Project Overseas – Marie-Christine Plourde
When I left the house on July 8th, I knew I was about to go through a life-changing experience. There were mixed feelings: excitement, apprehension, courage, pride, determination. When the plane took off, even if the adventure had already begun (I had been preparing for the trip with the team since our first Skype meeting in January), I felt like I was a part of something bigger than me. I was giving up my summer of resting, relaxing, recharging for the next year… but I was not giving away anything, I was being granted the opportunity to share, to learn, to collaborate, in an extraordinary setting: another continent!
An amazing collaboration project: can you imagine? Collaborating with colleagues from across Canada, sharing successes, common challenges and pursuing the fight for education for all. By reaching out to destinations like Burkina Faso, Ile Saint-Vincent or the Dominican Republic, Canadian teachers could sit down and discuss with teachers from the developing world. Together, we talked about what worried them, how we could make sure the kids get access to school, how we could make the teaching techniques more relevant and more efficient, how together, internationally, we can have an impact on each other’s lives.
Travelling internationally was a first for me, but the Project Overseas organization helped us all the way and took care of everything. It’s a very solid team that knows the reality of these kinds of trips. They have been doing it since 1962! Naturally, there are always some delays and we had to take another route than the one that was planned, we arrived almost two days late to Ouagadougou, but when we got there, the Burkinabé organization team was there to welcome us, even if it was 2:00 AM. We headed to our room at the villa in the middle of the city as we were exhausted and we had a full day of work the next day.
The first day of work was very exciting for us Canadians, and very impressive. The Burkinabé teachers were present in their best apparel, and there was an opening ceremony that seemed to me to be very formal. It was quite an event to welcome the Canadian team. We were very proud and we were definitely feeling lucky to be part of this experience and have the opportunity to simply be there. We had a snack and we started the day right away. We were divided into our specific groups: I was collaborating with the school inspector for secondary-level French. We had a great collaboration spirit, Christophe wanted to know about how we did things in Quebec, we looked with much excitement at all the resources, books and tools I had brought with me. Being paired allowed us to develop a genuine relationship that would enrich both of our practices. Even when I left Africa, Christophe and I continued to collaborate and chat by electronic messaging. I sent him some of the things I created that he liked, and he also provided me with so many tips and tools. The way he was listening to the teachers he was working with showed me that he was a very smart individual, a calm leader, someone who valued education, knowledge, sharing. I realized that I was very lucky to have found such a mentor. His wise words continue to inspire me in my teaching.
Under Christophe’s wings, were two groups of teachers. Some of those teachers had to travel two hours by scooter before getting to the place where we met. They teach around 150 pupils per class. Those teachers were teaching, in rural areas, very remote, with no tools, no resources, no computer(s) (!) in their classrooms. They barely had a copy of a book for each student.
Despite all that, those teachers were there. They showed up every morning to get professional development. They showed up because they wanted to learn. They had so many ideas! They were smiling ear to ear. We worked in small groups, we created a learning sequence in French and Christophe led the teams so that we specifically addressed the problems they were facing. He would give his advice as inspector, and they would be able to discuss with him on how to improve their practices according to the expectations of the government. They appreciated this opportunity to learn how to get better at what they do. I was listening, joining the conversation from time to time, mainly amazed by our differences and our many similarities.
I met young men and women, who wanted to change the world, who wanted to make the world a better place, starting in THEIR classroom. I didn’t have to go to Africa to see that. But I did. Those teachers were amazing: Merveille, Wenda-Yolin, Marie, Hamadou and many others….
In Gaspé, in Ottawa, in Winnipeg, in Edmonton, there were four teachers that decided to go abroad to be inspired. Bridget, Karen, Jessica, wow… three friendships, three amazing people, caring, listening, funny. We were there from day one and the friendship did not stop. We are so fortunate to have this connection with three amazing people that will inspire you for the rest of your life!
When we came back, we were thrilled by what we had experienced. From different parts of Canada, we continued to encourage each other to do our best. Now, we had new ways, new ideas. We wanted to encourage learning, to make school a safe place for everyone, to transform our mindsets and to set new limits.
This adventure has led us to discover what we were capable of, especially when we work as a team. It showed me that wherever you go, there are people just like you, people who care!
Anywhere in the world, there are kids who want a piece of candy… or two. There are adults who want to play. There are books. There is good food and people want to share those meals with you. They want to impress you with their culture and their history. They want to be listened to, just like anybody else. They are proud. On our time off, we visited the most gorgeous places and sat to talk about life, while eating local products.
This experience was life-changing. It’s one of the most challenging things and yet one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life. Once you have experienced this kind of situation where you are not in control, you decide to let go and trust the organization, trust the leaders, you have faith in the values that you share with the organization, it just flows and everything falls into place, everything goes smoothly, the ability to trust becomes a part of you. You find your place within the process. You know you are there for a reason. Who would have thought that trust and the ability to let go was going to be my biggest lesson? To trust that education for all matters; that what educators all over the world are doing does make a difference.
No, you cannot predict how it will change you. But going overseas to participate in this project will definitely change you. And only then will you understand why and how. And that’s the beauty of it.