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Lowestoft teacher’s earthquake experience in Afghanistan

PUBLISHED: 11:31 01 September 2011

Dr Martin Parsons in Afghanistan

Dr Martin Parsons in Afghanistan

Archant

When geography A-level students at the new Lowestoft Sixth Form College start studying earthquakes this month they will be able to ask their teacher for his first-hand experience.

For Dr Martin Parsons, who starts today at the £25m college along with 16 other teaching staff, has had several close encounters with tremors during his extensive development work in remote parts of Afghanistan.

The human and physical geography teacher, who spent ten years in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 1995 and 2005, will also be able to describe to his new students the experience of working more than a week’s walk from the nearest road in a remote mountainous region of Afghanistan.

Dr Parsons, who lives in Kessingland, near Lowestoft and is also a Waveney district councillor for Wrentham, can also recount how it felt to be the first westerner in villages where children under five commonly die from simple diseases like measles and every surviving child is malnourished.

He entered remote villages after negotiations with the Taliban and other radical Islamic groups.

Dr Parsons said: “When we are doing things with earthquakes students have asked about what it is like as I have been through two or three big earthquakes in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The first one happened after I had been in Pakistan for a few months. I thought it was a bomb – the walls moved in and out by a couple of feet,” he said. “On the course I teach physical and human geography and there is a whole lot of relevant stuff from my experience – about the population and why areas are poor.

“The area we worked in Afghanistan was so remote and the government never did anything for them. It was a narrow valley floor so they could not grow enough food to feed themselves so they got sick.

“In some of these villages there were children aged under five. They had been wiped out by simple diseases like measles and the surviving children were malnourished.”

In the remotest of regions, Dr Parsons started to set up a literacy project to help improve the health of the villagers by understanding the local unwritten language and recruiting and training local workers as well as a team of western professionals.

He added: “Literacy was the project because it is key to everything. To train primary health workers they needed literacy.

“We worked it backwards and looked at what was needed for sustainable development and it was literacy – literacy in their mother tongue to employ them so we recruited linguists and gave people literacy.”

Setting up projects from scratch is something that excites him.

“I am very much a pioneer and love setting new stuff up. It is one of the things that excites me about the new college.

“At Lowestoft Sixth Form College we are going to create a whole new ethos and whole new community.”

As well as teaching Dr Parsons likes to encourage his students to think about the wider world and how they can make an impact.

Dr Parsons said: “Inspiring people to make a change and go off and do something in other parts of the world, whether it’s long term or short term or whether someone chooses to work in Lowestoft and bring up a family or go off to the heart of Africa helping a nomadic tribe to read and write is worthwhile.”

Dr Parsons worked overseas with his wife, Lesley, returning to Britain six years ago with their two children.

Before joining the college he taught pupils at Lowestoft’s Benjamin Britten High School.

He is also passionate about teaching his new students about coastal erosion and urban regeneration.

More than 1,000 students will be attending Lowestoft Sixth Form College, which is based off Rotterdam Road.

anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk


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