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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 3, January/February 2004

Project Overseas: Sierra Leone

by Lynda Shioya

Before I went to Sierra Leone in July as part of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation Project Overseas team, I thought my focus would be on teaching and contributing from my professional experiences. By the time I left Africa, I realized I had learned and received a great deal as well.

Barry Muir (Saskatchewan), Ian McIntyre (Manitoba), Debbie Williams (Newfoundland), and I, went to Sierra Leone to share our experiences as teachers and our culture as Canadians. We also learned much from the people with whom we interacted. Our students had survived a brutal civil war. They face large classes, no salaries, no resources, no supplies, broken furniture, no plumbing, and daily power failures, yet, they are always ready and willing to see the humour in the human condition.

Upon our arrival at Lungi Airport outside the capital, Freetown, we were cordially greeted by members of the Sierra Leone Teachers’ Union (SLTU). After an uneventful but noisy helicopter ride in torrential rain, we were bundled into a car and driven to a guesthouse called "Posseh’s Residence," which was to be our home for the next three weeks. Over the following days, we made the requisite courtesy calls to various labour and education officials and, at our request, made two impromptu visits to local schools.

Our 10-day course of instruction began on July 14 with an official opening that included representatives from the SLTU and the ministry of education. Each day, we taught from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with an hour lunch break, and then we had a steering committee meeting from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

We taught 60 untrained and unqualified teachers from various regions of Sierra Leone. The participants are attempting to fill the void left by the exodus of qualified teachers from the country and the overwhelming number of children attending school. There are often 50 to 100 children in one class because the ministry of education has mandated universal education, with an emphasis on educating girls and integrating all children who are war veterans (kidnapped and forced to fight or to be "wives") into the schools.

The Canadian team co-taught and collaborated daily with instructors from Njala, Bo, and Freetown teachers’ colleges in math, science, social studies, and language arts. We concentrated on the primary grades, under the broad topics of syllabus (curriculum), teaching methodology, classroom management, motivation, lesson planning, and practice teaching. In addition, we held workshops on HIV/AIDS, peace education/ human rights, and gender equity at the end of the first week.

We ended the course by giving participants certificates of completion and educational supplies. In appreciation of our efforts, the SLTU and participating students gave us generous gifts of African clothing.

In our students, and in the people we met, we saw the human spirit overcoming all obstacles. The SLTU’s hospitality was overwhelming. They made us feel safe, comfortable, and welcome.

The needs of Sierra Leone are great. Here is a wish list from some of the teachers I met:

  • Volunteer to help set up preschool teacher training course at Njala College (Dr. Tom Dugba, Dean, Faculty of Education, Njala University College, Freetown, Sierra Leone, nuclib@sierratel.sl).
  • Send professional teachers’ books (all were confiscated from the teachers’ colleges and sold for pennies) to Lois Marrah, Inservice Co-ordinator, NCRDC, Ministry of Education Science and Technology, Tower Hill, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
  • Send lesson plans that can be repurposed and published by the SLTU to Morris Conteh, Deputy Secretary General, SLTU, PO Box 477, Freetown, Sierra Leone, emesconteh@yahoo.com.
  • Set up a sister-school program to provide supplies for front-line teachers, l_shioya@telus.net.

As the country’s infrastructure is rebuilt, we hope the teachers of Sierra Leone will develop their own curriculum to meet local and global education needs.

If you would like to help, there are many opportunities. If you have a sense of adventure and willingness to share professionally, I encourage you to volunteer for Project Overseas.

Lynda Shioya is a retired Surrey teacher.

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