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A TEFL Teacher’s NGO to Empower Gabon Slavery Victims

extreme ironing in Peru
Natalie, extreme ironing in Peru with extreme leopard print tights! Today I am thrilled to introduce the woman who taught my amazing month-long TEFL certification course in Costa Rica: Natalie!

Natalie, please tell us a bit about yourself.

Natalie: I’m a 28 year old South African who flew to Argentina to get my TEFL/TESOL on something of a whim 5 years ago. I’d finished my Masters and was a bit lost. I was looking for something, although I didn’t know exactly what. There in magnetic Buenos Aires, I found it, and so much more! I found my passion, my career, my means to see the world, and my means to change lives and change my own.

Fast-forward to today when everything I’ve ever done has come together in the IDEEproject, The Initiative for Development, Education, and Empowerment, which is an NGO I’ve started with my dear friend Heather from New York, a fellow teacher, traveler, and appreciator of weird culture.

TT: Love it! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.

An actual South Korean s***gun diagram!
An actual South Korean s***gun diagram!

N: Haha, there are so many moments I look back on and think, did that really happen? Traveling, you encounter things, places, people and situations that are so weird and amusing it’s likely you’ll pee your pants laughing about them. I giggle now even thinking back on these! Traveler-teachers are, as a rule, very fun.

The silliest moment is from Costa Rica. Heth and I went Extreme Ironing with friends in the ocean to the absolute horrified dismay of local families on the beach who lamented, “Ayyyy que locas las gringas.” I also got rid of creases above Inca ruins in Peru. We’ve been involved in Extreme Dress-Up, too, which invariably leads to hilarious results. You can see some of the evidence of both Extreme sports in these photos.

The most bizarre moment is, hands down, the s***gun. I was s***gunned multiple times in South Korea: basically was on the receiving end of small Korean fingers formed like a gun unexpectedly inserted right through pants up my bum. See the illustration at right for details. Again, so weird and so unfathomable you just have to chuckle and try not to clench!

TT: WHAT?! WHAT?! WOW. Ahem. Can you explain more about the IDEEproject
that you are currently undertaking?

The founders of IDEE in a wee Wendy House.
The founders of IDEE in a wee Wendy House.

N: Like so many parts of the developing world, Central and West Africa is ravaged by the trade in human beings. It is the 3rd most lucrative trade after arms and drugs! But they’re not an AK-47 or a line of coke – they are people! The scale of modern-day slavery really is mind-blowing, as it is happening TODAY and it is all around us. NO country is immune.

NGOs and governments are working hard and making progress in fighting the trade and repatriating victims. The problem is that the repatriated women and kids are often forgotten: effectively stranded in an unknown country, with very little recourse to justice or money.

Imagine?! Our initiative is working to provide them with a quality, multi-faceted education, and connect them with local and online communities so that they can empower themselves!

TT: What a great endeavor! So what is the role of the online community in IDEE?

Extreme frozen lake swimming in Poland!
Extreme frozen lake swimming in Poland!

N: Our website, when it’s completed, will have a social network called an “Identity Platform.” Every person who joins the project online will get an ID. Our students, too, will claim their ID and for the first time in their lives feel they belong to a community that accepts and supports them.

We really believe in the power of IT in connecting students around the world. Imagine a child in India working on a project with kids from Gabon, France and the US?! This is our dream and it is absolutely within reach! If you’d like to get involved, claim YOUR ID and join the project!

TT: Fascinating and inspirational! How did you find the money to fund this project?

N: I’m flying to New York soon to launch and begin fundraising over there with Heather. People have already been showing incredible support for IDEE, and especially the seriously talented Addiction Store has been amazing in designing our website and showing solidarity for our cause. By spreading awareness we’ll raise funds internationally. Even a small donation can make a BIG difference!

TT: So true! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher?

N: Traveling, you see the power of education: the absolute magical power it has to empower people, reform communities and inspire change. I’ve worked with some teachers who can literally light up a room with their passion, sense of humour, and sense of empathy for their students. THESE are the teachers I want working with us in Gabon!

Extreme Ironing in Costa Rica
Extreme Ironing in Costa Rica. Natalie, you are hilarious!

Oh and managers who pay their teachers poorly should be s***gunned publicly.

TT: Hehe :) How have your travels impacted you as a person?

N: My travels have made me as a person. To steal from Descartes, I travel therefore I am. I’ve been taken to the farthest extremes, emotionally and physically, and it’s made me into a person I like.

From the lowest, loneliest moment lying in a South Korean hospital having eluded death, in the pitch dark, in unthinkable pain, in unbearable silence, to the highest moments of euphoric giddiness when I’ve never felt more alive: hiking in the Andes, sailing down the Amazon, exploring unexplored Ancient ruins in Guatemala, swimming in the Caribbean, scootering around rural China, bathing in a frozen lake in Poland, and now planning our move to Gabon!

TT: Hooray! What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?

N: Be brave. Get a globe, spin it and put your figure down without looking. Wherever your finger lands is wherever you can be. The world is yours to embrace, so embrace it!

TT: Thanks so much for your passion and motivation, Natalie! I wish you the best of luck with IDEE! 


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Bolig i Alanya

Wednesday 5th of September 2012

Very good post. I am dealing with a few of these issues as well. .


Thursday 23rd of December 2010

You must have a lot of fun going around like that. Is extreme Ironing in Costa Rica a real sport?

Nic Julian

Sunday 21st of November 2010

Best of luck with the project, Natalie. That’s a great approach, as charity and financial aid may help short-term, but in the long run is more important to offer people the means to help themselves. And enthusiast educators play an important role.

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