A conversation with ... A conversation with ...

By Sharyn McCowen -

A conversation with Kate and Ed Shuttleworth, founders of SeeBeyondBorders, as published in The Catholic Weekly, 30 May 2010

British-born Ed and Kate Shuttleworth’s hearts are in schools in Cambodia following the foundation of their charitable organisation, SeeBeyondBorders. They first came to Australia in 1984 through Ed’s work as an accountant. Today Ed runs the charity full-time. “Originally we came out with Ed’s work and then we really loved it, and we were here long enough to get citizenship because we knew we would come back,” says Kate. They returned to the UK, then spent time in Hong Kong before moving to Australia permanently in 1995. “We had two of the children in London; one was born in Hong Kong,” she says. “We sort of wanted to go back and have the kids so that our parents were there as grandparents, but we just really missed Australia.” Kate grew up in the English Midlands and says she misses “that small community”. “I do miss it in that I came from a one-horse town, a village with one bus into the town a day, where everybody knows everybody, so I did find that quite hard in Sydney. “But we had lived in London a few years before we came out here, and Hong Kong, so I kind of got over that.” The couple’s three children were raised on Sydney’s north shore. Their eldest, 21-year-old Eloise, is finishing a law degree in England. “She’s always been the Anglophile of the family,” Kate says. “She was three when we came over, but she’s always had this thing to go back. She’s very, very family minded.” Jonathan, 19, finished his HSC last year at St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, and is now considering university. Libby, the youngest at 15, attends Loreto Kirribilli. “I trained as a nurse in the UK, then I stopped when the kids were young and we came over here,” explains Kate. “We thought that I would go back to work when they were at school, and by that time everything had changed so much in nursing. “I was still registered but I would have gone back and done a refresher course. “It was going to mean night shift and weekends, and the kids were still quite young, so I went back to uni to train as a teacher.” When Kate won a teaching travel scholarship, she joined up with the Tabitha Foundation, a non-profit organisation supporting families in Cambodia, and the Shuttleworths embarked on a trip to build houses. “Libby was only seven and I was really in trepidation. It was great until a week before and then I thought: ‘This is ridiculous, what are we doing’?” Kate recalls. “But we went and it was absolutely fantastic, so when we came back we had a lot of connections with Tabitha and did a lot of fundraising, awareness-raising.” Ed began organising immersion trips for Riverview students, parents and staff, as well as groups from their home parish of Manly. “We didn’t go expecting it to make a difference to us … I think it made such an impact on us that we thought it would be nice for other people to have that experience,” she says. “And you can’t really explain it to anyone; you just have to take them and go.” In June 2009 Ed took the first SeeBeyondBorders group of seven to Cambodia, after Kate had been given an opportunity to work in East Timor the previous year. “The Catholic Education Offices of Broken Bay and Parramatta have an initiative called the East Timor Teacher Placement Program, and being able to go with them was a great opportunity,” she says. “They run maths workshops, which are to teach the teachers, and that was how SeeBeyondBorders started its Teach the Teachers program; we thought we could do similar workshops for teachers in Cambodia.” When teaching friends expressed their interest, Kate used her experience in Timor to develop a program to train teachers in Cambodia and plan the first of their workshops. “The contacts we had in Cambodia were mainly Jesuit contacts,” she says. “We decided to take the teachers and base them in the Jesuit reflection centres in two locations in Cambodia. “The Jesuit outreach is incredible. They have that Catholic outlook, but their work is so far-reaching.” In January seven teachers travelled to Cambodia with SeeBeyondBorders, where they worked in pairs with 138 local teachers in Siem Reap and Battambang. “The teachers there, some of them haven’t had more than grade 3 schooling themselves,” Kate says. “They wouldn’t have had teacher training, they had the odd day here or there, but nothing really. “All the teachers that came to us were from remote, rural schools, because they are the ones who just don’t have access to training. “[The aim of] it was really to teach them basic content for grades 1-3, just in maths … almost the more important aspect was the methodology. They had just never had a child-centred way of teaching, and they’ve got no experience and nobody to show them. “One man came up and said: ‘I’ve been teaching for 15 years; why hasn’t anybody told me this before?’ “For us, it was teaching them how to teach an understanding of maths that will get through. “They [the students] have to take an exam in Year 3 and if they don’t pass it then they drop out of school.” Ed says: “The government schools are virtually free, but they’re not readily accessible from a lot of areas, so organisations often support small village schools. “But then if they want to integrate into the bigger school, which is probably five or six kilometres away, then they have to be able to demonstrate that they can do basic maths and that they have basic literacy proficiency.” According to Kate, there is also some resistance from families for children to go to school. “They are really needed to work in the fields, look after their very young siblings, or to be beggars or to man market stalls or fetch the water for the family. These are nine or 10-year-old children, and younger. “If there are no prospects for them, there is very little incentive to let them go in the first place, and they’ve got absolutely no resources.” The couple says it is difficult to sell education as a way of breaking the cycle of poverty when families are focused on immediate survival rather than their long-term prospects. “Of course education is hugely important, but it’s not the most important thing on their list. Survival is,” Kate says. “It’s about teaching them: ‘Education is a way of breaking the cycle but you’ve got to be the generation brave enough to break it’.” To make up for a child’s lost income, families receive food staples including rice and salt, and some children are also given bicycles for transport to school. “Our focus is on quality of education and access to education,” Ed says. Kate and Ed also strive to make the workshops culturally sensitive. “There is no point us saying, ‘Well, this is how we do it in Australia’. They don’t have the resources that we have, and culturally a lot of things are different,” she says. “You don’t go into the market and say, ‘Can I have six oranges?’ You buy a bundle of oranges, so something like estimation is an incredibly important skill.” Many exercises focused on barbecue sticks, which Ed described as a “staple currency” in many areas. And dice, a frequently-used tool in maths classes across Australia, were treated with suspicion. “They are associated with gambling, and it’s not something you would readily pull out and play with, so we had to talk about how dice are, in this instance, a mathematical tool but they are to be treated carefully,” she says. Several teachers were accompanied by family and friends, who planted rice and worked on building projects. “On the days when we weren’t teaching the workshops we went out as a big group. We did a bike ride in Phnom Penh, we did a cookery course, and went to the temples.” Kate and Ed are now researching the possibility of having the program accredited as a professional development course, which would have positive tax implications for Australian teachers who participate. “At the moment the teachers pay for everything, their air fare and expenses, and they are also asked to make a $500 donation each which goes towards paying for resource packs, accommodation and food for the Khmer teachers,” she says. They are also considering inviting recent graduates to take part in the program. “We know it would benefit the Australian students, but we’re going to hold off on that until we’re sure it will be beneficial both ways.” Those who have participated in SeeBeyondBorders, from the teachers to their own three children, have emerged with a new understanding. “It’s changed our whole perspective on life and our kids, and they come with us, so it has changed their perspective, too,” she says. “Right from the very first visit it made us look at what is important, and Ed changed his career because of it. “From a teaching point of view I was really surprised how much it changed my approach. When you teach in an Aussie school, those kids come to school with quite a lot of basic knowledge, and they pick things up very quickly. “When you go and teach in a place where they come from no concrete understanding of any of it, so you have to think through every step you take. “You’re also talking through an interpreter, so you can’t say three sentences at once. You’ve got to say it succinctly, you’ve got to say it in clear, plain language, and you’ve got to make sure they understand. “I thought several times: ‘Why don’t I do this in my own class? I don’t think through my questioning in that way in my own class.’ “And all the other teachers have said, independently, ‘It’s actually changed me as a teacher’.” For information about SeeBeyondBorders or its Teach the Teachers programs, call (02) 9960 7077, visit http://www.seebeyondborders.org or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Copyright © 2008. Catholic Weekly - Sydney

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