Reflections 2009

During July and August 2009, we were able to affect change with more teachers (both at home and abroad) as we expanded our reach with more workshops in South Africa and Kenya. We were able to network with more local leaders and NGO's and for the first time (as part of our model) include local teachers as facilitators in both countries. It was an ideal year for Canadian and US teachers to experience this transition and to be part of our growth.

Here are the reflections from some of the team members that worked on the Education Beyond Borders (formerly TWB-Canada) projects during the summer of 2009:

Alison, Betty, Dennis, John, Lee, Lois, Mandy, Mary-Anne, Silvia, Steve

Also check out video reflections from some of our new Kenyan teacher facilitators here.
This was my second trip to Kenya with TWB-Canada. The first trip was veiled with my own romantic notions of Africa, which is so often the case when visiting countries about which you’ve already seen hundreds of images and movies. These clichés float around your head interfering with what you’re actually seeing. I felt a little wiser this time, a little more truthful in accepting what I was seeing.

If idealism propelled me last year, it was inquiry that guided my trip this year. Was I doing the right thing in coming back? Is TWB-Canada doing the right thing? Is this an organization I’m going to support in the years to come? I promised myself to answer these questions honestly.

As it turns out, my questions were answered by the Kenyan teachers themselves. They told us over and over again that they loved what we were doing, that they had learned new practices they were excited to implement in September, that they had changed their classrooms because of what they had learned in our sessions the year before, that Learning Styles and Gardner’s Intelligences are eye-opening (and could we please find a way to teach these concepts to the new teachers graduating from the universities), that rubrics are powerful and time-saving, that assessment is more than a final exam. They told us loudly and consistently that what we were doing had made a dramatic difference to their teaching practices.

When we got to Utumishi Academy and started planning our second conference, this time with our Kenyan colleagues whom we had chosen last year as leaders, I realized that we were engaged in something powerful. These teachers, Simon, Samuel, Moses, Ndauti, Benson, Joseph, Kia, Redfern, John and James told us on numerous occasions that we had changed their lives. Beth, a participant from last year, told us that the changes she made in her classroom were so dramatic, she had to quit her job because her principal didn’t understand what she was doing. Happily, she found a new position where she and her students are excelling. Again and again, teachers shook our hands, asked us to return, and told us they had learned valuable and practical teaching methods.

In the end, I believe teachers need each other. Everything I’ve learned about good teaching practice has come from other educators. I have been influenced by my colleagues at my school in Canada in addition to many non-Canadian educators - Harold Bloom and Howard Gardner are American, after all. Sometimes I find inspiration on the Internet and other times I go to professional development workshops and gain new insights that change my approach. I learned from a Kenyan teacher this summer as he took my lesson plan and made it better. The only difference between me and my Kenyan colleagues is luck and circumstance; I am able to access a wealth of resources, while most Kenyan teachers can not.

The majority of teachers we came into contact with rarely, if ever, used computers. Thus, much of the pedagogy we were able to share was new to them. Clearly, the teaching conditions in Kenya are different from those in North America; class sizes, for example, are massive. However, the participants, being professional educators, were able to take what we presented and make the necessary changes in order to make it relevant to their reality. This is no different than what I do when I go to a professional development seminar in Canada. As teachers, we pick and choose what works for us.

I came home with many ideas I felt would make the experience better for the Kenyan teachers and the TWB-Canada team members, but also many, many proud moments and stories that provide ample evidence (for me, at least) that TWB-Canada is an organization that is filling a need and is doing it well. I believe our Kenyan colleagues would be extremely disappointed if we didn’t return.

Silvia Knittel (Langley, BC)

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Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. –Barack Obama

As I relayed to friends and family about my idea to work with TWB-Canada, many asked why I wanted to travel to Kenya, “It’s to go on a safari right?” Noble also asked a similar question (while under the African stars), “What do you want to get out of this experience?” We all individually have our reasons, but as a few of the TWB members chatted one night, we each recognized that it never occurred to us to NOT be involved in an organization like TWB-Canada. In our schools and personal lives we (along with whoever is reading this I am guessing) are constantly aware and involved in local and global issues. We talk about poverty, famine, education, justice, etc. relentlessly with our students. We are always working towards change, “We are the change that we seek.”

In the workshops this ideal was not only entrenched with the TWB-Canada team but clearly shone through with the Kenyan participants. The friends we made were very responsive, open to new ideas, and very active in the sessions. All participants wanted to work towards change. Colleagues of every age group and of city/rural schools all banded together and shared passions for methodologies they currently, successfully used, and how they could add new ideas to their classrooms and schools. In each session enthusiasm for teaching and learning was ignited!

It was very clear that our colleagues were just that-equals. We are all teachers, just in different locations with different materials at our fingertips. It took a bit of banter with the Kenyans to show them our similarities: whiny students, homework not being done, home issues, lack of books, poverty… We have parallel problems with varying degrees. On the whole, we all believe in the power of education to affect change, we care about our students and we want them to learn!

The best part about the trip was sitting with our new friends at lunch or in sessions and hearing their stories of life and classroom. Making connections is amazing and we are friends and co-workers for life! Emailing back and forth is exciting and rewarding! I am glad to continue our relationship and bring more Kenyan teachers into our international community of teachers/learners.

There is a Bible passage that mentions that for a rich man to go to heaven is like a camel trying to fit through the eye of a needle. For all you non-religious folks, this is not a Bible-thumping paragraph but to note that while in Kenya I realized how unbelievably rich I am in experience and opportunity (despite being broke financially!). To NOT give back isn’t even part of my thoughts. Especially with children and education, we need to continue to be a part of the change that this world needs.

This is how change happens. It is a relay race, and we're very conscious of that. Our job really is to do our part of the race, and then we pass it on, and then someone picks it up, and it keeps going. And that is how it is. And we can do this, as a planet, with the consciousness that we may not get it, you know, today, but there's always a tomorrow. –Alice Walker

Mandy Kinzel (Squamish, BC)

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As a wildlife biologist and someone whose favorite animal is the elephant, and still is I might add, I have always wanted to visit Africa. However, I didn’t want to make the journey until I had a greater purpose than merely being a tourist. Some countries it seems like being a tourist is sufficient, but I never felt that about going to Africa.

Early in 2009, I wondered if there was a Teachers Without Borders, like other ‘Without Borders’ organizations, so I went online to check it out. I found TWB – Canada and liked what I read, so I joined the organization. When I got emailed that the 2009 summer teacher positions were posted, I had a decision to make. I thought for a couple of days…was this going to be the right combination of timing and purpose I had been looking for? I decided that it was; I applied and was given a spot on the TWB – Kenya team.

I had so many experiences this summer, and the trip has so profoundly changed my view on the world, it is difficult to pick which stories to share. However, I will share one from each of the two areas we visited that I feel exemplify the work of TWB –Canada.

Nanyuki
We had about 60 teachers attend our workshop in Nanyuki and immediately one teacher, Danson, stood out to me. He was walking around with a camera, which is an incredibly rare sight in Kenya. We started talking about our love of photography and the difference between digital and analog cameras. When we worked together in the science sessions his passion and love of science was insatiable. We shared ideas about how to teach students through hands-on activities with locally available materials and often there were many teachers around him listening to his explanations of how different battery set-ups or his liquid and air thermometers work. TWB gives teachers the opportunity to collaborate, share ideas, regain their passion for their profession and learn something new; nationality is irrelevant.

I recently received a letter from another participant from Nanyuki who said ‘ I must say that the workshop was wonderful and I personally learnt a lot from it. In fact I feel duty bound to share what I know with others. I am meeting my colleagues next week so that we can roll out a plan to reach out to others.’

Gilgil
I have a strong passion for cross-curricular learning and it has been something I have been developing during my teaching career in Canada. However, through the course of many conversations with my Canadian team, particularly Silvia, I realized that I am not really practicing what I preach; I am a scientist and have never felt comfortable in English classes or enjoyed writing. Since this was the second year of workshops, we had Kenyan facilitators working alongside the Canadian team and so I decided to attend an English session led by Moses, an incredible Kenyan teacher. Moses used a number of strategies given at the workshops that kept me engaged and helped me enjoy learning about and actually writing poetry. I can personally attest that the goal of TWB-Canada to build capacity among Kenyan teachers to facilitate their own PD is well on the way.

I want to thank Noble, for having such great vision and including me in the process, and the rest of the Canadian team for their stimulating discussions and passion for teaching.

Alison Stuart (Calgary, Alberta)

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This past summer was my second trip to Kenya with Teachers Without Borders – Canada. After the first trip in 2008, I was unable to write a reflection because I found the experience life-changing and a little overwhelming. It was a positive experience and the team members were remarkable professionals. The entire four weeks last year were spent in intense collaboration between the team and the Kenyan teachers whom we spent time with in the workshops and school visits. It was impossible for me to “sum it up” in only a few words.

This past July and August, it was a thrill to see some of those Kenyan educators again a year later and collaborate with them once again. I was better prepared for the school visits with laminated photos of polar bears and other Canadian animals to pass around. They were very useful in the “baby class” where the students practised saying the English numbers on the back of the calendar photos.

I have to say a big “thank you” to my friends and colleagues who donated cash and supplies for Kenya. Because of their generous donations, I was able to purchase ten desks for Endana School near Nanyuki, and fruit and biscuits for the Nanyuki Children’s Home. In addition to that, two laptops donated by Manitoba Hydro are now being used in Kenya. I was also able to meet the student at Loise Girls Secondary School who is being sponsored in grade 9 by the students and staff at Acadia Junior High School, my school in Winnipeg.

The Kenyan teachers are remarkable for their dedication and resilience. Most of them have very large classes of up to one hundred students, and have few resources. In spite of this, they bring enthusiasm and a positive outlook to the classroom. The students are keen to learn and greet visitors with huge smiles. I have returned to Canada with a renewed appreciation for how lucky we are in our schools, with our smaller class sizes and multiple resources.

I will treasure the memories of waking up to watch “Harry” the hippo plodding into the water in front of Pelican House, and seeing “Max” the rhino follow his keepers back to their huts for the night.

The team members from across Canada and the United States, engaged with the Kenyan teachers in daily discussions about education and provided a unique opportunity for professional development. It was fabulous to make new friends with these dedicated teachers in Kenya.

I left Kenya very concerned about the lack of rain in the last three years, and the resulting food and water shortages. There were schools in Laikipia planning to keep some students at school during the August holidays, so that they could be fed and not sent to homes where food was not readily available.

Noble Kelly had the vision to set up these workshops for teachers and I feel fortunate to have been picked as part of the team. What an amazing experience it has been! I am looking forward to keeping in touch with our many educator friends in Kenya.

Betty Kiddell (Winnipeg, MB)

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It was the last day of workshops at Utumishi Academy in the Naivasha district and one of our Kenyan facilitators sat in front of me with tears welling up in his eyes. This was a teacher who was part of the workshops last year, and this year worked with us, teachers from North America, as a facilitator. He is an excellent teacher and a valuable member of the team. It would be difficult for us to go our separate ways.

Last year’s experience in the Naivasha district was a wonderful one. The members of Teachers Without Borders Canada presented their first series of workshops to both secondary and primary teachers in this district. We were very well received and the experience was very much a growing experience for all of us. This year, as part of our effort to build capacity in our Kenyan colleagues, some of these teachers became part of the TWBC team in planning the workshops. The Kenyan teachers helped to deliver the workshops in front of their colleagues. A few of them confessed to being nervous about it, but also how valuable a learning experience it was.

We in North America have so much in our schools. There are many times during the year when we can attend a workshop or an in-service. In Kenya this is rare. To have colleagues from different schools come together to discuss some aspect of education just doesn’t happen as it does here. To actually stand in front of colleagues and lead a session is even more unique.

Last year we visited the Laikipia district in northern Kenya, but did not deliver any workshops there. This year we returned to this district to deliver our workshops for the first time. The Kenyan teachers were also from primary and secondary schools. As was the case last year in Naivasha, the experience was enriching and valuable.

Working with the North American colleagues was also very positive for me. As was the case last year, we really met each other personally for the first time in Kenya, though we did plan together at a distance. We were able to work together very well and this for me is a mark of professionalism. An added opportunity in the Naivasha district was working with the Kenyan facilitators in planning and delivering the workshops. This also went very well and speaks to the professionalism of all the teachers who were involved.

East Africa faces many challenges. The extended drought has placed even more stress on the school system. For many students, the meal they receive at the school is the only meal they have in their day. One of the principals we worked with worked hard during the summer months to continue providing meals for students even though they were out during their summer break. At times, the dust from our road trips was so pervasive that we had to close the windows of our vehicle to prevent clouds of the choking particles from invading our space. Evidence of poverty is everywhere. Yet the Kenyan teachers persist. Despite their long hours, huge classes, and lack of resources, they persist. They must do so for the benefit of their students. This is very inspiring.

Kenya has left its mark on me. We as members of Teachers Without Borders Canada must continue in the valuable work that we do. Are we helping to close the educational divide? You betcha. For the young teacher who had tears in his eyes, I suspect he will stay in education a long time and Kenya will be stronger because of him.

Dennis Kuzenko (Winnipeg, MB)

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What Kenyan Teachers Taught Me About Myself

For whatever the reason it used to nag at me that I could not remember why or how I became a teacher. At the end of each school year, my stamina has dwindled over the years, or perhaps my approaching retirement has made me more nostalgic for what could have been, I find myself trying to remember what prompted me to be a teacher and for self-justification as to why I stayed in teaching for over three decades if it’s not all I ever wanted to be. I should stress that in no way do I regret my ‘chosen’ career. In fact I have had a blessed and rewarding stint as a teacher. I accomplished for my students and myself more than I ever thought possible, enjoying it in the process. Try as I might I can’t seem to find the answers in myself.

So how and where do I look for the answers? How else? I teach. Who do I teach? Teachers. Where do I teach? In developing and/or post-conflict countries. In the past few years I have been fortunate to work with teachers in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. While we in the West seem to have forgotten what twentieth century education scholar John Dewy said about education not being a preparation for life but rather education is life itself, schooling in these regions is not institutions but rather living entities, and I include not just the teachers and students but the school itself. Many of these schools struggle to survive. Whereas a school’s existence back home depends on bureaucratic, economic and ideological factors, schools in developing countries live and die with their surrounding environment including such things as availability of water which obviously has an impact on students and teachers at school and in their homes. Each time I work in such a location I question why anyone would want to be a teacher in schools where class numbers range from thirty to one hundred, class periods are thirty to forty-five minutes, a desk is made of scrap wood at which three students are cramped together, basic supplies such as pencil and paper are often a commodity, teaching amounts to whole days when the only voice heard is the teachers, notes are endlessly copied from crude blackboards, if one exists, into donated copy books like the ones I used as a child in primary school, floors are not to be assumed, and where windows without glass allow dust to cover everyone and everything.

Such was the situation that confronted me this past summer in Kenya. Ten Canadian and American teachers and I, all members of Teachers Without Borders – Canada, worked along side approximately one hundred and fifty Kenyan teachers in the districts of East Laikipia and Naivasha. In each of the districts we provided sessions in teaching methodologies and English Language Arts, Math and Science.

A colleague and I arrived in Nairobi a few days prior to the rest of the team. For the next few days David, a one-time banker, who early in his career decided that counting someone else’s money gave him no satisfaction, escorted us. Consequently he started his own school in slums on the outskirts of Nairobi. David took us to a variety of schools from completely opposite ends of the spectrum. We visited a private girls’ boarding school set among acres of manicured landscape. The exterior of the buildings were made of sculptured stone and brick while the polished wood interior could not hide the days when the school was operated by he British during the colonial days. David then took us to his own school, which in effect was comprised of two small structures covered in sheet metal. We were introduced to the few teachers on staff. Our discussion left me with the impression that each of teachers wanted to be, not had to be there, a foreshadowing of things to come.

The remaining members of the Teachers Without Borders Canada team joined my colleague and me three days later. The next day we left on a nine-hour drive to Pelican House, a beautiful donor residence (intended only for aid workers) located on the ninety thousand acre Ol’ Pejeta Conservancy. This was to be our accommodations for the next ten days. Each day we drove the dusty road from Pelican House to Nanyuki High School. At this point in this writing I am fighting the urge to digress and describe the fantastic sites, i.e. wildlife that made the Conservancy their sanctuary.

From the very start of our sessions with the Kenyan teachers we made an effort to dismiss the myth that as teachers from an industrialized country we represented leading experts in our field. While acknowledging that we come from ‘a land of plenty’, depending on who you talk to back home, our aim was to create an environment of collegiality, i.e. as teaching colleagues. Frankly I am not sure to what extent we were successful.

Many of the Kenyan teachers came from distant regions and boarded at the Nanyuki staff residence. For the most part they came not because they were ordered to attend, nor because they received a financial bonus, or doing so guaranteed their jobs. In fact, some forfeited paying jobs as census takers. They came for the simplest of reasons; they wanted to be better teachers. I think at the heart of their motivation for attending was that they wanted change in how they teach. For whatever their reasons, to use a cliché, they were like sponges, actively and intensely listening and participating in every word and activity we presented to them. Watching them working in groups left no question in my mind that they were there because they wanted to be. It was obvious that they were anxious to try the activities in their own classrooms, knowing that it might mean a drastic change to how their classrooms and even their schools were organized. Even those who recognized from the start that to implement what they would bring back to their school districts had little hope of being implemented were absorbed in the sessions, day after day.

At the end of our ten days at Nanyuki High School, we drove to Utumishi Boys Academy in Gilgil, where members of Teachers Without Borders Canada had been the summer prior. Several of the Kenyan teachers who participated in last year’s sessions were chosen as lead teachers who worked along side us designing and co-presenting the workshops. If there was any question as the effectiveness of the sessions the previous summer, these were dispelled in short order. The Canadian teachers who were part of the team from last year, while not surprised at how well the Kenyan lead teachers took charge of the sessions, were happily reassured that their efforts had been successful, which also put at ease to those of us for whom this was our first year that what we came to do does have an impact.

My time in Kenya helped to bring to the forefront both answers and more questions about why I went into teaching and why after thirty-three years I am still a teacher. And I must admit that seeing and hearing about conditions of teachers in developing countries helps to put in prospective my own whining about what I see as difficulties at home, though this does not lessen the value of my complaints.

So what did I learn from the experience, aside from the fact that Kenya is a remarkable country? In many informal discussions with our Kenyan counterparts I came to realize that the things that make us different are not as dissimilar as might be expected. Kenyan teachers struggle with wanting better salaries, as we do. Like many of us they dream of better teacher student ratios, like many of us. They work with little or no resources, like many of us who complain we never have enough of anything.

Samuel, one of the Kenyan teachers stated, “I began school in 1971. I admired teachers because they looked smart and was the most educated in the rural (area) where I grew up. They looked proud that they were teachers. Despite the many challenges facing teachers (in Kenya), my passion for the youth, my desire to prepare them for the accomplishment of their goals have kept me in teaching”.

Perhaps more than any other developing country in which I have worked, the Kenyan teachers, through their eloquent words, broad smiles, spontaneous excitement and pride for their profession and culture helped to clarify for me why I became and remained a teacher. Thank you to my colleagues in Kenya.

Lee Rother, PhD (Montreal, QC)

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What an amazing opportunity it was this summer to be part of the TWB Canada (ICT) team! It isn't often that you get the opportunity to work with others who share the same interests and passion as you.

Our work took us to Mbita, a community on Kenya's west coast, along the shores of Lake Victoria. Mbita is a community of about 7000 and the economy is largely reliant on fishing. This was the first year a TWB Canada team would be working in this community so lots of unknowns to think about. Hakuna Matata (Swahili for "no worries") quickly became a word we heard often and learned to live by. Poverty, HIV/Aids and malaria are all day to day realities for many in this area.

In order to gain an appreciation for the needs of teachers and to better understand the education system in this district, we spent the first three days visiting schools on the mainland and the three local islands. The schools ranged from facilities with several buildings and proper desks to one and two room brick or tin buildings with dirt floors and wooden benches for desks. All schools had one thing in common - a lack of electricity.

Education is valued in Kenya and is recognized as the key component to breaking the cycle of poverty. It is difficult enough for many to afford the uniform and school supplies, but for girls, it is even more difficult to gain an education. At the primary level, girls often outnumber boys but by Class 8, the number of girls dramatically decreases and their performance in school is often poor. This is the result of the role of the "girl child" to fetch the wood and water each day, prepare meals and to care for other siblings. Little time is available for homework so as a girl grows older, she falls farther and farther behind. Many girls by Class 8 have dropped out of school or don't have the marks necessary to advance to Form 1 (Grade 9). It is sad to think that by 13 a girl's path in life has been chosen.

The SUBA Resource Center in Mbita, equipped with computers and electricity was the location of our workshops. Although a central location, getting to the workshops each day for some was a challenge. All who participated were doing so on their holidays and the few teachers who came in from the islands were away from their families for the entire week. We set up a wireless network at the center that would allow participants to access resources from the workshop sessions but more importantly provide them access to millions of websites, magazines and journals stored on the eGranary Digital Library (internet in a box) that TWB Canada donated to the centre.

Teachers from many of the schools we visited as well as representatives from the District Education Office joined us for the five day workshops. Our goal for the week was to present ways to use ICT in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning. We had the challenge of presenting a series of workshops to teachers whose schools weren't equipped with computers and were lacking electrical power. There were times that we questioned whether this topic was really relevant. Our workshop sessions were a mix of hands on ICT skills and teaching methodologies such as backward design, cooperative learning, assessment and the development of professional learning communities. As the week went by the energy in the room increased each day as the teachers discovered how exciting it is to involve students in the learning process.

This experience was rewarding in so many ways. The community of Mbita, the teachers we worked with and especially our host family embraced us and made our stay so memorable. Although there are so many day to day challenges facing the community, you can't help but to be inspired by their warmth and determination. The lessons I learned and the experiences I shared have changed the way I view the world and have given me a renewed energy for my classroom.

Finally, I can't say enough about the five team members I worked with. Their professionalism, their humour, and their friendship made this experience unforgettable. I only hope that I have given as much as I have learned from each of them.

Asante Sana,
Lois McGill-Horn (Winnipeg, MB)

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If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. (African proverb)

Arriving in Nairobi in July 2009, I embarked on a month-long journey of discovery with my Teachers Without Borders – Canada colleagues. And what a journey! It was hard work on many levels, and intensely gratifying. Africa is a world far removed from our North American middle-class existence. Red dust, open fires, exotic wildlife, acacia trees, spectacular sunsets ... most striking to me was the Kenyan people themselves, who are hard-working, intelligent, musical, fun-loving and profoundly spiritual. In addition, their tribal cultures and ways of knowing the world opened my eyes to a perspective that is vastly different from ours. They find great joy in everyday life and delight in the unexpected.

The African teachers are most grateful for the opportunity to work with the mzungus (“foreigners”), their North American counterparts. They told us that we inspired them and that our work will have a ripple effect that will ultimately reach a much greater audience than we could ever imagine. Truth be told, I am quite certain I learned more from the Kenyans than they learned from us.

We went into the Kenyan communities as colleagues – not experts -- and we quickly learned that we all share a common passion for teaching and belief in lifelong learning. In an opening exercise, we asked the teachers, “What are your challenges?” and “How can we support you?” From that foundation, we developed workshops that they told us were helpful in building their capacity as teachers and as community leaders. We also gave them opportunities to work with the new ideas in collaboration with teachers from neighbouring schools and districts. Finally, they began to build professional learning communities so they can continue to learn from each other in the years to come.

Here are some comments made by our African colleagues at the conclusion of the workshops: • It is good. It is very good. • You reach a far greater audience than you know. • I have never learned so much before. • All was wondrous. • Today I touched a computer for the first time. I am happy.

To play even a small part in something good is humbling. In my heart, I know that we, the teachers who travelled to Kenya during the summer of 2009, were part of something profoundly good. And that knowledge is truly humbling. Asante sana, rafiki! (Thank you, friends.)

Mary-Anne Neal (Victoria, BC)

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Why I 'signed up' for the 2009 program:

For the personal professional development opportunity.
Did the experience meet this broad goal? Yes, I feel that it did. The time and effort I spent in preparing for this project forced me to review many texts and articles on teaching techniques and on subject-based topics.

Reviewing the Kenyan curriculums allowed me to reflect on my local (BC) curriculums – what was similar, what was not, why some things are presented when they are, and the m any possible inter-relations between various curriculum outcomes.

Of course, the actual time “on task” in Kenya, working with colleagues from various places (from Canada, the USA, and Kenya) on curriculum materials and teaching techniques was the most effective personal professional development activity that I have participated in many years.

To share teaching and management skills and knowledge with fellow teachers from Kenya.
As with every other experience I have had with this type of project, I have shared less than I have learned. Having said that, I got to share ideas, information, and techniques with my Kenyan colleagues every single day, as they got to share their ideas, tricks, and techniques with me.

To learn and to grow.
Absolutely. From having to share personal space with strangers (sharing sleeping space with 1, 2 or 3 other people you have just met, for three weeks), through large groups at every meal, travel in cramped conditions, different diet, and so on, I grew. I rediscovered patience and understanding. I practiced my listening and turn-taking skills, I got to sit back and watch and learn.

To learn about life in Kenya.
Yes. How can you spend three weeks traveling in a country, living in close company to ‘locals’ and not learn about a country? I saw first hand, up close and personal, drought, hunger, poverty, hope, pride, and dreams. I learned a lot.

To make new friends.
From my colleagues on the team to the many Kenyans I have met, I have made friends. Friends from many walks of life: waiters, drivers, teachers, housekeepers, cooks, conservation workers, and others.

Stephen Fairbairn (Elkford, BC)

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I still wonder, a month after returning, how I ended up on this team. Somehow, I went from a few offhand discussions of the theoretical possibility of entertaining the idea of submitting an application to be considered for a role on a team to getting on a plane with four people I'd never met for a six week adventure. To say I felt unprepared would be an understatement. Not only had I not been to Africa, I had also not been a classroom teacher for a decade. While my background in teaching and my current experience as an IT director for a school district served me very well, I wasn't nearly as comfortable as the rest of the team when it came to effective, interactive workshop facilitation.

I decided to approach the trip without preconceptions, at least to the extent possible. I had no expectations about the accommodations or the food, other than hoping we would be safe and stay healthy. I didn't know what to expect from the teachers. Would the language barrier be a problem? Would the cultural differences get in the way? Did they even want us to be there? I was very sensitive to the perception that we may be seen as the imperialists, coming from our rich, developed countries to show these poor people how everything should be done. One of the attractive things about TWB-Canada is the philosophy that we're colleagues working together. No one is the expert. We're simply helping each other be the best teachers we can be, with the goal of providing the highest quality of education for our learners.

As it turned out, we weren't really as unprepared as I felt. Sure, we didn't have every minute of every workshop scripted out ahead of time. But that wouldn't have done us much good anyway. Our workshop topics had to be adjusted to meet the needs of the participants. That meant a lot of changes as we adapted to their needs. But teachers on the team are among the best I've ever seen. Five minutes into the first session on the first day, I knew we'd be fine. By the end of the first day, any barriers between the North Americans and the Africans were gone, and we were able to work with the African teachers as colleagues.

My own role was a mixture of troubleshooting, advising, assisting, and facilitating. I helped configure caching proxy servers, install and configure software, work out issues with Internet access, and assist other team members with their sessions. I was happy to be able to help some of the school facilitators work out some networking problems in some of the schools. While my sessions focused more on the technology than on the teaching, they were balanced by my team members, who approach technology as a means for improving teaching and learning.

The key, though, was making connections with other teachers and other places. Working in rural Kenya and the black townships in South Africa has given me a different perspective on the world. It's somehow both much larger and much smaller than it seemed at the beginning of the summer. Driving through Cape Town for the first time, I had a hard time believing I was still on the same planet. To see so many people living in such poor conditions was heart-wrenching. As we toured the townships that first weekend, it took a long time for the living conditions to sink in. The students and teachers we're working with live in these neighborhoods. These families don't have any luxuries. It's a struggle to stay clean and warm and dry and fed. Yet the teachers are excited about learning more about technology. They want to help their learners succeed. They see technology as a way to help prepare their learners for the world they're going to inherit.

We saw the same thing in Kenya. Most buildings did not have electricity or running water. The schools had up to fifty students in a classroom, and the teachers had few materials beyond inadequate student desks and chalk. Some schools had dirt floors, and many students didn't have shoes.

And yet, at the same time, the struggles these schools are facing with technology are very familiar. What are the barriers to effective technology integration in the schools? The teachers cited lack of resources, lack of time, and lack of adequate professional development as their top three. If I asked my teachers the same question, I would very likely get the same response. It's clear that we're facing these challenges together.

It's difficult to maintain the momentum we generated in the workshops. In South Africa, the teachers are participating in online communities, and trying to support one another through professional learning networks. In Kenya, where Internet access is rare, the teachers are trying to support one another through the Suba Center where we held our workshops. As team members, we're trying to be as involved as possible in helping these teachers sustain the growth they've seen this year.

"Would you do it again?" I seem to get that question quite a bit when talking about my experience. My answer? "In a heartbeat." For me, though, the conditional tense in that question is essential. "Will I do it again?" Probably not. Certainly not next year. From a personal perspective, it was a very difficult experience. It required an extra three weeks away from my job, time that will have to be made up during the school year. It meant being away from my family for an extended period of time, which was very difficult for my wife and daughters. It was also difficult, financially, to make the trip a reality. But this year, this time, it was certainly worth it. I'm sure I gained much more from the experience than I shared.

John Schinker (Stow, OH USA)

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