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.