Former Great Valley Middle School principal Stephen Swymer recently returned from a trip to Uganda where he was training teachers with the Global Training Network group. Since retiring in 2008, Swymer has taken 25 trips to remote and impoverished areas around the world in an effort to train teachers in schools and orphanages.
Global Training Network is a self supported group made up entirely of volunteers who sponsor their own trips. The group was formed by Carl Green, the former pastor of Calgary Fellowship Church Lionville, where Swymer is a member. Green asked Swymer if he would get involved, that there was a need to train teachers in the countries the group was visiting.
“I was training and consulting principals around the country through the National Association of Secondary School Principals,” said Swymer. “He knew I was doing that and said, ‘I could use you if you’re interested.’ That was the seed he planted. I just enjoy doing it. We also use it as a way to get into places. Afghanistan is a closed country. If you are a Christian, they don’t want you there. If you try to convert people, they’ll kill you. It’s that simple. But they will let me in because I’m training teachers.”
Swymer has traveled extensively throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, helping in countries such as Uganda, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Maldova and Russia. He has also made nine visits to Zambia and five trips to Transnistria. Swymer said the conditions in most countries he visits are rough and it is the group’s mission to “go to places where no one else will go.” He remarked that AIDS and malaria are rampant in Africa.
“Uganda, this was my first trip, this was a very difficult trip. I am still emotionally recovering from it. The kids in the orphanages, most of them had AIDS, babies, because their mothers have it. It is everywhere. Conditions are filthy, very little food. There is a mass grave in Zambia, it is as far as you can see and it’s just constant. People are burying their families. Life expectancy is early 30s. We don’t know what poverty is like here. They have nothing. They spend all day getting water. What we take for granted, they would give anything for.”
An educator for 36 years, Swymer said he loved the 30 years he was principal of Great Valley Middle School and the experience has helped him with training teachers abroad.
“To become a teacher and a principal, you want to invest in people. That never leaves you, even when you retire. There’s a lot of evil out there. I’ve seen a lot of damage done by the hate over there and the ISIS movement. When you see it firsthand, it changes you. I’ve been in the streets of Afghanistan, I’ve seen women beaten. I’ve been to places where they have nothing, I’ve seen mass graves. If we don’t do it, the other side is going to do it and the other side is very dark. That’s what it comes down to.”
He also remarked the teachers have very little training and earn little to no money, and he tries to impart to them the importance of what they are doing.
“I try to reinforce to teachers that what they’re dong is almost godly because they’re investing in lives of the children and that’s the future of where we are,” Swymer said. “I try to really build them up with that; understand the significance of what you do. One of the things I say is, a great educator can not only touch the life of the children in front of them now, but also can influence the lives of the children not yet born. I really try to hammer that; the only way they’re going to get out of this is to be educated and to move their families to a different level.”
He continued, “I don’t go in with a lot of theory, I just go in with what works; basic stuff. We know what makes up a good teacher, we can identify that. So that’s what I share. We don’t want to make it complicated.”
Despite the dangers of traveling in illness stricken and politically unsettled regions, Swymer said for the most part he feels comfortable and safe where he goes. His wife Eileen also accompanies him to safer areas and helps train pastors’ wives.
“They go out of their way to make us as comfortable as they can. Some conditions are OK, some are a little more difficult. You learn to cope once you adjust. It’s been very gratifying. I’ve been doing six or seven trips a year now. It’s been really great to have my wife with me. She loves it, and she’s a great teacher. She’s been traveling with me when it’s safe, which has been great.”
Later this year Swymer plans to go back to Zambia, Botswana, Israel and the Middle East. When he isn’t traveling he enjoys spending time with his eight grandchildren.
“I just enjoy doing it. Education is really the way people are going to get out of where they are. It’s true here and it’s true there.”
For more information or to make a tax deductible donation visit GlobalTrainingNetwork.org or Dr. Stephen Swymer’s Facebook page.