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INTERVIEW


OPENING HEARTS AND MINDS


MELISSA RABESS AND PEGGYSUE BACON REFLECT ON THEIR EXPERIENCE OF PROJECT OVERSEAS


VOICE: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what connected you with Project Overseas?


MELISSA RABESS: I have been an educator for 15 years with the TDSB. My path to becom- ing a teacher was not a direct one. As a child and youth worker, I supported hundreds of marginalized youth as they tried to maneu- ver through various systems and institutions to meet their basic needs for food, housing, education, employment, transportation and medical attention. The ongoing challenges they faced to their educational success and well-being motivated me to become a teacher. I have also always believed that access


to high-quality education is a right to which everyone is entitled. A key component of quality education is adequately preparing teachers with useful training and experience. I was motivated to support teachers in devel- oping countries committed to improving their practice. I chose CTF’s international program because of their belief that teachers learn best from other teachers. It is also important to me that CTF is committed to working in partner- ship with national teacher organizations in the global south towards the goal of quality public education for all students. In July 2009, I embarked on my first Proj-


ect Overseas (PO) experience in Uganda. Since that first trip, I have been privileged to repre-


sent ETT, ETFO and CTF as a PO team mem- ber in Dominica (2013) and as a team leader in Guyana (2016) and Uganda (2018).


PEGGYSUE BACON: I am an Ojibwe/French woman from a small gold-mining community in northwestern Ontario called Red Lake. I was born and raised there and left a few times for higher education and/or work but I have al- ways come back to the area as this is where my roots are. My mother is an Ojibwe Elder from the Mishkeegogamang First Nation near Pickle Lake, Ontario, and my father is a French man from Amos in northern Quebec. My father went to Pickle Lake to work in the mines. He met my mother and they both moved to Red Lake in the early 60s where my father worked in the mines until his retirement. I am the sec- ond youngest of five, with four brothers. I was taking part in another wonderful


ETFO program called Leaders for Tomorrow. During one of our sessions my roommate was filling out an application for Project Overseas and she asked me if I was interested. I said no. When I got back to my school, during lunch one day, a flyer caught my eye. It was the world in the shape of a pair of open hands and I real- ized that this was what my roommate was talk- ing about. It resonated with me and I filled out the application. I had never been out of Canada except for a few trips with my family as a child. This


was a big leap out of my comfort zone. I was selected to go to southwest Uganda to teach physical education.


VOICE: What did you hope to gain from the experience? What did you hope to bring back to your own classroom?


MELISSA: Sometimes we need to step outside of our own situations to gain a fresh perspec- tive. Every time I applied to Project Overseas my hope was that I would get back to the rea- son I became a teacher – to make a difference in the lives of students by focusing on sound pedagogy and student-centred teaching and learning. I witnessed teachers in Africa and the Caribbean coming to our workshops every day motivated to do their best to improve their stu- dents’ learning despite their lack of resources, overcrowded classes and sometimes going unpaid. Following their example, I returned home a better teacher with strategies grounded in my own creativity and the belief that the students I work with are my most valuable teaching resource.


PEGGYSUE: I hoped to gain a better under- standing of how different cultures deal with


E ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO 23


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