In 2008, I received a phone call from the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) to discuss the possibility of going to Sierra Leone with Project Overseas (PO). I knew very little about Sierra Leone and had only collected impressions from a few news reports that focused on the civil war. I knew I had lots to learn. Like many other volunteers, I had applied for PO because I wanted to make a difference, and this seemed like a great opportunity to learn about the host country and to share my teaching skills and experience.
Project Overseas is a joint endeavour of CTF, participating member organizations such as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), and overseas partners such as the Sierra Leone Teachers’ Union (SLTU). The primary focus of PO is delivering professional development for teachers in developing countries. Each Canadian volunteer leads workshops with a co-tutor from the host country. Excited to be connected with a co-tutor, I prepared for the challenge by reading, speaking with PO alumni, and organizing a binder of possible lesson plans.
Although we had several unexpected challenges that first year, we managed to work alongside co-tutors, delivering lessons on the various workshop topics requested by the SLTU. The teachers were extremely open-minded and positive. They participated in my choral read ing lessons and morning messages with great enthusiasm. Together we tried our best to work through the tight schedule.
When I returned in 2009 as a team leader, the highlight was reconnecting with my SLTU colleagues and their families. Our team attempted to bring local resources into the workshops. We also tried to reinforce content from the various sessions to make the program more holistic. Like the summer before, my time was filled with unique learning experiences. One evening, I sat with Jacomo Bangura, a colleague from SLTU, catching up on our last year and discussing the PO program. The electricity went out, but the conversation didn’t skip a beat; we continued to talk by flashlight about the benefits and drawbacks of PO. We both had many unanswered questions about what was happening after participants left the capital city, where PO took place, for their homes in rural communities. We questioned whether they had the resources and support to implement workshop ideas. Wewondered how we could include more local ideas in future workshops and what was missing from our program. Jacomo suggested it was time for follow-up and encouraged me to come back to Salone in 2010 to undertake research that might shed light on some of these unanswered questions. This conversation and my critical reflections about PO in Sierra Leone developed into graduate research in which I followed up with past PO participants.