader appealed for
volunteers to become chaperones and I knew that this was for me! I was approaching
retirement, I lived alone having survived cancer, failed marriages, raising stepchildren
as well as my own beautiful daughter who now was fully fledged with her own career
After much form filling and testing on patience, which included a journey across the US
continent for training, I set off for Cape Town where I taught a group of children who had
come from Mpumalanga where there is a missing generation through the AIDS
pandemic. Whilst I was there I was sent into the bush to find death certificates of their
parents, (women of 20 who died of eclampsia during childbirth, or young men who died
of pneumonia...illnesses that are rare now in the west).
As chaperone I was not only their teacher but also nurse. I identified a 9 year old with
shingles simply because I had nursed my mother with this many years before...the
experiences of my past were becoming so valuable in this 3rd world. After 3 months, the
organisation realised that the South African government would not allow the children to
leave their country and so I was sent up to Uganda to start all over again!
These children were only 6-8yrs old and they were to become my adopted
grandchildren as we prepared for a 12 month tour of USA. There was so much to teach
the children...how to use lavatory paper, toothbrushes, cutlery as well as a new
language! They in turn taught me so much as they had an acute observation and so
they had a great sense of direction, they knew how to kill a snake and just made me
laugh with their cute ways and joy of life despite the hardships. They had never seen an
aeroplane when I put them on 3 jumbo jets starting from Entebbe to our final destination
of Seattle. When we had no electricity at night, I would get them settled around me and
prepare them for this life changing journey as I explained about the noise the aeroplane
toilet made and the moving walkways and escalators in the airport and how there was
no need to be afraid as this was a BIG adventure!
We travelled through 21 states, living with host families and moving 4 times a week. The
contrasts of homes ranged from multi millionaires' mansions to simple mobile homes or
even church and gym floors! However, the hospitality was always supreme and each
chaperone had 3 children each to look after each night, changing so there was never