Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 15, 2010
Teachers share their skills overseas
Instead of taking holidays, some Catholic teachers go to developing countries to teach eager youngsters
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Even when school is out for summer, some teachers in Edmonton Catholic Schools keep busy in other countries by improving the education of low-income students.
Whether it is to expand their own horizons or to act in solidarity with the poor, a handful of teachers have taken their skills far afield and will come back to their classrooms in Edmonton with greater awareness.
Cecilia Godinez, a Grade 1 French immersion teacher at J.H. Picard School, had arranged to teach in Haiti last summer, but the H1N1 scare kyboshed the trip altogether. Instead, she went to the Dominican Republic and to a school called La Nueva Esperanza, which translates into The New Hope.
Indeed, she gave new hope to the students who came from large families with little money.
"I contacted the principal of the school and arranged to go there to teach French to Grade 5s," said Godinez. "The kids there didn't have any knowledge of French, so they were really excited to learn French and they were really motivated to learn."
The visiting teachers also implemented a health program at the school, promoting hygiene and dental care. The teachers provided toothbrushes to the students.
"We also did lots of after-school activities so the kids would have somewhere to go to be safe. I volunteered to help them with those activities," she said.
Amber Nicholson, a Grade 6 teacher at St. Richard School and also the social justice liaison for Edmonton Catholic, volunteered to work at a children's shelter in the town of Chapala, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.
The Mexican government's policy is to keep kids with their parents, said Nicholson, but this is unfortunate for those kids facing abuse, neglect and high-risk environments.
LOVE IN ACTION
Forty-four children, from newborn infants to 16-year-olds, were living in the Love in Action Centre. At times the shelter has as many as 50 or 60 children living there.
"They came from homes where they were barely talked to," said Nicholson.
Children are placed at Love in Action with the purpose of providing them with, depending on the individual circumstances, either a temporary or permanent home.
Anabel Frutos, a native of Mexico, founded the Love in Action Centre. Aware of the great poverty around her, she felt a need to respond. In 2001, a feeding program for children was established from her carport. Soon a parenting class was added to this weekly event.
Some weeks over 100 women and children showed up, and Frutos realized that a more permanent solution must be found. Determined and armed with faith in God, she secured some property where people could be fed.
Then classes in sculpting, crafts and salon training were implemented to help low-income people generate money. Next, a daycare and eventually a children's shelter were opened out of the centre.
As a Lenten project in 2008, Nicholson asked her school to do a fundraiser for the Love in Action Centre. She brought the money to the shelter.
Knowing minimal Spanish, Nicholson found basic communication with the children and other workers to be quite a task. She stayed at the shelter 24/7 teaching the children life skills, including cooking and cleaning.
"It was a pretty awful place to live. It was quite a shocker to be handed a kid when I got there," she said. "The bathroom, I didn't want to set foot in until I taught them how to clean it properly."
She told of her experiences in Intercom, the school newsletter, encouraging other teachers to go there and change children's lives with love.
Inspired by her own experiences, she applied to volunteer in Haiti this summer. She leaves for Jamaica on July 10 to receive training.
"Haiti should make Mexico look like a four-star hotel," said Nicholson.
She is raising money locally through Chance for Change, a not-for-profit organization working to help women in need of support, locally and globally, through monetary and material donations and volunteering.
The Wojcichowsky couple, both schoolteachers, decided that they wanted to experience a different culture and world.
"When the opportunity arose from the Alberta government to do an international teacher exchange, we were interested. We had to do a huge application, an interview and lots of waiting, but the outcome was we would be matched with another couple in Canberra, Australia," said Cathy Wojcichowsky, who teaches Grade 3 at St. Bernadette School.
She and her husband Andrew packed their bags and left for Australia - switching homes and switching classrooms.
"I am teaching at St. Jude's Primary School Year Two. At the school, I am on the math committee and one of the teachers that helps lead the student council," she said.
She called the international experience wonderful for the Australian teachers and the students as they learn more about each other's countries.
They will return to Edmonton in January 2011.
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