Education Beyond Borders

Reflections 2008

Here are some of the reflections from the team members that worked on the TWB-Canada projects during the summer or 2008:

South Africa:
John, David, Sharon, Konrad

Sharon, Anita, Silvia, Carolanne, Dennis, Sohan, Kim

When I hopped on the plane with Teachers Without Borders at the end of June, I knew that even though our group had spent months preparing for the South African project - I really wasn't 100% certain of what was awaiting me in Cape Town. The subject matter - teaching computer integration skills to classroom teachers - was a natural choice for me. I've taught and used computers in an educational setting for the past 15 years. But the idea of leaving the hot, dry Manitoba summer to fly 20 hours across oceans and continents to make my way down to the southern tip of Africa (during their cold-wet winter) to work with teachers in the Townships surrounding Cape Town, South Africa was something a bit more difficult to picture. I really didn’t know what to expect.

And maybe something as simple as the weather is a great place to start telling you about what I experienced in South Africa: The weather in Cape Town in July can be truly lousy for days at a time. (This is not really a problem for a Manitoban - we're used to it, right?) The neat thing is that the first bond between peoples across the world may very well be complaining about how bad the weather is (and how off-kilter the weather reports seem to be). So, while I didn't actually pack a bottle of sun-screen, I did secretly harbour a fantasy (in spite of what I read on the Weather Network website) that Africa must always be hot. Well, it's not, and it's nice to know that nobody in Cape Town trusts the weather reports. (We often waited days for the warmer weather to come, but most days, in spite of predictions of happier times, it rained on and off all day and the temperature lingered around 10-15 degrees Celsius.) There were even reports of snow-fall on the top of Table Mountain (which sits in the middle of the city). So I was wrong about the heat, but it is comforting to tell you that the African teachers think Canada is always at least I'm not the only one with weatherism!

Obviously, a big part of an undertaking of this nature is organization. I would like to mention that our TWB Canada project leader (TWB president Noble Kelly) did a fantastic job with all the preparation and arrangements. Air travel, accommodations, food, ground travel and tourist excursions were all well-planned and I felt safe and well cared-for the entire three weeks in Cape Town.

The two schools I worked in were in the Mitchell's Plains and Guguletu Townships. As I learned, "Townships" are the shanty-town neighbourhoods of the black and coloured peoples in the country of South Africa. They are basically poor suburbs with shack-like homes composed of wood and tin (currently being ever-so-slowly upgraded to brick/stucco). The townships are usually within a long bus or train-ride of the major South African cities, where many of the inhabitants find work in the service and manufacturing sectors. The terms "black and coloured" still linger from the separateness that was legislated by the Apartheid Regime of the National Party in 1950 (lasting until 1994), and Apartheid still leaves its mark on the poor of this country, as there remains a distinction between being "white", "coloured" or "black".

One of the more upsetting stories I was told as we visited the Langa Township was that back in the Apartheid days, National Party bureaucrats (whites) made decisions on a person's color based on something called the "pencil test" which consisted of inserting a pencil in a person's hair and then asking him to shake his head. If the pencil stuck, he was determined to be "black" and was sent to a black township to live; if the pencil fell out, he was determined to be "coloured" and was given a ticket to a slightly better ghetto – a coloured township. This separation of the poor and dispossessed into an economic hierarchy served its predictable purpose - dividing and conquering.

But in 2008, times are slowly changing – improvements are being made, mostly due to the unshakable spirit of the people living in these neighbourhoods. Townships are being re-built by local families in conjunction with international NGOs such as Habitat For Humanity. Schools, while challenged by extremely large class-sizes and a host of other issues, are providing better and better education. Clean and safe drinking water and food are more readily available for those who have the money, and there is a burgeoning spirit of entrepreneurship that reminds me of home. Don’t get me wrong - the poverty here is palpable, and the crime-rate is alarming – but there is hope and energy.

And I guess it is because of this hope and energy that it occurs to me that our work at Glendale and Fezeka Schools was a lot less of a charity effort and lot more of a collaborative effort between teachers who want to learn from each other. We spent three weeks offering workshops and, as our colleagues in South Africa call it, "partnering" with each other to discuss and practice integrating ICT into the core areas of the curriculum - maths, sciences, language arts and social studies. In my opinion, the teachers we met exhibited the same array of technological skills that might be found in any Canadian school. Some are complete beginners with no keyboarding skills, some have home computers with intermediate skill-sets and a few are deeply into everything the digital generation has to offer. Almost all of the south Africans I met carry cell-phones, so the technology is available and, for the most part affordable to teachers.

However, as we experience at home in Canada, many South African teachers feel they are getting left in the dust when it comes to keeping up with their students and technology. There just isn't enough time in a teacher's day (anywhere in the world) to keep up with students who spend endless hours on social networking websites, uploading and sharing files on the internet and "blue-toothing" audio files and photographs between cell-phones and hand-held devices.

The key is: the teachers I met knew they needed to move with the times, and they were actually willing to give up their holiday time to spend a week or more in a computer lab with five Canadians from Teacher Without Borders.

The results were outstanding, in my opinion. We were able to quickly establish collaborative relationships with our colleagues, and, as a result, offer training and advice at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. (The TWB Canada website has links to all the workshop information we created while in Cape Town and displays a series of workshops that most schools in Canada and South Africa could benefit from.

In conclusion, I feel that the TWB Cape Town Project was a wonderful experience - I made many new friends, hopefully left a bit of computer knowledge behind, and brought home many fantastic photos, memories and lessons from the people I met in South Africa. I would highly recommend a TWB project to other teachers - I am planning to sign up for another project, perhaps as soon as next year.

John Ehinger
Whitemouth, Manitoba

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What a wonderful and enriching experience! I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to collaborate with a team of 10 amazing teachers from all across Canada whose dedication, professionalism and talent is inspiring. It was extremely rewarding to work with such a top-notch group of educators, make connections with Kenyan teachers and students, share ideas and learn about cultural differences. We received a warm welcome at every school we visited and the Kenyan teachers who attended the workshops were very keen, responsive, and open to new ideas and active participants in all activities.

The TWB team, under the leadership of Noble Kelly, approached the workshops with an attitude of mutual respect, where the goal was for teachers to collaborate with each other, share ideas and learn from each other. With this respectful approach to professional development, the atmosphere was very positive and the end result was a fabulous experience for all. Noble’s endless work in preparation for the trip and behind the scenes ensured the success of this project and laid the groundwork for future TWB projects in Kenya. His sense of humour, organizational skills, patience and great leadership (not to mention his musical talent) made the trip even more enjoyable and successful.

The trip to Kenya included delivering two sets of workshops to Kenyan teachers, visiting primary and secondary schools, working with students, teachers and parents at a program for students with special needs, meeting with the director of the Kenya Institute of Education, and meeting Steven Weaver, Director of CIDA’s programs in Kenya. I truly enjoyed every part of this experience and feel honoured to have shared it with such wonderful people (and a very cute stuffed turtle named Victor!)

Thanks for doing such a great job, TWB- Team Kenya!

Carolanne Oswald
Victoria, BC

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There’s something about the smell as soon as you walk out of the airport in Nairobi into the soft African night. The combination of diesel fumes, road dust and charcoal smoke from countless cooking fires began to fuel an excitement deep down inside that grew as I drove in the taxi towards the city, passing spreading acacia trees, illuminated billboards for Safaricom and Tusker beer, and even at that hour of the night, people. People walking along the side of the road, alone, in groups, carrying briefcases, shopping bags or loads of firewood on their backs with leather straps passed around their foreheads for support.

It was this sense, fueled by those first sights and smells, that there was a whole new world to discover here in Kenya - to explore, to live in, to learn from, to hopefully contribute something to - that made me lay any slight apprehensions aside and embrace the challenge that lay ahead with Teachers Without Borders.

And what a challenge it was. How do you put together a workshop for teachers whose average class size is over 50, who don’t have electricity in their classrooms, who often don’t even have enough desks?

What I discovered was that we could relate as colleagues. When you strip everything away to the essentials, we do the same job. We work with the same basic tools – chalkboard and chalk. We believe in the power of education to affect change, we care about our students and we want them to learn. I realized that the workshops were not about us, the Canadian teachers, teaching Kenyan teachers about our superior Canadian methods, but about us as colleagues working together. Working together to grow as teachers, to learn new ideas from each other, to share our different experiences and to build professional relationships with each other that would transcend the three or four days of the workshops.

I came away from the TWB-Kenya project with a profound respect for my Kenyan colleagues. I learned so much about teaching and learning this summer. I came back home with a renewed sense of global connectedness, of being a citizen not just of Canada, but of the world. I am more energized and motivated as a teacher than I have been for years. My head is buzzing with new ideas and plans for the coming year, especially how to incorporate my experience into my teaching this year, and how to maintain and grow the fledgling connections I’ve made.

I can’t end this reflection without mentioning the fabulous team I worked with for a month. We met as virtual strangers in Kenya but became friends instantly. My team members were incredible professionals with a great breadth of experience in teaching and traveling. Noble’s leadership helped us to stay focused (and on time), flexible and good humored (all of those, except punctuality, are essential in Kenya I discovered). Everyone put in a great deal of work and I think we all look back in pride not only at what we accomplished with this pilot project, but at what we learned and how we grew over our month together.
Anita Hayhoe
Toronto, ON

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For a four-week period during July and August of 2008, I was honoured to be a part of a Teachers Without Borders team in Kenya. I have been a classroom teacher for more than thirty years. The experience in Kenya was one of the highlights in a most rewarding career.

Yes, in preparation we did communicate by email, by phone, and by Skype conference calls, but we had never actually met as a team until we met in Kenya. We had only a few short days to coordinate our efforts to get ready our workshops with Kenyan teachers who we had never met before. What a challenge! Yet it worked. We, as a team of 10 Canadian teachers from various cities from Victoria to Montreal, from different disciplines, from widely varying degrees of experience, came together as professionals. When the first day arrived for us to present our workshops, we were ready.

The Kenyan teachers are amazing. They welcomed us and responded so well to our work with them. They do not meet together very often. In Canada, we have opportunities to attend workshops, conferences, and to meet in departments. For some of our Kenyan colleagues, this was the first time they met in years. It is so good to see how engaged both the Canadian and Kenyan teachers were during the workshops.

Their teaching conditions are quite different from that of the average Canadian classroom. In most of the classrooms we visited, the brick walls were often bare. There was a single blackboard at the front of the room. Classes are large. At one of the schools, I spoke to a young Grade 1 teacher. She had just graduated from secondary school and had 95 students in her classroom. At the primary level, it is not unusual to have so many students in one room. At the secondary level, the number of students varies, but a class of 30 students would be considered a small class.

When classes were still in session, we got to meet the students. Sometimes, the head teacher would call the students to an outdoor gathering place to address them and to meet us. The students would politely arrange themselves according to their grade. A microphone was not necessary. We spoke to them, and sometimes a senior student would be asked to address us. My most memorable moments with the students came when I could talk with them individually or in smaller groups. At one school, I was surrounded by students who listened eagerly as I helped one of their peers with a chemistry problem. The younger students loved to have their pictures taken and shown back to them on our camera screens. At times, when they saw us, they would run to us and gather around us. Some of the children just wanted to touch our hands. We were captured by their spirit, and by the beauty of their songs and dances.

Of course, it was not all work and no play. We went on safari at the Maasai Mara National Reserve. I was awed by the thousands of wildebeests in their annual migration across the Serengeti - Mara ecosystem. We saw elephants, giraffes, hippopotamus, baboons, impalas, topis, gazelles, zebras, rhinoceros, warthogs, and many other animals and birds. We went on a horseback ride on Mount Kenya. We crossed the equator as we travelled to northern Kenya. In our travels to the workshop site, we skirted along the Rift Valley and were treated to fantastic views. We even made the occasional trip to a nearby shopping centre where I could satisfy my urge for chocolate and explore a Maasai handicrafts market.

This kind of experience could not have happened without the hard work and vision of Noble Kelly, the president of TWB Canada. Thank you Noble. Also to Mali Bain, a wonderful teacher from British Columbia who did important ground work for us while volunteering in Kenya.

It is said that teachers are the key to the future of the world’s children. Yet many children do not have access to education, and many teachers face difficult teaching conditions. Those who work through Teachers Without Borders can make a difference. I believe that in Kenya, we rekindled that inner spark in the heart of both Canadian and Kenyan teachers. Both groups learned and benefited. In the end, it is my belief and hope, that it is the children, they who hold the future, who will benefit the most. For me, it is building the future. It is responding with gratitude for a rewarding career. It is giving back.
Dennis Kuzenko
Winnipeg, MB

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A friend of mine sent me an e-mail near the end of February that said, “You may be interested in this”. The e-mail contained information about recruiting teachers to do volunteer work in Kenya with an organization called Teachers Without Borders. I filled the application forms and sent them off. At the beginning of May I found out that I was selected to be part of the team. I was ecstatic when I heard the news.

The next few months were busy. Meetings in regards to the Kenyan assignment were held. Communicating with other team members constantly through e-mail in regards to lesson plans, activities and workshops took a fair amount of time. On top of that, the school year was coming to an end. Life was hectic from May to June. I remember finishing my last activity for a workshop on the last day of school. I then had to start packing to go to Kenya. I was excited.

Landing at Kenyatta International Airport, lining up for customs and looking around me, I finally realized that I was in a place far way from home. The road to Nairobi with a pothole here and there and with people hustling and bustling on each side of the road gave me the feeling that this was going to be very different than Vancouver.

On July 19, I drove to Jumuia Conference Centre. I entered the guarded area of the centre with great metal gate. Inside the grounds there was a building to the right, which was the main building. About hundred yards from the building was the cottages. I found the men’s cottage with four individual rooms in it. Behind the cottage were a soccer field, tennis courts and a basketball court. This was going to going to be my home for the next month or so. Konrad and I would make good use of the soccer field in days to come.

The rest of the week was hectic. We had only few days to organize for the Secondary workshops. I remember my first drive to Maai Mahiu, where the workshops were held, and looking at the Maasai land and part of the Rift Valley below as we descended on the road to Maai Mahiu. The image of this land would become part of my memory for the rest of my life.

The team members were reserved at the beginning of first day of the workshops. We did not know what lay head of us. There was also a level of excitement. Once the introductions were made and we began to engage with the Kenyan teachers, beautiful relationships began to emerge. At the end of the day we were proud of what we had accomplished and the Kenyan teachers were appreciative for what we had done. The next two days were amazing in terms of the material we presented and it was wonderful to watch how receptive and engaged the Kenyan teachers were. I learnt so much from the teachers in terms of their curriculum and the examination the students had to write in standard eight and form four. I was horrified to find out that the examinations counted for hundred percent of the student’s final grade and if they did not pass the standard eight exam, the student could not get into a high school. I also learnt the teachers in Kenya never had an opportunity to have professional development. This was the first time they had come together to learn about pedagogy, delivery process and the assessment of the subjects they taught. The secondary workshops were a success. I felt proud of the team and the Kenyan teachers.

The following week would be busy in travelling. We visited many schools and some them were in rural and remote areas. On these travels we saw amazing landscape and met lot of caring and wonderful teachers. I remember visting schools that had no running water, no electricity and outdoor toilets. I saw classrooms made out of poles with aluminium sidings and aluminium roofs. In some classroom I saw eighty-four students in them. I remember thinking to myself, how do you teach eighty-four primary children? I met students who told me he walked five kilometres each way to come to school. I was very touched.

After visting the schools we began our preparation for the Primary teachers. We were much more relaxed for these workshops. Our meetings with the Primary teachers before the workshops helped in terms of our preparation. We were able to address some of the needs in our workshops. The Primary teachers were much more energetic and enthusiastic. They lifted our energies. The kind words iterated by the teachers at the end of the workshops indicated to us how appreciative they were for what we had done for them.

Our work in Kenya had come to closure. After the last workshop we had gathered for our debriefing meeting. In the meeting we shared our moments and the highlights of our trip and what it meant to each one of us. I was proud of all us. These were people who I had never met in my life from all parts of Canada. In one short month we connected through the people of Kenya and its land. There were lots of hugs and tears when we left.

I was born in Nairobi and left at the age of four. I always dreamt about visiting my birthplace. To me it was important to revisit the place I was born before I departed from this world. I was glad I had an opportunity to contribute to Kenyan people through my profession and work with Teachers Without Borders.

On my last day in Nairobi on my way to the Kenyatta International airport I remember telling Oxbgja, my driver, that I will miss Kenya and I will miss the land and the people. I clearly recall Oxbgja saying, “ Maybe you return next year and bring your family”. I know that one day I will return to Kenya and help the Kenyan people and their children. Kenya is a part of me.

Sohan Dulai
Vancouver, BC

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Kenya is a literary place, a collage of poetic moments and untold epics that seem transparent at first, but are often shrouded by a dark mysteriousness that permeates the country. Every day of my five week stay in this persistently hopeful country left me struggling for adjectives. I was awed, angered, saddened, delighted and inspired over and over again, every day, all day, until I fell into bed each night too exhausted to make sense of what I had seen. I've chosen a story that affirms my belief that the most important part of the experience with Teachers Without Borders was the lifelong connections we brought back with us.

The community that surrounded our heavily fortified conference centre was called Kabuku. The people here are relatively well off, meaning they have cement walls and solid roofs that thieves can't remove. A few of my colleagues and I often went for walks in the green hills just behind the main road. We were charmed by the tidy family farms, the brightly painted fences, the flowers, and the friendly people who were surprised to see mzungus (white people) wandering through their neighbourhood. Anne of Green Gables would have been at home in this little village of curving dusty roads and hobbit-like abodes. She may have been surprised by the number of children herding goats and sheep or struggling with giant water containers on their backs. She would have been delighted as the younger children surrounded her, laughing at her pale skin and daring each other to shake her hand or touch her hair.

This Sunday morning Anita, Sohan, and I had attended an Anglican church service. We were asked to stand and introduce ourselves to the congregation. We told them we were visiting Canadians. Afterwards, we went for a two hour walk up into the hills. I noticed a young man following us. An hour into the walk, he finally gathered the courage to approach us.

"Excuse me," he said, "My name is Kenneth. I love Canada! I'll prove it!" Which he did, by taking off his coat and his white Sunday shirt. This revealed a bright red t-shirt with the word Canada boldly printed on it. I laughed and asked him how old he was and what he liked to do. He said he was 17, in his final year of high school and that he loved art, evidenced by the porcupine quill (used as an art tool) in his hand.

When I had left for Kenya four weeks earlier, my friend, Darlene, had given me a spectacular briefcase filled with pencil crayons, oil paints, pastels, water colours, and charcoal pencils and asked me to give it to an art lover. I had begun to fear I wouldn't find the right person because art is last on a long list of priorities in Kenyan schools.

I'm a committed rationalist, but as I stood at the peak of this valley, surrounded by idyllic green hills and farms on this warm Sunday morning and listened to this young man talk about his passion for art, I couldn't help but believe, for the moment anyway, that some sleight of hand had orchestrated this moment.

"Meet me at the gates of the Jumuia Conference Centre at 4:00. I have a gift for you."

Unfortunately, we had a full day planned with the rest of our group and did not return to the conference centre until 7:00 p.m, three hours late for my meeting with Kenneth. I asked at the gates; they told me that he had come, but was mistakenly told the Canadians had gone back to Canada. I can't imagine how disappointed he must have been. I went to Margaret and Patrick at the front desk and pleaded for help. I showed them a picture of Kenneth and asked if they could find him. I was leaving the next day for another part of Kenya but was willing to drop by the centre on my way to the airport in one week's time if Kenneth could be located. I gave them my cell number and left. Five days later, I got a call that Kenneth had been found. Patrick and Margaret had gone back to the Anglican church to find out if anybody knew him. Since the congregation wasn't there, it was difficult. They persisted, and through a long series of connections, finally found him. He would be waiting at the conference centre on Sunday at 10:30 a.m., exactly one week, to the hour, that I had last seen him.

I arrived at 11:30 and there he was dressed in a dark suit five sizes too big. He'd been waiting since 7:30 a.m. Kenneth was, of course, thrilled with the gift. He was nervous and shy in his formal suit, and I realized how much courage it had taken him to initiate this whole experience. He said it was the most amazing gift he had ever received. We shook hands, exchanged emails and promised to stay in touch. When I got back to Canada I told this story to the art teachers at our school; they said they would be thrilled to develop a relationship with him in order to nurture his love for art and send more art supplies.

This connection, and others I brought home from Kenya, was one of the most valuable parts of my experience with Teachers Without Borders. The biggest challenge of the whole experience began the moment I arrived home and opened my journal. I've spent days sorting through the dozens and dozens of requests, some realistic, some not for lesson plans, computers, supplies and contacts with Canadian teachers. Kenyan teachers are hungry to learn and develop relationships with teachers in Canada. Unfortunately, there are virtually no opportunities for professional development in Kenya because teachers are forced to be extremely competitive. Knowledge is hoarded because teachers depend on the success of their students to secure future promotions. Because these teachers can't rely on each other for support, a committed partnership with a teacher in another country is an invaluable resource for Kenyan educators. This doesn't always require a financial commitment, especially if the teacher in Kenya has access to a computer. My goal is to bring Kenyan and Canadian educators and students together in a meaningful way - it's a little like being a matchmaker without worrying about height and weight! I've found that Canadian teachers are equally enthusiastic to connect with teachers in other countries, especially when they come attached with stories and pictures.

The first question everybody asks me is whether this trip changed my life. The answer is a resounding yes; however, the tense will always stay present. The experience will continue to change my life in a profound way because I can no longer change the channel when I don't want to see images of needy people in Africa. The images are a permanent part of who I am, and I now feel more compelled than ever to help. Is this a burden? Perhaps. But perspective is one of the many gifts I took home from Africa.

I want to end by thanking the Canadians I worked with on the trip. To Konrad Glogowski for being a computer genius with exceptional social skills (isn't this a rarity?), Anita Hayhoe for generously giving me her antibiotics, and being an exemplary English mentor, Carolanne Oswald, for overcoming a bad hit on the trip and inspiring me with her incredible work with the special needs kids in Africa, Sharon Peters, for her generous medicine cabinet and her over the hill enthusiasm for technology (I'm hooked), Sohan Dulai for his consistent acts of kindness and the magical walks in the hills of Kabuku, Kim Jonat for her youthful response to the crazy world of Kenya and her fabulous sense of humour, Dennis Kuzenko for his passion for science and the plight of the poor and for always making sure I didn't get hit by a car or worse (I noticed), Betty Kiddell for being everybody's mother - a kinder woman doesn't exist, Mail Bain for being the most forward thinking and courageous young woman I've ever met, Shannon Howlett for braving Tanzania on her own, teaching me how to eat ugali, and helping me find humour and perspective in the darkness, and finally Noble Kelly, our resilient leader, whose hard work, perseverance and ideals made this a life-changing trip for a huge network of people in Canada and Africa - may Celine Dion sing you to sleep every night…
Silvia Knittel
Langley, BC

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What happens when you take thirteen Canadian teachers from four different provinces and education systems and have them meet for the first time in a foreign African country in order to create PD workshops within three short days for teachers in that culture?

One might be tempted to think they would not have much success.

These were our initial challenges as we arrived first in Cape Town, South Africa, then later in Limuru, just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. We had very little time to acclimatize to the culture and understand how the education systems in South Africa and Kenya operated. On both occasions we were invited on our first day to meet officials representing the area's education systems so that we could learn more about the area and schools.

In the case of Kenya, the District Education Officer of the Naivasha region was an enthusiastic supporter of our initiative and had arranged for thirty-five of the high schools to send two teachers each to our workshops. The following day, the directors of the Kenyan curriculum invited us to Nairobi to the Kenyan Institute of Education (KIE). They gave us an overview of the Kenyan curricula for English, science and maths. As well, they invited us to provide a report of our visits to the schools and with the teachers.

Nonetheless, I had a certain amount of apprehension about the expectations placed on the success of our workshops. We are the very first Teachers Without Borders team to work in Cape Town and in Kenya. The short visits to one or two schools before our workshops provided insights into the stark realities that teachers face in both countries, but in Kenya particularly – overcrowded classrooms, very very few resources, pressure to succeed at state standardized tests that seemed to focus exclusively on evaluating trivial minutiae through trick questions. A very limited number of university spaces are available each year in Kenya, which exerts great pressure on students to succeed. In fact, a limited number of high school positions are available as well, so the Standard 8 (gr. 8) exams also have high stakes associated with them. Also, while caning was banned a few years ago, we were left with the impression that this mode of discipline was still used in some places by teachers in order to maintain control.

Of course, we also faced a certain amount of tension within our groups as we groped to understand the differences between our provincial curricula as we created the content for our workshops. Just struggling to find time between our visits so that we could prepare was trying for us as many of us were attempting to deal with jet lag and huge cultural differences. By the third day, though, we had worked through our differences and had created some great resources and materials for the teachers.

For each of the workshops, we began with a brief 20-30 minute overview of the topic and then broke into groups to promote interaction and dialogue between the South African and Kenyan teachers. Two of our workshops challenged the teachers to consider models of informal self-driven professional development within their own learning communities. Other workshops on the topics of project-based and objective-based learning, cooperative learning, assessment, learning styles and study strategies were provided.

The feedback from the teachers was very positive. They especially enjoyed the interactive sessions where participation was encouraged. This is a very different model from the typical Kenyan classroom where teachers lectured from the front to a passive audience of students.

My Canadian colleagues very much have impressed me with their professionalism and creativity throughout the workshops. It has been a privilege to work with them and I have learned a great deal throughout this experience. As well, I have been awed by the professionalism, knowledge and creativity demonstrated by my new African colleagues.

Noble Kelly, our TWB Canada prez, had hoped we would quietly make our way into Kenya for the first time and do a few workshops with some interested teachers; instead, we have made quite a splash there. In rural Kenya, it is difficult not to notice ten wazungu (white people) visiting schools and small towns. At times I have felt like we are a traveling freak show on wheels. This past week, we had follow-up visits to schools at their invitation after the workshops. A few times, while standing amongst hordes of students, I would feel my long fine blonde hair stroked, handled and caressed. Small children have no shyness and run to greet us wherever we are. They especially LOVE to have their photo taken, so at times we have caused near riots by simply bringing out our cameras.

Fortunately, we have been very well supported by our partner NGOs in both countries, Edunova in South Africa, and Comfort the Children (CTC) in Kenya. They have gained a good deal of respect here for their own initiatives supporting the local economy through micro-businesses, health care and the environment.

I have visited many places in the world; Africa hits one in the gut at an elemental level. It is more than just the people - it is the variety of cultures, the sights and sounds of so many languages, the give and take in trying circumstances, the creative improvisation when something breaks down or gives way, the sense of time not being a real pressure. And, of course, being a team member of TWB has given me access to real people in the culture living in real circumstances - not just a tourist who sees the nice parts of the country. Indeed, our “vacation” to the safari of Maasai Mara has placed us in the situation of being a “mzungu tourist” and it has been an entirely different experience for us - somewhat uncomfortable after seeing the grittier side of Kenya.

Somewhat like parenthood, I was not adequately prepared for Africa. One can read and be informed; living it is another thing altogether. I have picked up some literature about Africa by Africans when I have been here - I plan to be that much better informed for my next visit!

Sharon Peters
Montreal, QC
(Taken from excerpts from my blog written during my trip,

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My 14 000+km journey from Vancouver to Kenya began back in April 2008 when I found out I would be part of the team facilitating workshops in Kenya. I tried to prepare myself both for the workshops and the inevitable culture shock I would soon face by reading books and surfing the web. I don’t think anything can fully prepare you for immersion into Kenyan culture. The people are wonderful and the land is stunning but the differences from our culture are staggering.

Throughout the entire trip I was amazed by the day-to-day challenges faced by the Kenyan teachers and even more so by their ability to look beyond these obstacles or improvise to get by. Most schools did not have electricity, all had water tanks, outhouses and some had windows, although they were usually broken. There were no whiteboards, AV equipment or overheads. No, there was a chalkboard and many eager students, sometimes 4 to 5 on a bench meant for 2, peering up at the teacher. I was stunned at how hard the students studied for their upcoming examinations. I came to realize how much Kenyans value education and was troubled at how most of my students in Canada take it for granted. Education gives people hope. I will never forget when the Kenyan Institute of Education’s director of secondary education stated, “Exams are a matter of life or death in this country.” In other words doing well on exams is a viewed as a golden ticket out of the cycle of poverty.

Although I am a fairly new teacher to the profession having only taught for five years; the secondary and primary workshops were definitely a highlight of my career thus far. Professional development in Kenya is virtually non-existent so our arrival was like a breath of fresh air. The Kenyan teachers possessed a contagious energetic spirit. The lengths the teachers go to on behalf of their students were incredible. Some of the teachers traveled up to three hours and many left their families behind all in pursuit of learning new ways to help their students. The primary workshop was held during school holidays yet there was a still a full house. The information on teaching methodologies such as cooperative group learning, project-based learning, learning styles, study skills, assessment and developing professional learning communities was very well received. Each session began with an introduction followed by group learning activities. Cooperative learning was a foreign concept to most as the typical Kenyan classroom involves a teacher giving a lecture to a passive audience. In the sciences and math, the teachers opened my eyes by how much they could do without fancy lab equipment or technologies. One of the most valuable parts of the workshops was the opportunity to engage in informal conversation.

Although the work was demanding, I came away with a wealth of new information about education in general, teaching methodologies and math & science activities from both the Kenyan educators and from my fellow Canadian colleagues. I feel more motivated and energized as we begin this school year. Now I am working on incorporating my experiences into my teaching, sharing my experiences with colleagues and fostering the connections I have made with Kenyan teachers via the Internet. The trip also allowed us an opportunity to connect with curriculum policy-makers from the Kenyan Institute of Education and to share our thoughts and insights on education. They were very receptive and welcomed our reports containing feedback and suggestions.

I want to take a moment to share one of the most memorable parts of my trip. I will never forget descending into and driving across the floor of the Rift Valley to visit a Maasai school called Namuncha Primary School. Three years ago the school consisted of a shady patch under a tree in the schoolyard where students would gather for the day’s lessons. A lot has changed since then. The school now has 3 classroom blocks, a donated computer lab and more rooms are under construction. The traditional songs and dances performed by the Masaii students and the entire school were a testament to the pride they have for their school and their tribe. Kenyans’ hunger to learn was never more clear then when I learned of a twenty-eight year old man who had returned to standard 5 (grade 5) at this primary school to further his education. We continued our journey that day with the headmaster of the school and one of his past pupils who is now in secondary school. She took us to her family’s compound where we met her family, learned about the Maasai peoples and were served a traditional lunch. I will never forget this unique experience.

I have taken away a myriad of memories that upon reflection seem a bit surreal. I never expected to gain so many lessons from the Kenyan teachers and people. It’s such a world of difference from here that it’s hard to put into words. A special thanks goes out to Noble Kelly for his vision and for orchestrating the entire project, to Mali Bain for organizing logistics both prior to our arrival and throughout the trip, to our partner NGO Comfort the Children based in Maai Mahiu who helped supported our endeavors and helped arrange logistics on the ground, and to the amazing TWB team of 2008! It was an unforgettable experience that has changed my life and one that I will cherish for years to come.

Asanti sana,
Kim Jonat
N. Vancouver, BC

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My experience with Teachers Without Borders touched me deeply, and I'll never forget it. I heard about TWB from a colleague who participated in the summer of 2007. I've had some involvement in service trips in the past, but usually as a teacher-sponsor. While these experiences have been rewarding, what really interested me about TWB was the opportunity to work and share with other teaching professionals. So, of course I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to do some technology in-service with South African teachers.

I'd like to thank Noble Kelly for his vision in starting TWB-Canada, and for his tireless work in managing the organization, and promoting the cause. I'd also like to thank my other TWB colleagues, Sharon, John and Konrad for their professionalism, creativity and good humour not only in South Africa but also in the planning stages leading up to the workshops. I’d love to work with any or all of you guys again, and I hope we do some day. Finally, I would like to thank my employer, Crofton House School, for their support of my involvement, and for ultimately providing professional development funds to assist in my travel costs.

During our third week in South Africa, after 2 successful 4-day teacher workshops, our group met with representatives from Edunova, a Cape Town-based NGO, to go over the details of a "Principals ICT Boot Camp" that we were planning together. During a moment of personal reflection it struck me that the efforts of so many people working together, although physically divided for the most part, was the key to our success. I took a moment to send an email to the senior administration of CHS, just to let them know that I was a part of something amazing. Here is that email:

Hello from South Africa!

I'm taking 5 minutes to 'multi-task' and send this message while our team plans for a Principals' ICT workshop. The two week-long workshops for teachers were well attended - about 60 teachers in total. It has been an empowering experience for all concerned, and our team has received many messages of thanks (see below). Teachers who in some cases had never used a mouse have created blogs and wikis, joined social networks and converted hand written notes into PowerPoint presentations.

Personally, I have had a great cultural and professional experience, working with South African teachers and the other ICT specialists from TWB Canada.

Thank you for supporting my involvement; it is truly the best personal and professional development I could imagine!


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This is part of an email I received from a teacher who attended our second workshop, in Fezeka, a township school near Cape Town.

Thank you David for your restlessness torward our self development, it is unimaginable kindness to give up what concerns you so that you may pursue what concerns others. Please continue the good work, selflessness is uncompared even in things that seem to profit little or nothing, so be encouraged always. Thank you David.

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David Dallman
Vancouver, BC
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Read Konrad's South African reflection here...


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