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Thinking globally in Prince George

Gerry Chidiac teaches “Cultures in Conflict 12 at Duchess Park Secondary School in Prince George. Students in this course study not only genocide, but how it can be prevented, and how we can make the world better.

In the fall of 2009, Chidiac was asked by Allison Fedorkiw, a 2001-graduate now working in global development, if he would like to have a survivor of the Blood Diamonds Civil Wars come and speak to his students. The man who spoke to the students was truly an inspiration. Saah Joseph had suffered much and lost much as Sierra Leone and Liberia were embroiled in civil wars that were fueled by greed and disregard for life. He has not only survived these crimes against humanity, he has gone on to run schools in both countries, bringing hope and joy to thousands.

The room in which he addressed the Prince George students was in the old Duchess Park Secondary School building, one of the oldest in the region, and scheduled for demolition. Yet, it was functional. In fact, it seemed luxurious when compared to a place where students walk great distances on empty stomachs to attend school, where books and classroom equipment are scarce, and where administrators struggle to find salaries for their teachers.

This fact was not lost on Mr. Chidiac’s students. Kendra Kipping, a Grade-11 student, approached him a few hours after Saah’s presentation and said, “We are getting a beautiful new school building with SmartBoards. Why don’t we send the chalkboards from this building to Africa?” Chidiac agreed that this was a brilliant idea, and began to inquire as to how heavy, full-sized chalkboards could be shipped. It turned out that the local Rotary Club of Prince George–Nechako was arranging to ship medical supplies with a local doctor and Rotarian who also periodically helps provide medical treatment programs in Sierra Leone and Liberia. They generously agreed to send as many chalkboards and other school supplies as Saah would require and Duchess Park could send.

Thus began a co-operative project between Prince George teachers, students, administration, the Rotary Club, and schools in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In the end, 57 chalkboards, as well as chalk and boxes of textbooks, were sent by container from Prince George to Liberia, via Vancouver. A brilliant idea from a forward- and globally-thinking student has resulted in better learning conditions for thousands of African students for many years to come.

Chidiac has seen that his course inspires and empowers students. Every year young people not only learn about genocide, but also research examples of genocide and report their findings to their classmates. Their work challenges and moves us to act. Students can see that though humanity changes slowly, it does progress. We are creating a new reality that is better than yesterday. Sending chalkboards to Africa is one small piece.

Teachers interested in “Cultures in Conflict 12” can contact Gerry Chidiac at gchidiac@sd57.bc.ca. He will send a copy of the course framework, which can be adapted to one’s own teaching style, and then be presented to local school boards for approval.

Submitted by Gerry Chidiac, Duchess Park Secondary School, SD57
April 2010

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