From my experience, participants in Sierra Leone are often very excited to be a part of PO and meet Canadian teachers, and seem to enjoy the interactive experiences. As a Canadian co-tutor, it is easy to get lost in this excitement, with a great feeling that you are making a difference. This enthusiasm can drive the program forward but it is important to step back and ask questions.
For example, the following critical questions, adapted from the work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Shawn Wilson, could remind us about PO’s intentions and help us infuse local resources into the workshops whenever possible.
- For whom is this project relevant and how do I know? Who defined the terms of the workshops?
- What is my role in the co-tutor relationship and what are my responsibilities?
- How do I help build respectful relationships with all those involved in PO?
Our responses and the conversations that unfold could lead not only to improved understanding of international relationships and histories, but also to our challenging them.
Debriefing: An experience abroad does not necessarily mean that people have learned or progressed in their thinking. Instead, it can actually reinforce stereotypes about the host country, our role as volunteers, and/or poverty. This is why a debriefing component is critical upon our return home from PO. Not only is it important for volunteers to share stories, we also need a formal opportunity to think critically and confront our personal beliefs and actions. Asking deep questions and taking time to engage in critical dialogue helps us process our stories and opens our minds to other interpretations. At a recent ETFO debriefing session, we discussed the power of our messages upon our return home. We need to ensure that we are passing on a clear message to our students, colleagues, family, and friends that this is our interpretation of the experience, not the experience.