Meet The Trainer • Koen Verrecht

Posted on 07-09-2018

In 2008, he became a passionate Mobile School volunteer. Five years later, he took his first steps towards becoming an equally passionate Mobile School Master Trainer and has since co-facilitated and given numerous trainings with different partner organisations. Recently, he even implemented the 50thmobile school in Gliwice! Meet Master Trainer Koen Verrecht:

How did you end up at Mobile School? 

In 2007, I graduated as a primary school teacher. I felt like I wasn’t ready to enter the Belgian labour market yet. So at the beginning of 2008, I travelled to the Jungle School in Honduras, where I taught children from an isolated area in the middle of the jungle, near a beautiful mountain, appropriately named ‘Pico Bonito’. I still consider it as one of the most beautiful and most defining periods of my life.

Six months later, I returned home. While dealing with the ‘reverse culture shock’, I realised that I’d arrived at a crossroads in my life. Not only would I have to start working, but I would also have to leave the biggest passion of my life, the scouts, behind. I was terrified that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Years on end I had wholeheartedly spent all of my free time on the scouts and all of a sudden, that came to an end. What would I do with all that time?  

It was then that I coincidentally ended up at the MTC in Leuven, where someone named Arnoud Raskin appeared to talk about street-connected children and mobile schools. It took me about 2 milliseconds to realise it: I had found my new passion! The combination of education, street children and the international setting appealed to me, of course, but it was mostly the message of hope instead of misery that attracted me. When I timidly approached Arnoud after his lecture, he told me to swing by the office, so I could see if I wanted to become a volunteer. And I did! A couple of weeks later, I was surrounded by thirty enthusiasts on a volunteer weekend in Heverlee. Although the accommodation could have been better, the ambience definitely couldn’t have been! And after all my years at the scouts, I knew I had found my new mission.

What have you learned from your (volunteer) work at Mobile School?

The most essential thing I’ve learned from my (volunteer) work at Mobile School is positive focus. On the one hand, it’s made very explicit and its relevance is emphasised again and again. On the other hand, you see it happening in practice as well. Both inside the organisation and with the street-connected children. Thinking in terms of opportunities and challenges instead of problems and setbacks hopefully sounds familiar for a lot of people by now, but that was very different not so long ago. And it’s so valuable, professionally, but also in your personal life.

What keeps you going? What’s your passion? 

Education in the broadest sense of the word is what I consider as my passion. Among other things, it defined my study choice, but I quickly figured out that the classical interpretation of ‘education’ had a limiting effect on me. Through the training courses I took at the scouts, for example, I learned how valuable informal education is and how much broader education can be than just the academic side of it. At Mobile School that thought is made explicit as well, by focusing on the self-esteem of street-connected children. Counting, reading and writing are just a part of the bigger offer of activities you can do at the school and they all serve the bigger goal of raising the self-esteem of the children.

When did you hit the streets with the mobile school for the first time? 

In 2013, the European Exchange was organised, bringing all Mobile School partners within Europe together in Krakow, Poland. Ten days of learning from each other, of exchanging information and experiences and also of having fun, of course. Being able to be a part of that was a wonderful experience for me. I got to know the organisation even better there and I listened to stories from street educators from Greece, Romania, Albania and Poland first-hand. When we hit the streets ourselves, I could immediately see that all those stories about the ‘magical box’ that was ‘like a magnet’ for children, were not at all exaggerated. And that magical magnetic effect of the mobile school is the same everywhere in the world!

In the meantime you’ve become a Mobile School Master Trainer. Which workshop is your favourite?

I like the theoretical workshops, since they are essential to convey our message and our work. The creative sessions are an unadulterated joy for me, since they force both the participants and myself out of our comfort zones. My favourite workshop, however, is undoubtedly the technical workshop. I like showing how the school is built up technically and how you can maintain it. Not unimportant, since the circumstances on the streets can be demanding on the materials. We wrap up the workshop with a real driving exam, after which the participants receive their official Mobile School driving licence. Lots of fun!

What was the most memorable moment in your Mobile School career up until now?

During the implementation in Mombasa, I co-facilitated the trainings. The reality on the streets is really tough there and as an inexperienced newbie it was at times confrontational to come in contact with those harsh conditions up close. Every street session is evaluated afterwards and during that conversation, one of the coordinators said how blown away she was with what she had seen that day. Three youngsters of 17, 18 years old who sniffed glue a lot and, consequently, could usually not concentrate for more than 5 minutes, played at the school for more than an hour and a half. They wanted to try out all the panels and make all the exercises. After completing an exercise, they always went up to her to proudly tell her what they’d just done. For me, as a trainer, that was a magical moment I’ll never forget. The contrast between the harsh reality and that hopeful, inspiring testimony made it very clear to me how valuable the mobile school can be, for the street-connected children, but also for the street educators.

You have already given trainings in Europe, Africa and Asia. Do you notice a big difference between the projects on the different continents? 

Each project is unique, of course, and each new partner and new location entail something new. But the one thing all projects have in common is the motivation and commitment of the local partners. In Spain, Kenya, Greece, India and Poland, everywhere I’ve worked with local street educators so far, I could only admire their work. Often in very difficult circumstances, because of the target group or because of the lack of support from society, they keep dedicating themselves to making the lives of children and youngsters on the streets a bit more beautiful and to create new opportunities for them. That deserves a lot of respect and I’m proud that, as a Mobile School trainer, I’m able to support them in what they do. 

Times change. Is the mobile school still relevant, according to you? 

What’s so great about the mobile school is that it’s a timeless concept. The materials and the approach of twenty years ago are still as relevant now as they were then. We keep developing new panels as well and the process of developing those panels is constantly I motion too. In the meantime, we can count on the support of a worldwide network of partners, who all have tons of street experience with the mobile school. I think it’s fantastic that we’re working on a platform now to consolidate all their experience and the wealth of activities, games and methods, to make them accessible for everyone.