Project Overseas 2014 – Uganda: Challenged, Changed, Cherished

By Angela Marr
October 27, 2014

“Ms. Marr, whatcha gonna do in Uganda this summer?” This question, asked by a wide-eyed 11 year-old, was sincere. He was fascinated by the fact that I was going to spend half my summer in Africa. I suspect he imagined I’d be riding elephants and chasing zebras, but his question was unassuming and direct. My response was simple, “I’m going to teach teachers.” I think he may have been slightly underwhelmed, but he accepted my response. When colleagues, family, friends, and teammates asked similar questions, my answer was essentially the same, “With a team of four Canadian teachers, I’ll be facilitating professional development in Literacy, Numeracy, Classroom Management, Physical Education and Life Skills for 160 Ugandan teachers, alongside four Ugandan Co-Tutors.” Little did I know, those rehearsed responses would describe only a fraction of my time in Uganda. As a member of Project Overseas “Team Uganda, Bugosa,” I was about to experience a summer like no other! I was challenged. I was changed. I will cherish the memories and experiences for a lifetime.

The Challenge.

Because we are, the Nation is. Teachers

Project Overseas opened my eyes to the working conditions of teachers in developing countries. It forced me to give my head a shake and see my physical teaching environment in a whole new light. I was challenged to stop complaining and, dare I say, whining about my educational resources. After teaching in stark Ugandan classrooms that contain only desks, chairs and chalkboards with no chalk, how could I feel anything but gratitude for the resource-filled room I taught in at Princess Elizabeth School last year, or for the beautiful light-filled office I have at Rothesay Park School? How can I grumble about my workload when I know that my Ugandan colleagues teach classes of 100 to 150 students in classrooms no larger than mine? I naively thought my challenge would be the heat, the mosquitoes, the change in diet and the fatigue. Not even close! The true challenge was to see how truly blessed I am to be a teacher in New Brunswick.

The Change.

During the opening ceremony of our training week, our team leader gave a speech. In it she stated, “Without challenge, there is no change.” She was inspiring our participants to be open to the teaching, to allow this opportunity to seep into who we are as educators, to be willing to change. She said it to encourage us, but those words were to become incredibly tangible. Before Project Overseas, I couldn’t fathom facilitating a PD session with only four coloured markers and five pieces of chart paper, not to mention no internet access, sometimes no electricity and no handouts. But, I now know that too was part of the challenge. The first morning, as my participants were filing in, I was almost embarrassed with the lack of sparkle and pizzazz in my session. I think my Ugandan Co-Tutor, Beatrice, could sense my tentativeness, so after introductions she strayed from the lesson plan and led the group in a “Good Morning Song.” They sang and danced and laughed and welcomed me into their community. In those five minutes, I was changed. Looking out at my captive audience, this group of adults who were so excited to learn, eager to soak in every idea/word/skill/ strategy that I had to share, I thought, “This is it!” It’s in relationship and willingness to change that professional development truly takes place.

Forever Cherished.

Group picture - Just the eight of us

Project Overseas has provided me with Canadian teammates whom I have grown to love! We came from different parts of the country, we brought different skills and talents to the project and our teaching experience was extremely varied. The Project also created deep and lasting relationships with our Ugandan Co-Tutors. It granted me an opportunity to visit a new country and immerse myself in its educational system. I visited rural schools and spent time with school children, whose teachers were participants in the training. These visits were so very special; they provided insight into the daily work of our participants and allowed for a deeper level of understanding when challenges were shared and questions were asked. I think some of my favourite memories will be slipping out of sessions facilitated by teammates, and reading on the lawn with the children of our participants. But, by far – my most cherished memories will be the appreciation I felt on a daily basis. What I was doing was so small in my eyes, but the level of thankfulness showered on me by the participants was both humbling and overwhelming! I am grateful to the NBTA and CTF for sending me to Uganda. Every teacher, in excellent health and with five years of teaching experience, should consider applying to teach with Project Overseas. I laughed, I cried, I sang, I danced, I taught, I learned. The thirty days I spent on Project Overseas have forever changed who I am as a traveler, an educator and a professional!

Angela Marr is a member of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association. She is currently the Vice-Principal of Rothesay Park School in Rothesay, NB where she also teaches Grades 6 and 7 English Language Arts. While preparing for Project Overseas Angela was teaching Grade 6 at Princess Elizabeth School in Saint John, NB.

Canadian Teachers’ Federation
2490 Don Reid Drive
Ottawa, ON K1H 1E1
Tel: 613-232-1505
Fax: 613-232-1886
Toll Free: 1-866-283-1505

Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

Editor In Chief: Francine Filion | Translation and Editing: Marie‑Caroline Uhel and Marie‑Hélène Larrue
Proofreading: Denise Léger
Graphic Design: Nathalie Hardy and Jean-Louis Lauriol | Web Design: Greg Edwards

Requests for permission to reproduce any part of this publication for academic, professional, or commercial purposes should be sent to Articles and advertisements do not necessarily reflect the views of the CTF.