Project Overseas delivers a life-changing experience

October 24, 2017
In Guyana, South America, reaching the remote town of Kwakwani involves an arduous journey by vehicle. The last 100 kilometres can take up to six hours to travel, depending on the amount of recent rain and the road conditions. (Photo: Kevin Weimer)

Serving the neglected of the neglected

Kevin Weimer
Centennial High School, Calgary


As cheesy as it sounds, I have always wanted to use any talent or skill I might have to make the world a better place. And so I decided very soon after I completed my public education that I would be a teacher. Very early in my teaching career I had a colleague participate in Project Overseas and since that time I have always wanted to do this sort of work.

In July of 2017 I was a member of the Project Overseas Guyana team assembled by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. Along with a support team from Georgetown, Guyana, all six of us were each partnered with a co-tutor from the Guyana Teachers’ Union to run a 10-day workshop for teachers in the remote town of Kwakwani.

Although only 200 kilometres from the coast (90 per cent of Guyana’s population live on the coast), Kwakwani is beyond the end of the road. During the rainy season, the mining and logging town can be reached only by boat. At other times of the year, a small plane is an option for government or corporate officials, but an arduous trek by vehicle is the travel mode employed by virtually everyone else. The last 100 kilometres of the journey takes 3.5 to six hours depending on the daily amount of rain and the road conditions. The end is capped by a short ferry ride.

The Guyanese refer to this area as the Hinterland. This is the rain forest/jungle, far from major urban centres and with limited access to communication, supplies of any kind and transportation. Although each teacher in Guyana is issued a laptop, access to electricity, the Internet and printers is limited and sometimes non-existent.

So we were serving the neglected of the neglected — neglected in the first instance by much of the rest of the world by virtue of Guyana being a developing nation, and in the second by virtue of its sparse population and geographic distance from the levers of power.

The workshop participants were teachers and administrators from Kwakwani and the surrounding region — and they were amazing. Kwakwani is the largest town in the region but has only three schools — a nursery school (public education in Guyana begins at three-and-a-half years of age), a primary school and a secondary school. Most of the workshop participants came from “river schools,” schools on one of the many rivers and tributaries running through the rain forest. Our students often ride bicycles to school; many of their students paddle a canoe to school.

Many of the teachers work in schools with only a few colleagues (sometimes only one other teacher) and most come from outside the region. The Guyanese government provides not very good teacher accommodations as incentive to bring qualified staff to the Hinterland. However, as this does not always garner sufficient numbers to staff schools, the government often employs high school graduates and teachers in training.

Teacher training is two years with an optional two additional years to earn a university degree, and it takes place only in Georgetown. As such, becoming a teacher represents a tremendous commitment of time and money, which can have a significant impact on family life for participants in the Hinterland where the norm is to start families earlier rather than later.

Our participants came from the entire remote region (again, there aren’t many roads, so many traveled by boat); were mostly female (three of 70 were male); varied in age (from just graduated high school to 30 years of experience); and varied in training. Participants were divided into five groups and rotated through a daily timetable. Subjects covered methodology in teaching core subjects with an emphasis on administration and guidance counselling.

The participants were incredibly receptive and engaged with the content the entire time, professional from the first to the last day. Mental health and leadership information were highly valued by the participants, who told us it shifted their thinking and would change how they interacted with students. The need in this area for the instruction we brought is extremely high. These incredible, passionate educators are doing the best they can with no training, no resources and in difficult environments.

Our Canadian team was supportive of one another. We enjoyed spending time together and we worked together to make the workshop as beneficial as possible for all the participants. I was privileged and honoured to have spent July and all the months leading up to it working with these incredible educators. I am also pleased to know that I now have colleagues across the country to continue to converse and collaborate with as a new school year begins. ❚

Kevin Weimer teaches math at Centennial High School in Calgary.

Projet Outremer

Cette expérience a transformé ma vie.

Nancy Crousset
l'École Voyageur, Cold Lake

Autophoto de Nancy Crousset en compagnie d’une chamane vaudoue, lors de son voyage en Haiti.

 

Juillet 2017 a été un mois inoubliable pour mon équipe de la Fédération canadienne des enseignantes et des enseignants (FCE) et moi. Depuis plus de 50 ans, des enseignants canadiens sont envoyés dans des pays en développement dans le cadre de Projet outremer (PO) pour offrir du perfectionnement professionnel au personnel enseignant. Cette année, grâce au travail collaboratif de la FCE et de l’ATA, j’ai eu la chance de participer au PO. Je suis allée à Haïti, plus précisément dans une commune de Haïti appelée Les Gonaïves avec comme projet l’amélioration de l’enseignement donné aux élèves haïtiens afin que tous reçoivent une éducation publique inclusive de qualité. Bénévole à Haïti, la Perle des Antilles. Quelle belle mission!

Le 11 juillet 2017, me voilà dans un avion plein à craquer en direction de Port-au-Prince, capitale de ce pays de plus de huit-millions d’habitants où a eu lieu le terrible séisme de 2010.

Si à première vue Port-au-Prince ressemble à un guêpier, c’est aussi un cœur qui bat : artistes dans la rue; mobylettes qui se faufilent dans les couloirs brulants de la ville; marchands qui s’agitent; tap-taps (camionnettes très colorées) qui embarquent des passagers; bruit de klaxons; chants de coqs; discussions; etc. Tout cela anime cette ville qui ne dort jamais et dont l’empreinte coloniale laissée par les Français se voit et se ressent partout.

Les Gonaïves le 17 juillet. Ai-je besoin de vous dire qu’il faisait extrêmement chaud?  En juillet, c’est la saison des pluies, il pleut presque tous les soirs et le jour… il fait chaud, très chaud.  La distribution d’électricité est limitée, mais certains endroits sont équipés de générateurs de courant ou de batteries, comme la salle où nous avons travaillé pendant deux semaines. Bien que nous arrivions à 8 h 30, nous ne faisions fonctionner le générateur que de 11 h à 16 h afin de pouvoir utiliser les ventilateurs. Inutile de vous dire que tout le monde croulait sous la chaleur. Néanmoins, nous continuions à animer des ateliers et à enseigner. Quant à l’eau potable, il fallait prévoir d’en apporter. Nous allions chercher des seaux d’eau afin que les participants puissent se laver les mains avant de manger, car une épidémie de choléra qui faisait rage depuis 2011 avait, soi-disant, déjà causé 8 000 morts. Qui plus est, l’urbanisation anarchique causée par le tremblement de terre en 2010 et la surpopulation engendraient une gestion chaotique des déchets, et beaucoup de chèvres, chiens et chats errants, voire quelques cochons noirs se nourrissaient des débris épars dans la ville.

Il est vrai que cette expérience est un défi pour nous, Canadiens, mais nous nous devons de prendre part à l’éducation des élèves de ces pays afin d’éradiquer la pauvreté et de contribuer au développement durable. Personnellement, cette expérience a été un apprentissage qui a transformé ma vie et que je saurai transmettre à mes élèves francophones. ❚

Nancy Crousset enseigne le français, les études sociales et les sciences à l’École Voyageur de Cold Lake.

Helping overseas yields better teachers at home

Robert McKague
St. Francis High School, Calgary

Alberta teacher Robert McKague teaches a vocational education class how to make and repair an extension cord in the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Caribbean! This word sent a shiver down my spine the first time I heard that I had been selected out of all of Canada to return and be the team leader with Project Overseas on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The Canadian team was greeted warmly by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union executive, who provided amazing hospitality and cultural tours of their island paradise.
In conjunction with our Caribbean co-tutors, we strived to focus on methodologies and pedagogy for all cognitive levels of students — basically our Alberta motto of leaving no child behind.

Caribbean culture focuses around dance and music, so as team leader I entreated teachers to adopt and adapt this methodology into each of their daily lessons. It was exciting to see Caribbean teachers embrace my personal lessons from the Albert Education Career and Technology Studies curriculum and comment that they would use these lessons in their classrooms in September. Canadian Project Overseas teachers need to be very flexible and adapt to extreme heat and classrooms designed with only one electrical outlet or no electricity at all.

It was clear that the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) and Project Overseas have had great success in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as it now recognizes that education is one of the keys to the advancement and development of the country.
Being a part of Project Overseas was a truly rewarding experience and one that will stay in my heart for the rest of my life. I was fortunate to work with some of the most dedicated Caribbean teachers, who endured tremendous challenges to attend the only professional development course of the year. There was always a sincere feeling that the CTF participation was truly appreciated and welcomed by the entire country.

When Canadian teachers return from a Project Overseas country, they return as better teachers who appreciate the wealth of resources and technology they have taken for granted their entire teaching careers. ❚

Robert McKague teaches mechanics, vocational education, social studies, legal studies and art at St. Francis High School in Calgary.

Project fosters Canadian pride

Carla Cuglietta
St. Joseph High School, Edmonton

Teachers unveil a new “peace hut” on the grounds of a school in Sierra Leone where local teachers can practise techniques learned from Project Overseas to replace corporal punishment. The hut is also available for families and community members to gather in order to peacefully settle disputes.

This year I had the absolute pleasure of leading a team to Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone project is unique in that it follows a “train-the-trainer” model. Teams from the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) and Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU) train professional development facilitators who work intensively to learn the techniques and basic building blocks of numeracy and literacy as well as how to establish and maintain peaceful and gender-friendly classrooms. The train-the-trainer model is a sustainable and effective one that both organizations are very proud of.

Through Project Overseas it is truly amazing to work with passionate and hardworking local teachers who manage to show up each day and try their best to move the country forward through improved education despite often dealing with seemingly impossible situations in which desks, books and resources are limited or not available.

The learning exchange is definitely mutual. I learned what reconciliation, perseverance, selflessness, peace and respect for all people looks like. Through five-minute conversations in the hall with each fellow teacher in the morning, centring on the question “how are you really feeling,” I was re-reminded of the importance of slowing down and fostering a human connection with others instead of rushing through my day.

Projects like these are important and often life-changing for both sides. I am so proud to be part of a provincial association that year after year supports teachers not only here at home, but also all around the world. ❚
Carla Cuglietta is a religious studies teacher and service co-ordinator at St. Joseph Catholic High School in Edmonton.

A life-changing assignment

Shawn Arseneault
Jasper Elementary School, Jasper

  At a school for the deaf in Masaka, Uganda, children are mesmerized by the teachers’ cameras and other electronic devices. 

After spending three days in Ottawa for our orientation, my team and I headed to Uganda. Our journey in this eastern African country exceeded all of my expectations. We spent our first three days in Uganda in the nation’s capital, Kampala. In the capital city we met our Ugandan co-tutors who we were going to be working with for the better part of the next 20 days. We worked on developing the program that we would be delivering to 160 teachers over the subsequent two weeks.

I had the pleasure of working in a city called Masaka, located west of Victoria Lake and slightly below the equator. In Masaka we spent two weeks on a teachers’ college campus where we delivered professional development sessions to members of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union and head teachers in the following areas: numeracy, literacy, English as a second language, life skills, physical education and instructional leadership.

My co-tutor and I delivered lessons in the field of instructional leadership. Our focus with the head teachers was to give them the tools to be able to make the change from being a simple manager to becoming more of an instructional leader. We had sessions on mentorship, on lesson observations and on defining instructional leadership.

This Project Overseas assignment was life changing. I cannot express enough gratitude to the Alberta Teachers’ Association, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, my co-tutor and our Masaka team. ❚

Shawn Arseneault is an assistant principal and learning support teacher at Jasper Elementary School.

An authentic experience

Katherine Cook

 
Alberta teacher Katherine Cook (second from right) with colleagues from Canada and Uganda.

 

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

– Henry Miller

During the summer of 2017, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Uganda with a group of phenomenal teachers from across Canada. The experience of working with Canadian and Ugandan teachers brought to life the true meaning of collaboration, flexibility and authenticity in our teaching practice.

When we arrived in Uganda, we were matched with a co-operating professional who would be our partner for the duration of the experience. We had four short days to discuss, plan and create resources for the course we were teaching. The Ugandan teachers brought experience, knowledge and an understanding of professional development that transformed our perception of PD. The fabulous resources and ideas that we came with were still valuable, but when used in conjunction with an understanding of teacher needs and struggles, our ideas and resources were transformed into a learning experience that benefited hundreds of teachers during the duration of the project. Authentic collaboration was not an option; it was the only way.

During the course of the project, we learned to be flexible with our planning, much as we are in our classrooms at home. We became flexible with our concept of time (anyone who has been to Africa knows the concept of African time), and had to develop a flexibility that required leaving behind preconceived ideas. We became open to new ways of approaching tasks and situations at every turn.

Rituals and rites of passage were shared with us, requiring everyone to experience with open arms these momentous occasions in the Ugandan people’s lives. For example, the ritual of male circumcision is widely celebrated in eastern Uganda, and we learned quickly that our time there was going to enable us to see things in new ways.

Project Overseas has been an extraordinary experience. I have been able to take back strategies, games and life experiences that I could never have gained from books, workshops or traditional travel. When reflecting on Henry Miller’s words — “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” — I can say with absolute certainty that I returned home having reached my destination. And I’ve continued to see things with a new perspective. Most importantly, my students (and hopefully my colleagues) will benefit from my new way of seeing things.

Experience fosters connection with teachers

Vanda Rufli

At a school in the Cape Coast District of Ghana, Africa, an entire community attends an event during which visiting teachers distribution a donation of school supplies

 

I was surprised and exhilarated to receive a phone call explaining that I had been selected to participate in Project Overseas in Ghana, Africa for a second time and this time as a team leader. The experience left a profound and lasting effect on me.

Our Canadian group of eight female teachers met with staff from the Ghana National Teachers’ Association and our co-tutors to plan the programs that we’d present in three districts in the country’s coastal region. The plan was to present in mathematics, literacy, early childhood development and gender equity.

We were able to visit a school in each of the three districts where we did presentations. Fundraising was put together by a number of teachers, and then school supplies were purchased in Accra, the capital, and presented to the students and community. Education even in its simplest format is greatly valued, and a lot of sacrifice by parents, students and teachers helps to create their learning communities. At times the needs just seem to be so overwhelming; however, what was presented was very gratefully accepted.

Even though these teachers face challenging working conditions on many levels, that “teaching twinkle” was ever present, and there were many questions and abundant sharing opportunities. It is amazing to think that these teachers are able to attend this conference only once every three years. They were very engaged and asked many questions to get as much as possible from this professional opportunity. We are so fortunate to have the opportunities we do in Alberta.

We were also able to see and experience cultural and historical elements of the Ghanaian coastal region. Through “Canada Nights” and a “Ghana Night” performance as well as through our travels, we learned about traditional dance, clothing and food, and the impact of slavery and the export of humans from slave castles, such Elmira and Cape Coast. Ghana is a very proud nation with amazing teachers!

All the people we met were welcoming, warm and fun-loving. Their enthusiasm made long days a joy and made us all realize that we teachers are truly all connected. This was an experience I will never forget, either personally or professionally — my memories will last a lifetime!

Vanda Rufli is a K–9 teacher at Wild Rose Hutterite Colony School near Vulcan.

Semblables malgré tout

Jessica Kornder
École/Escuela Father Leo Green School

 

La première chose qui nous a frappées lors de notre arrivée à Ouagadougou, capitale du Burkina Faso, c'est la chaleur intense et constante.  Mais ce n’est pas ce qui est resté gravé dans nos esprits à notre retour.  Nous avons plutôt été marquées par la façon dont les enseignantes et les enseignants burkinabés travaillent de façon passionnée et infatigable pour leurs élèves et l’avenir de leur pays.

Notre équipe de quatre enseignantes canadiennes, toutes originaires de différentes provinces, a travaillé avec un groupe formidable de co-instructrices et de co-instructeurs dans le but d'offrir deux ateliers pédagogiques d’une semaine à des enseignantes et enseignants du Burkina Faso.  Nous avons pu échanger sur nos expériences, nos défis et nos succès, tant en contexte burkinabé que canadien.  Nous avons également partagé nos stratégies d’enseignement centrées sur l’enfant dans plusieurs domaines, à l’élémentaire comme au secondaire.  C’est avec le plus grand respect que nous avons constaté comment nos collègues s’efforcent d’offrir une éducation de qualité à des effectifs de 80 à 110 élèves.  Ensemble, nous avons trouvé des façons d’impliquer les enfants dans leur apprentissage et d’enseigner avec très peu de ressources.

Entre séances d'enseignement, nous avons pu gouter à des mets traditionnels et apprendre quelques petits mots en moré et en dioula, deux des 67 langues parlées au pays. Nous avons parlé de nos familles, écouté de la musique d’Afrique de l’Ouest… et avons même dansé!

Nous avons finalement découvert que, malgré les différences géographiques, sociales, politiques et économiques, nous vivons des réalités semblables dans nos salles de classe.  Comme le souligne la Fédération canadienne des enseignantes et des enseignants, il ne faut jamais oublier nos collègues ailleurs dans le monde qui travaillent à l'atteinte de notre vision commune : promouvoir le bienêtre et l'éducation de TOUS les enfants et de TOUS les jeunes!

Jessica Kornder est accompagnatrice pédagogique à l’École/Escuela Father Leo Green School d’Edmonton.