After teaching in her home country of Kenya for 12 years, Hellen Ommani moved to South America to her new home at Colegio Panamericano in 2022 with the help of Search Associates (SEARCH). For Hellen, teaching in international schools at home and abroad requires excellent preparation and class management, but she exclaims,
Now, I get paid to explore the world, meet people from different culture, eat different foods, and learn different languages!
Hellen’s desire to work with children stemmed from her own struggles with mathematics and physics in high school. She says, “It took one Mr. Nyaosi who befriended me and turned me into a physics genius.” After her brother and friend Henry took over as her mentor, Hellen shone and took the lead in those subjects that “no girl loved.” She discovered her calling:
I learned during that time that you cannot teach unless you first win the learners’ hearts! And this is exactly what I planned to do the rest of my life: win the hearts of my students and help them overcome their challenges. There is nothing as satisfying and rewarding as inspiring a fellow human being and seeing the positive impact in their lives.
Hellen earned her degree at Kenyatta University before a post-graduate Diploma in Education in Maths and Physics from The Nairobi University. As soon as she started her first teaching job at a government school in Kenya, she knew she would have to “get out of the box.” She wanted her students to be able to think critically and freely about concepts. After teaching for five years, Hellen pursued and landed an appointment at a small international school and never looked back. With the support of Light Academy, Mombasa, Hellen trained in the International Baccalaureate (IB) and “the rest is history,” says she. She taught for three years at Light Academy followed by seven years at Naisula School, Nairobi.
Once Hellen’s children were grown up, she was ready to make a leap to international schools on other continents. A friend who had been teaching abroad for a while urged her to join Search Associates (SEARCH). Wow, did that work out!
I got two offers within the first week after activation. I chose Colegio Panamericano because there is a Kenyan community in Colombia, and all my questions and concerns about the location were answered satisfactorily. I also found out through the community that there was a colleague from Kenya already at the school, who gave me the best advice on what to carry and how to settle in best.
When Hellen signed on with Colegio Panamericano, she had planned for her 14-year-old daughter to remain in Kenya with her mother, but this gave her no peace. She nervously contacted the administration to make the request to bring Billie. Helen recalls,
I was allowed, and this is indeed the moment I knew I had made the right decision. The support I got from my director Ms Anne Lang and my High School Principal Mr Jerill Adams has been enormous.
Billie has benefited enormously from attending international schools. Hellen describes her daughter as more open minded and tolerant of others: “She now understands different does not mean wrong.” More creative in her thinking and expression, Billie has embraced project-based learning, and now a new language, Spanish.
When asked what advice Hellen would give teachers considering overseas teaching, she says,
Join Search Associates, and follow up on every bit of advice by your Associates! They know what they are doing. My biggest help came from my Associates John and Susan Ritter; they made sure that everything was in order . . . and were always an email away. . .Lastly, be patient; it might take a while, but it is worth it in the long run.