Alberta teacher Simone Desilets stops for a photo op with curious neighbourhood children in Hoima, a town in western Uganda where she conducted a two-week-long training session with primary school teachers as part of Project Overseas.
Simone Desilets the first Albertan to receive CTF International Program Volunteer Recognition Award
Dedication to international volunteering has earned Alberta teacher Simone Desilets the 2015 International Program Volunteer Recognition Award from the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF).
The federation’s board decided in May that Desilets would receive the national honour for her ongoing work with Project Overseas.
“It’s incredible to be rewarded for doing work that really isn’t work at all, because for me it’s more of a lifelong dream that I execute with much passion and great joy,” Desilets said in an interview.
Project Overseas sends Canadian teachers to various developing countries to conduct professional development with local teachers. Desilets first became involved in 2012, travelling to the East African country of Uganda. The next year she returned to Uganda as team lead. In 2014 she travelled to Togo in West Africa.
“As professionals, we are called upon to be of service not only to our students in our immediate community but also to be of service and support to the greater community of teachers around the world,” Desilets said of her motivation to be involved in international programs.
Alberta teacher Simone Desilets visits a waterfall in the Hoima region of western Uganda, where she’s volunteered for two years as part of the Project Overseas program.
A CTF report recommending Desilets for the award describes her as an “exemplary and active volunteer” who is “a role model and ‘go to’ leader.”
“When interacting with others, Simone’s wisdom and warmth ensure much more than what must be done occurs. She asks the right questions, even in challenging situations, and does so in an inviting and inclusive way that promotes co-operation and involvement by all,” the report states.
Desilets’ perceptiveness and excellent communication skills are also among the traits that make her a natural leader, states the report, adding that her ability to grasp needs and explore solutions in a collaborative fashion have made her “a tremendous force” in advancing professional development with the Uganda National Teachers’ Union.
Desilets is the first Alberta teacher to be selected for this award since its establishment in 2007, although she has not yet officially received it. The Alberta Teachers’ Association’s CTF committee is scheduled to meet June 10, when it will decide where and when to present the award to Desilets, said Françoise Ruban, the Association’s international officer.
An elementary teacher with 35 years of experience, Desilets is currently on secondment from the Edmonton Catholic Board of Education to the University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean, where she is a sessional instructor with the faculty of education.
Desilets traces her interest in international work back to her days as a student growing up in Bonnyville.
She had a number of teachers who spoke of their experiences with overseas work and several others from other countries — Tanzania, Philippines and India — who did placements at her school.
“They would often speak of home and home for them was something that I was keenly interested in,” she said. “This is what really gave me the first love and interest for this kind of work.”
Volunteering internationally remained at or near the top of Desilets’ to-do list for years as she bided her time until her professional and family circumstances were just right.
“I let it rest for a number of years, then when the opportunity came available for me to do the work … I thought I would proceed with this lifelong dream,” she said.
Desilets said she is motivated to remain involved because she sees a great need for the work and sees the significant results that it achieves. Also spurring her on is the knowledge that African colleagues are deeply appreciative of any help they receive.
“I don’t think that in my lifetime I have ever done so little to be appreciated so much,” Desilets said.
Participating in Project Overseas is also reciprocal, as she returns from her visits with a wealth of knowledge and a greater appreciation of the work of other teachers.
“It makes me a better person and a better teacher.” ❚