Teacher finds an island home away from home

ZANZIBAR is a long way from Terang, but one south-west woman has made it her home.

Belinda Johnson at her school in Zanzibar.

Belinda Johnson at her school in Zanzibar.

Teacher Belinda Johnson is running the first international school in Paje, a popular tourist destination on the island of Unguja, Africa.

The Deakin University graduate has fallen in love with Paje and has bought her own block of land to build a house.

Her students speak a range of languages including French, Spanish, Finnish, Dutch and Swahili, however only one speaks English as their first language.

“The children are very quick to pick up the language,” Ms Johnson said. 

“We teach exclusively in English. If the children speak in their native language they will say to each other ‘no, no ... only English in school.’”

Ms Johnson is also learning the native Swahili language.

She said because the parents of her students were involved in hotel work, it was important for them to learn English as most tourists on the island spoke English.

Ms Johnson completed her Bachelor of Education at the Deakin University Warrnambool campus in 2011. A placement in the Northern Territory during the course inspired her to consider remote education and after learning about a friend’s experience volunteering in Zanzibar, she looked into her options.

At the start of 2013 she volunteered for five weeks before returning to Australia for her sister’s wedding, but realised she wanted to go back to Africa.

During her second volunteer stint she was approached by a parent to organise an international school.

In the middle of last year, Ms Johnson started the Paje school from scratch — her classroom has a preschool, kindergarten and primary section. She is the head teacher and plans all three classes.

Ms Johnson may return to Australia at the end of this year to find teaching work to save money, however, she plans to return to Zanzibar.

“It’s an amazing place and I think I’m addicted to it,” she said.

“The intention is to go back. I have bought a block of land and hope to build a house.”

rhoulihan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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