A volunteering trip abroad turned into a full time career for Kate Stoddart.
The 24-year-old, from Ponteland, Northumberland, wanted to experience the world before settling into a teaching a job but little did she expect that her visit to Sierra Leone would become something more permanent.
Durham University graduate Kate decided to head to the West African country to volunteer for a few months before entering full time work.
During her trip she worked with St Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired, in the Makeni area, and has never looked back since.
Kate said: “It definitely wasn’t the plan to stay out there but I needed to because they are desperate for all the help they can get so I moved out here in January.”
The school has more than 200 pupils - some of whom board - and receives no government funding relying solely on donations from the public.
But Kate, who is back in the North East visiting family, says St Joseph’s is currently experiencing a “massive funding crisis” and is in need of new donors to ensure the school’s vital work continues.
“The big problem we have is running costs towards things like food and power.
“People are quite willing to give equipment to the school which is great but it’s things like feeding the kids we have a massive problem with,” said Kate.
She added: “We have a boarding school because some of the children are often completely shunned by their families for being deaf as they are seen as being cursed.”
St Joseph’s has provided care and education for hearing impaired children from across Sierra Leone for around four decades.
Today, the school caters for around 215 students, including around 79 boarders, and is run by teachers, carers and administrators.
One of the main aims of the school is to tackle the stigma associated with deaf children in developing world countries by offering rigorous academic education and teaching vocational skills that allows the students to become active members of the working world.
It was this ethos and dedication to the youngsters who attend the school that made Kate want to stay on as a teacher there.
She added: “It’s such a beautiful place., I love it. The school is run by an Irish nun who is 80 and has been there for 40 years.
“We really need more funding as it has pretty much ran out.”
To support Kate and the hundreds of St Joseph’s students, make a donation by heading to uk.virginmoneygiving.com and searching “Friends of St Joseph’s School”.
To find out more about the school, visit its website at www.st-josephs-hearing-impaired-school.com