Globetrotting Raphael tells of time on the road
AN education expert has turned his aide-memoire into a second book after using the countless emails he sent home about his travels.
Schools consultant Raphael Wilkins kept a list of his trips “with boyish glee” as he travelled the globe working in education.
“The travel writing crept up on me,” said Mr Wilkins, of Barnard Castle, who has just published his second book, An Educational Journey. “I would send emails home as useful aide-memoire and when I looked I had 16,000 words of jottings. I knew I had the basis of something and the idea for a book grew from there.”
In his sequel to Accidental Traveller, Mr Wilkins writes about his travels around the world, setting up and advising on educational projects, working with the challenges of different languages and cultures.
He tells how he battled with unenthusiastic school principals in Dammam, a volatile project manager in Mexico and awkward hosts in Lucknow. Among other adventures, he visited a Navy school in Karachi, completed a fulfilling project in Jeddah, secured a valuable contract with the Columbian government in Bogota, and enjoyed a tender reunion in Cyprus.
“I had never been anywhere much as my wife didn’t like planes or going abroad – we never went outside England,” he recalled.
“Then in 2007 I received a random phone call. I’d been working for the British Council with delegates from India and was invited to the country to see their schools. It was like winning the lottery – it was life-changing. It was absolutely fantastic.
“Then things just started happening and I was invited to Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Yemen. A pattern emerged, the momentum shifted and it was marvellous. Seeing all these exotic places was a dream come true.”
In all, Raphael made 50 trips abroad to 20 countries on five continents.
“I was looking at sealions and pelicans in the pacific and I suddenly thought how far I had come from my council estate and limited horizons and I knew it was my pinnacle and that the travel itself was the reward. It has been a fascinating journey of self-discovery.”
Originally from London, from a single parent family, with a mother who struggled with mental health, Mr Wilkins experienced his fair share of poverty, a sickly childhood and hated school.
“I was poorly a lot and the physical violence of teachers wasn’t much fun,” he said. “I was shy and had difficulty fitting in. I was ambitious but knew I didn’t have the networking skills needed to be a head teacher so I decided to go for education administration.” He became the youngest education officer in England, was a specialist advisor to a select committee in the House of Commons and an assistant education officer for nine years, before heading up a new education authority, then the Chafford Hundred Campus, hailed the most innovative school in England, before becoming a consultant. He came to Barnard Castle because his wife was from the north and his daughter studied at Durham University, where she also got married, and he’d holidayed in the market town.
“It just felt it was somewhere where I could write,” Mr Wilkins said.
“Walking around the town we spotted a house for sale and a year later it was still on the market so we moved in one snowy January. Initially I commuted but about 18 months later I retired – and I was right about it being a great place to write, inspired as I was by the views.
“At first I thought it would be academic writing, but I fell into travel and am now looking at fiction and non-fiction.
“It was such an amazing privilege to globetrot as part of my job and I felt it would be criminal not to share that experience.”
An Educational Journey is published by Journey Books (Pbk 9781784778323 £9.99).