Whenever she hears about a natural disaster, particularly in a developing country, Lisa Thistle’s heartstrings get tugged.
While she feels for all of the affected people, it is the schoolchildren and the stricken country’s educational resources that are foremost in her mind.
After years of wanting to participate in the Project Overseas program that has been run by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation for more than 50 years, the Corner Brook schoolteacher is finally going to get her chance.
The mandate of Project Overseas is to send teachers from Canada to developing countries to help upgrade their educational systems. The Canadian teachers apply through their unions — the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association, in Thistle’s case — to volunteer their time during the summer to work with their colleagues in poorer countries with the goal of helping them deliver higher quality education to students.
This summer, Thistle will be heading to Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the entire Western Hemisphere and one that has an educational system that leaves much to be desired. Haiti is still recovering from a major earthquake that hit the area more than four years ago which devastated many schools and other infrastructure.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Thistle. “We all sit back and feel helpless and ask ‘what can I do here in Newfoundland, a world away?’”
The French immersion teacher at G.C. Rowe Junior High School never bothered to apply for Project Overseas before because she was still raising two young children. With her oldest son about to graduate high school and her other son in Level 2, Thistle felt the time was right to go for it now.
“I think they are old enough that I can go for three or four weeks now,” she said.
Thistle will meet up with three other teachers — all from Ontario — on July 2 for four days of team-building and preparatory training for the mission. They will leave for Haiti on July 6 and spend the next three weeks there.
The first week will involve the team working with four of their Haitian counterparts. The following two will see them doing professional development with as many other Haitian teachers as they can reach.
The group will work to enhance the delivery of French, science and mathematics to Haitian students. Thistle speaks fluent French and has taught science and math in French.
Other teachers involved in Project Overseas will head to Africa this summer and will work on projects focused on issues such as teaching students with special needs or developing peace education programs.
“Many of the teachers in these countries finish high school one year, then the next year are back in school teaching because not many of them finish high school,” said Thistle. “Their schools lack resources and they lack funding.”
While she is looking forward to sharing her knowledge and experience of teaching, Thistle believes she will learn many things herself during the experience.
“I’m sure I am going to come back with a whole new appreciation for how good I have it and how good we have it,” she said. “I’m sure some teachers down there have faced difficulties I may someday face and won’t have an answer to. They may have already found answers out of necessity that I have not been trained to do.”
— Started in 1962, Project Overseas has assisted teacher organizations in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Caribbean.
— Project Overseas currently places around 50 volunteers in about 12 countries in Africa and the Caribbean during July and August. Financial assistance is now provided by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and its provincial and territorial teacher organizations.
— Around 2,000 Canadian teachers have participated in Project Overseas since its inception in 1962.
— To help teachers in developing countries upgrade their competence through in-service courses.
— To help overseas teacher organizations improve and strengthen their capacity and services to members.
— To promote understanding and goodwill among teachers.
Source: Canadian Teachers’ Federation