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Project Overseas delivers a life-changing experience

September 27, 2016

A teacher workshop participant works on some material that she can take back to her classroom.

This past summer, 10 Alberta teachers participated in Project Overseas, travelling to seven different countries. Here is a sampling of first-person accounts of their experiences.

What is Project Overseas?
Project Overseas is a joint endeavour by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) and its member organizations to give professional assistance to fellow teachers in developing countries. The project takes place during the months of July and August.

Started in 1962 with one program in Nigeria, Project Overseas has helped teacher organizations in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Since its inception, 1,853 Canadian teachers have participated in the program. Currently, approximately 50 volunteers are sent each summer to about a dozen countries.

The deadline to apply for the program this year is midnight, Nov. 1.
More information is available at


Program is memorable and important

Carla Cuglietta


Project Overseas is a program to help people with limited or no training in developing countries prepare themselves for the exciting and complicated profession of teaching.

The project I was part of this year was situated in Eastern Uganda, a district whose students were scoring the lowest in the country. Our mission: train people to teach literacy, numeracy, physical education and peace education.

Peace education helps teachers develop classroom management skills in countries where corporal punishment may still be commonly used. In all subject areas, we demonstrated child-centred learning and we worked together with local co-tutors to come up with strategies to manage issues unique to their country. For example, one challenge was teaching phys-ed with no equipment to a class of over 125 students; another was teaching students to read without books or visual aids on the walls.

We wrapped up the weeklong workshops by providing materials to each group to make teaching aids, which they could take back to their schools. This was perhaps my favourite part of the project — seeing the faces of 40-year-old men and women light up when they got to use a marker to colour a poster they could keep … priceless.

Project Overseas is amazing. It is memorable, important and, in many cases, life-changing work. I am proud to be part of an organization that supports teachers not only here at home but also all around the world, and I was honoured to be one of the teachers chosen in 2016 to take part. ❚

Carla Cuglietta is a religious studies teacher and service co-ordinator at St. Joseph Catholic High School in Edmonton.

Sierra Leone provides incredible experience

Brenda Knull
Sierra Leone

Alberta Teacher Brenda Knull enjoys a moment with some elementary school children during
their summer vacation in Kenema, Sierra Leone


It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another. – Nelson Mandela

I had seen Africa on TV and in books, but I could never imagine what life is like there. I had dreamed about being part of Project Overseas for more than 10 years. The stars aligned and I was selected to the team that visited Sierra Leone.

There was no better place for me to be, no better team for me to work with. The teachers we worked with showed kindness, resiliency and a willingness to learn that I haven’t witnessed before. How can people who have been through so much be filled with such optimism? How can they look outside themselves to better the lives of the students they serve?

I still have many questions circling in my mind about my time in Sierra Leone. It’s an experience that left a special mark on my heart. The teachers and students we met changed me the most. I heard stories of people who lived through the civil war and the Ebola crisis. The bravery and strength of these people is incredible.

I saw children wearing bright pink uniforms against their dark skin who had a keenness for learning. I saw other children, who weren’t able to go to school, stand on the edge of the schoolyard trying to take in anything possible. I can still see their dancing. I still hear the songs they sang, songs about peace. “Peace is knocking at your door … peace is knocking at your door.” ❚

Brenda Knull is a Grade 3 teacher at Jack Stuart School in Camrose. She also teaches Grade 4 music.

Participation is a privilege

Ron Wiebe

Six Canadian teachers travelled to St.Vincent and the Grendaines for Project Overseas (L to R):
Robert McKague and Ron Wiebe of Alberta, Alan Kwok, Catherine INglis (back) and Monica
Wilson of Ontario; and Trevor Ratcliff of the Yukon.


It was a great honour to be chosen for Project Overseas this past summer. I had the privilege of travelling to St. Vincent and the Grenadines with five fellow Canadian teachers to collaborate with local teachers from the islands.

The warm welcome we received is a memory that will forever be imprinted in my mind. The Vincentian people are extremely hospitable, and they made us feel like good friends and family the entire time that we were there.

While we were in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we had the marvelous privilege of working with co-tutors as part of the summer institute that the country’s teachers’ union organizes for its teachers every summer. The institute is a voluntary opportunity for all of the country’s teachers to engage in professional development in the subject area of their choice.

Professional development was offered in language arts, which I had the privilege of co-tutoring, as well as maths, social studies, science and assessment. It was inspiring to see more than 100 teachers take two weeks out of their summer vacations to enhance their teaching skills. The gratitude that they expressed towards the contributions of the CTF was genuine and sincere. ❚

Ron Wiebe teaches Grade 5 at Two Hills Mennonite School

Small contribution leaves big understanding

Fran Korpela
Ghana, Africa

Alberta teacher Fran Korpela poses for a photo with a new teacher and her baby. Korpela
enjoyed teaching and taking tuns holding babies, as there were a number of them in the class.


Africa! The very word stirs up amazing images, and as I stepped off my final plane into the steamy, humid night air of Ghana, Africa, I knew that I was in for an incredible adventure. As a participant in Project Overseas, I had volunteered to spend the month of July in Ghana supporting educators. I travelled with seven other teachers from across Canada, and together we delivered three week-long seminars in various locations across Ghana.

Our focus was on “development co-operation,” meaning that we worked in a respectful partnership with the Ghana National Teachers’ Association (GNAT) to help it achieve its goals. GNAT identified the needs of its local teachers, and our Canadian team prepared professional development to assist in those identified areas.

The teachers in Ghana welcomed us with incredible warmth, and their repeated smiles and words of appreciation for my effort in sharing professional development with them humbled me. Teachers in Ghana work tirelessly with few resources, a small salary and many challenges, yet they are passionate about quality education. Together we laughed, discussed, challenged our thinking and encouraged each other. We commiserated together about student issues — it amazes me that around the world children are still so similar. The end result — 320 teachers in Ghana improved as teaching professionals, and I improved as a teacher and a person.

I shared a bond with my fellow Ghanaian educators as we stood together, holding hands and singing their union song: “Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong.” My small contribution this summer left a very big understanding within me of the power of education to change a child, a community and even a country. ❚

Fran Korpela teaches Grade 8/9 social studies and language arts at Woodhaven Middle School in Spruce Grove

Overseas experience reignites passion for teaching

Lawrence Hunter
Ghana, Africa



I was fortunate to be one of eight Canadians selected by CTF for Project Overseas, Ghana 2016. While serving in the military, I enjoyed being a part of something bigger than myself. The CTF mission in Ghana was an amazing experience that gave me the opportunity to again give back and be part of something bigger than myself. I had the opportunity to collaborate with some amazing colleagues and friends, from both Canada and Ghana.

On arrival in the capital city of Accra, we spent four days planning our program and presentations with our colleagues from the Ghana National Teachers Association (GNAT). Our team then travelled to three different regions: Kumasi, Koforidua and Hohoye. I had the honour of teaching classroom management and new teacher wellness due to my experience in special education, severe behaviour disorders and interest in teacher resilience. We scaffolded professional growth plans, a new concept for GNAT, assisting new teachers and administrators in mapping out authentic plans to meet their specific needs. This was a successful process and I returned to Canada feeling that I gained more than I gave.

Ghana is as diverse in culture as it is in geography. When not teaching, we had many opportunities to explore the local areas. Our senses were overwhelmed! We saw colourful clothing, heard the drums, danced with the locals, enjoyed the foods and explored the markets. We listened to the birds and monkeys at night, encountered giant beetles and other strange insects, and enjoyed fresh coconuts, mangoes and cocoa pods. I look forward to future CTF opportunities to further explore diverse cultures and collaborate with new colleagues. This experience has reignited my passion for teaching. ❚

Lawrence Hunter teaches math, language arts and outdoor pursuits at L.Y.Cairns School in Edmonton.

Team Sierra Leone 2016

Get involved; change lives

 Debbie Payne-Reid
Sierra Leone

 Debbie Payne-Reid poses for a photo with pupils in Songa, Sierra Leone, Africa, where she says the K-9 school has been transformed by the work of Project Overseas.


Team Sierra Leone, West Africa, consisted of a four-member CTF team that gave educators with the Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU) knowledge that will impact their students for a long time to come. What I learned is how much these resilient, persistent, strong people — who have suffered through things like civil wars and the Ebola epidemic — would teach me about who I am. I left the country a better person — because of my team, because of my experiences and because of the people of Sierra Leone.

For 21 days, we provided inservice on the subjects of literacy, numeracy, peace education and safe schooling for girls. Our days were 10 to 12 hours long and conditions were difficult. The first 10 days found us with our co-tutors in Freetown, the nation’s capital. For the remainder of our time we travelled to a town called Kenema, where we witnessed more of the traditional culture. There we had an opportunity to extend ourselves into the community, to provide food and soccer balls to children, and to facilitate professional development for another 100-plus teachers.

Many effects of Project Overseas are evident, but so much work still needs to be done. Women are still required to prove themselves in the education world (I had many tough conversations with both female and male teachers about equality). More education is needed on their code of conduct (I represented CTF/ATA at their union meetings), although pedagogy and facilitation skills are being conveyed from teacher to teacher. These teachers are so dedicated to their students that they often walk an hour or more just to attend professional development. All of this is possible because CTF and our Association have been part of all of these changes. I urge you to become involved; you will change people’s lives. ❚

Debbie Payne-Reid teaches Grade 5/6 math and science and is also vice-principal at Turner Valley Elementary School in Turner Valley.

Unique opportunity

Robert McKague
St. Vincent and the Grenadines

 Teachers participate in a session on 21st century learning delivered by Calgary teacher Robert McKague during his Project Overseas visit to the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.


Could you imagine teaching for a month on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the heart of the Caribbean? Well, that’s exactly how I spent three weeks of my summer.

I was fortunate to be a part of the Project Overseas initiative that allows teachers to be culturally baptized in this amazing island culture. This experience was initially enhanced with a productive teacher in-service training session at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation headquarters in Ottawa. Upon arriving at our destination, and during the weeks there, we were introduced to the many wonders of the island. We toured the oldest botanical gardens in the Western Hemisphere; visited Fort Charlotte, where cannons face inland due to a British bid to conquer the island; and admired the incredible architecture of St. Vincent’s numerous cathedrals.

In conjunction with our co-tutors, we collaborated and massaged the instructional curriculum with the goal of providing the best pedagogy and methodology for a meaningful educational experience for all. In order to foster student engagement, we concentrated on 21st-century learning by incorporating dance and music into each lesson. By making learning fun, everyone was able to learn through best practices. The culmination of the summer institute was called Canada Day,  which included hockey, curling, cultural food, dance and music. We knew we had been successful when the teachers, in their final presentation (which was filled with choreographed dancing and singing), claimed that they had profited from the Canadians’ professional involvement. What was brought home to me was that I am part of a global teaching federation and that I have the responsibility to promote public education globally.

Project Overseas was a lifetime rewarding experience, and must be experienced to fully understand the impact it has on developing countries. I worked with some of the most dedicated teachers, who endured great challenges just to attend the institute. I am grateful for this truly unique professional development opportunity, and I cannot wait to share my newfound knowledge and experience with students and colleagues. ❚

Robert McKague teaches mechanics, carpentry and social studies at St. Francis High School in Calgary.

Le Togo, petit pays d’une grande beauté

Roxane Thomas
Togo, Afrique


Des enseignants du secondaire participent à un jeu conçu pour les informer sur la propagation du virus du SIDA.

Le Togo est un splendide pays de l’Afrique de l’Ouest. Depuis mon retour je ne peux oublier les sourires contagieux des Togolais, leurs habits flamboyants, le rythme effréné de leurs danses, les couleurs écarlates des étalages de fruits et légumes, la terre rouge et les fleurs extraordinaires de ce pays enchanteur.

Notre séjour a débuté par un accueil des plus chaleureux, suivi d’échanges et de rencontres enrichissantes avec les représentants syndicaux et avec nos coéquipiers togolais pour planifier les prochaines semaines de formation. Des enseignants des cinq régions du Togo ont fait le voyage jusqu’à Kpalimé afin de parfaire leurs connaissances dans plusieurs domaines, dont les mathématiques, les sciences, la littératie, l’équité des sexes, l’évaluation et les stratégies d’enseignement et d’apprentissage.

Quel privilège ce fut d’échanger et de collaborer avec des enseignants si motivés et si dynamiques!  Leur détermination, leur courage, leur passion de l’enseignement et leur désir d’apprendre malgré les multiples défis qu’ils rencontrent au quotidien et le manque de ressources, m’émerveillent.
Participer à Projet outremer m’a fait réaliser à quel point le droit à une éducation de qualité pour tous, peu importe notre situation géographique, est une priorité, et qu’en tant qu’enseignants nous avons un rôle très important à jouer.

Merci à l’ATA et à la Fédération canadienne des enseignantes et des enseignants pour cette expérience inoubliable. ❚

Roxane Thomas enseigne à l’école Desrochers de Jasper.


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