Project Overseas continues to grow from humble origins in Africa

December 4, 2017
By Lynda Gellner

As well as having had the chance to deliver professional development workshops to teachers in Ghana as part of Project Overseas, Lynda Gellner and her colleagues also had a chance to interact with students as part of an early childhood education component.

What began as a pilot project in 1962 with two Canadian teachers collaborating with Nigerian teachers has grown into a program that has involved over 2,000 Canadian teachers supporting more than 3,000 missions and projects.

The main objectives of the program are to support the professional learning of teachers in developing countries, to help overseas teacher organizations strengthen their capacity and services to members, to contribute to long-term projects designed to strengthen quality, publicly funded public education, and to promote understanding and goodwill among teachers.

Canadian teachers work side by side with local teachers and facilitators in developing and delivering workshops and learning sessions specific to the needs of the community of teachers from that district.

I had the honour of continuing this collaboration during the summer of 2017. I was partnered with three Canadian educators (one from Alberta and two from Ontario), and together we served our teacher colleagues in Ghana.

Two teams were assigned to work in Ghana, so we morphed into a group of eight serving through two different projects. Our team worked with teachers and administrators in the Nkabom project and our colleagues worked with teachers in the New Entrants Program. Teachers and administrators for our project were selected from rural and isolated schools deemed as high risk.

This project rotates among three different districts in the country; therefore, this type of professional development is available to teachers every third year. Teachers apply to the Ghana National Association of Teachers and from the hundreds of applicants, 80 are selected for the week-long session. Each week we met and worked with 80 educators, and in total, 240 educators touched our lives.

The teachers’ desire to expand their toolboxes to better serve their students was inspiring. I was quickly reminded of the creativity and resourcefulness of educators when we discussed ways of adapting strategies to work with the resources, or lack of resources, available in their community. Many of our teachers were working in schools with limited to no available resources aside from the walls that provided shelter from the elements.

Collaboration was a key pillar of the project. Collaboration started for our team in Canada as we were introduced to each other through email and Skype. We began to plan out how we could use the talents and skills we each brought to the team to serve the areas requested by GNAT. Collaboration continued once we arrived in Ghana and met with the local co-facilitators assigned to partner with us in each location.

This partnership not only allowed us to best understand the needs of teachers and schools in order to provide relevant and useful learning sessions, but it also served to build capacity at a local leadership level.

The focus of instruction for our project was literacy, numeracy and early childhood education. As well, all participants from the weekly conference of 400 teachers were involved in sessions on gender equity, HIV, and mental health and wellness.

GNAT is a strong advocate for the needs of teachers and students. The union works hard on getting fair compensation for teachers and promoting quality public education for all children.  The leaders of GNAT adopted us while we were guests in their country and their appreciation for our time and contributions to the professional development was humbling.

I would highly recommend Project Overseas. It is truly a rewarding professional and personal experience.