Project Overseas participant Charlene Saunders visits a school in Kampala, Uganda. For more information about Project Overseas, visit the Canadian Teachers’ Federation’s website www.ctf-fce.ca.
What is Project Overseas
Operated by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), Project Overseas matches the skills of Canadian teachers with requests from overseas teacher organizations. Teachers who volunteer for the project share their talents and skills with educators in a developing country and, in return, learn first-hand about the conditions that others work in, share experiences within the country, and return to Alberta classrooms better prepared to interpret the world for their students.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association provides full funding for the participation of ten Alberta teachers.
To apply for Project Overseas, visit the ATA website (www.teachers.ab.ca) under About the ATA/International Assistance. For more information, contact Karin Champion at the ATA by telephone at 780-447-9435 (in Edmonton) or 1-800-232-7208 (toll-free from elsewhere in the province) or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The application deadline is November 5, 2010.
Journey to Uganda
My journey with Project Overseas began in January when I was asked to lead a team of four teachers from across Canada to Uganda. Although this would be my third project in Africa, I had never been to East Africa before.
Our days in Kampala were spent with our colleagues in the Uganda National Teachers Union. We learned of the incredible commitment that Ugandan teachers have to their profession. They face many difficulties, such as poverty, illness, lack of resources and unsafe working conditions. Despite all this, they remain hopeful for a better future for themselves and their students.
From Kampala, we travelled to the Bolera Teachers’ College, in Hoima. Along with our Ugandan cotutors, we hosted two weeks of PD workshops for more than 150 teachers from rural districts. Many of the teachers attending the workshops had had little training, so they were eager to learn about teaching methodologies in literacy, numeracy and physical education. A key to the success and sustainability of the program was the training and mentoring of a select group of Ugandan teachers, who will continue to be trainers throughout the upcoming school year.
I will forever be grateful for the extraordinary opportunity I had this summer. The dedication and hope shown by Ugandan teachers continue to inspire me in my own classroom every day.
Stay away from Jack
Getting to the island of Carriacou, Grenada, by ferry was exciting. The locals call the rough seas “kicking Jenny,” in reference to a bucking female donkey. Although this was an accurate description, we made it safely to shore.
I was teamed with a local cotutor; together we worked with 16 eager teachers, most of whom had no formal teacher training. They enthusiastically participated in learning activities aimed at improving their teaching skills. Meanwhile, I chugged huge volumes of water and left at the end of each day exhausted, clothes dripping wet. Life on the Canadian prairie had not prepared me for the heat and humidity of the rainy season on a tropical island.
At the end of the second week, we introduced our participants to a little Canadian culture. The highlight was using crumpled paper from the week’s lessons to make paper snowballs for a snowball fight. No lack of competitive spirit here!
We toured the tiny island, watched fishing and boat building, tasted new foods and learned to walk more slowly. A word of advice: stay away from Jack (the strong local rum!).
I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to be part of this exchange. The teachers have a zest for learning that would be hard to match anywhere. At the end of two weeks, the main comment from participants was that they wished we had had more time. That’s impressive for a two-week workshop at the end of a long school year in the heat of summer.
Dep passage au Burkina Faso, le pays des hommes intègres
Mireille entourée de ses co-éducateurs pose devant le drapeau burkinabé.
C’est avec émotion que je me remémore mon séjour au Burkina Faso. En effet, au cours de l’été 2011, grâce au concours de l’ATA et de la FCE, j’ai fait partie d’une équipe de quatre enseignants canadiens qui s’est rendue à Ouagadougou pour offrir des cours de perfectionnement professionnel et en recevoir. Cette expérience unique restera un moment privilégié de ma vie. Outre ma participation à des échanges pédagogiques riches, j’ai été rapidement absorbée par la culture particulière et fascinante de ce pays francophone. Les Burkinabés sont accueillants, chaleureux et avides de mieux connaitre les Canadiens. C’est en partageant nos stratégies et nos méthodes pédagogiques que nous nous sommes vite rendu compte que le désir des enseignants est le même où que l’on se trouve : améliorer l’enseignement et l’apprentissage des élèves partout dans le monde, but principal du Projet Outremer. En tant que directrice d’école, j’étais responsable de tout ce qui relevait de la pédagogie générale. Avec mes collègues burkinabés, j’ai discuté d’inclusion scolaire, de différenciation de l’enseignement et d’accompagnement pédagogique. Nous avons comparé nos rôles administratifs et avons abordé le syndicalisme, un sujet particulièrement controversé au Burkina Faso. Une maladie bénigne m’a fait grandement apprécier l’efficacité du système de santé du pays. En quelques jours, j’étais sur pied, de retour au travail et à même d’apprécier la beauté du paysage africain. Pour reprendre les paroles de l’un de mes compagnons de voyage : « à l’arrivée au Burkina Faso, on est frappé par la chaleur tropicale; or c’est de la chaleur humaine que dégagent les Burkinabés dont on se souvient de retour au Canada ».
Des enfants burkinabés en vacances, intrigués par notre présence.
Building a foundation for special education in Jamaica
Canadian flag and the Blue Mountains of Jamaica: The perfect partnership
I was speechless when I got the call from the ATA that I was going to Jamaica, and I vowed to make all involved in the teaching profession proud.
Project Jamaica was about laying the groundwork for special education. My colleague and I worked with the Jamaican Teachers’ Association in a train-the-trainer-model on the soup to nuts of special education, a much-neglected but much-needed skill set for all teachers in inclusive settings.
I was overwhelmed by the willingness from my Jamaican colleagues to discover the subtle and not-so-subtle nuances of teaching children with special needs. I also believe that Project Overseas planted a seed, and my Jamaican colleagues are now ready to advocate for students with special needs and for the cause and purpose of special education in Jamaica. Now that is something to be proud of! Especially because it’s something Project Overseas has been doing for 50 years all around the world.
I think we did a lot to lay the foundation for special education in Jamaica. Of course, much remains to be done. One thing is certain, though—Jamaican teachers, like their Canadian counterparts, have their hearts in the right place.
Teaching in Uganda was an extraordinary experience. I quickly learned that Ugandan teachers are remarkable educators. It’s amazing what they can accomplish with class sizes of 85 students and no resources. Our team of four Canadian teachers supported our Ugandan colleagues in the rural area near Hoima, in western Uganda, where we were to help raise the literacy and numeracy levels of students.
It’s amazing what Ugandan teachers can accomplish with classes of 85 students.
This was the first PD experience for many of the Ugandan teachers. As the “foreign pedagogical expert,” I realized soon enough that all my accumulated knowledge was of minimal value in this new situation. How can you have word walls when there are no walls? How do you teach reading when there are no books? Response journals and daily writing activities are limited when each student, if lucky, has only one hardcover scribbler that is used for all subjects and must last the whole year. Electricity? Not likely. So at more than any other time in my lengthy teaching career, I had to delve deeply into my own creativity and innovate. I dug through the garbage, collected bottle caps for manipulatives and cut up cardboard boxes to make teaching aids. And in the end, problem solving with my Ugandan colleagues and collaboratively developing fantastic literacy and numeracy learning experiences for their students were marvellous experiences, and I will always remember the time I spent with my Canadian team members and our new friends—150 Uganda teachers—with great fondness.
Carriacou: an unexpected experience
The journey I experienced was not the one I had anticipated, but it was the one I’d hoped for.
On July 2, 2011, I left Calgary for Grenada, an island nation in the Caribbean with roughly 100,000 people and a long history of partnership with Project Overseas (PO). However, when another PO participant had to leave because of a family emergency, I was sent to an island that few people have heard of and even fewer have seen.
Carriacou, which lies about 40 kilometres north of Grenada, is a small island with a population of about 6,000. Carriacou had never hosted a Project Overseas team, and the island’s educators were desperate to receive the type of courses delivered each summer in Grenada.
My Canadian partner was Melissa Gogolinski, a school administrator who cotutored sessions on best practices. I was assigned to work with school administrators and future educational leaders and cotutored a course on administration and leadership. We discussed the difficulties and the successes they experienced as they began to transform their educational system. Did we come up with the perfect solution? No. Did we share, laugh and learn from one another? Yes.
In the end, we discovered that Canadian and Carriacouan educators are not that different, and that may be the most important lesson of all.
Dominica project a success
My three Canadian teacher colleagues and I all craned our necks to get a better view of the emerald island through the small windows of our aircraft. The ocean below was an endless pattern of blue and white.
Suddenly the drone of the small plane changed as the pilot pulled up to abort the landing. Would our visit to Dominica be delayed? We had already been en route for more than a day and were anxious to arrive. Fortunately, the pilot announced that he had to pull up because of a rain squall but that we’d make another approach. As the Dash 8 touched down, we were happy that the next stage of our adventure was beginning.
The next two weeks were a flurry of preparation with our Dominican cotutors. What a team effort! The nine teachers from across Canada and Dominica worked together to ensure that everything went well. The executive of the Dominican Teachers’ Association worked behind the scenes to make sure the needs of the 187 participants, cotutors and CTF team were met. This was the largest cohort of participants in the 16 years of the project.
In the end, all went well. Participants reported that what they learned would change their practice, and they’d share their new knowledge with their colleagues.
Sixteen days after arriving, we woke early to begin our journey back home, taking a return route over the mountains and watching the beautiful view as the sun rose over the Atlantic.
Donna Armstrong shares information with colleagues at a PD session.
This past summer, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, upper primary schools received a donation of 2,000 laptops. In collaboration with my Vincentian cotutor, we provided ICT training so that teachers could learn to use the laptops and how to incorporate technology into lesson planning to engage students.
I soon realized that the challenges they faced in the classroom are universal—discipline, technology, leadership, curriculum and differentiated learning. An important factor in dealing with challenges is to work together toward a common mission and vision. During PD sessions, teachers had the opportunity to form professional learning communities. Participants shared their successes and challenges and worked together to find resources and solutions for their classrooms. These networks are invaluable for creating collegial support and fostering collaborative relationships. I feel honoured to be part of a network of teachers who are dedicated to learning. Teachers, at home and across the seas, are learning from one another for the benefit of their students.
Ghana—50 years of Project Overseas
Canadian teachers and Ghanaidan colleagues (the Canadian and Ghanaian team called themselves Ghanadian)
We were graciously hosted in Ghana, West Africa, by the Ghana National Association of Teachers. Our work took us across the southern regions of Ghana to three metropolitan areas to work with teachers and administrators.
Our team’s work involved a week long inservice for 200 teachers/heads at each location, where we provided PD in math, science, written and oral language development, English, leadership and administration skills. We also developed a framework for a teacher induction program for next year. Each week, we provided 33 hours of inservice work in the classroom and worked with our Ghanaian cotutors.
Before leaving Canada, the five members of Team Ghana had raised money to buy school supplies for a year for three local schools. We visited schools and children in other rural areas and engaged in professional discussions with teachers.
A chance encounter at a restaurant (and the most profound experience for me personally) was to learn of the lifelong work of teacher George Achibra, who has worked to end child trafficking in Ghana through his foundation (http://pacodep.com/index.php). Since 2002, he has rescued more than 480 children.
The work of Canadian teachers in Ghana over the last 50 years is respected and well-received. Project Overseas is often the only PD opportunity for Ghanaian teachers.
A canoe village school in Ghana