Palliser teacher to work with new teachers in Africa this summer

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A veteran teacher from Palliser Regional Schools will be sharing her expertise with beginning teachers in the African nation of Ghana this summer.

Vanda Rufli, who teaches at Wild Rose Colony School near Vulcan, is one of 57 teachers from across Canada chosen to participate in the Canadian Teachers’ Federation Project Overseas this year.

Started in 1962, Project Overseas encourages teachers from Canada to provide professional development to teachers in developing countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.

Rufli will be one of eight teachers in two groups assigned to Ghana; another eight Canadian teachers will be working in neighbouring Togo. The African contingent is small and Rufli is thrilled to be among them.

“I feel like I won the lottery,” she says. “It’s an opportunity I might never get in a lifetime.”

Ruflli’s journey will begin in Ottawa where she’ll spend a few days in orientation. Her next stop will be Accra, the capital of Ghana located on the Gulf of Guinea. She’ll travel the country working with beginning teachers, discussing gender equality, mentorship, classroom management and student behaviour. Those are key broad topics, but the needs of teachers at individual schools could vary widely, and she won’t know until she gets there what the schools will have for technology, resources and needs.

The not knowing is part of the adventure. She’s never been to Africa before, but she’s no stranger to teacher professional development. Rufli is the PD facilitator with the Alberta Teachers’ Association, working with teachers in 10 school divisions and districts across southern Alberta.

She may be uniquely suited to work in Africa. As a Hutterite Colony teacher for 22 of a 26-year teaching career, she works in a setting that requires a cultural sensitivity that includes limited access to technology.

Her passion for ongoing professional development is embodied in a quote from John Cotton Dana: “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”

“Professional development is a professional responsibility,” she says. “You should always experience new things you can add to your teaching repertoire.

“I see it as a continual growing of my professional house. There’s always renovations you can make.”

The last time a Palliser teacher was accepted to Project Overseas was in 2000 and 2001 when long-time teacher and administrator Don Zech spent two consecutive summers, also in Ghana, working with senior secondary head masters (principals). Zech is now vice-chair of the Board of Trustees of Palliser.

Zech said his time in Ghana was a tremendous learning experience.

“It enhances your view of the classroom as a world classroom,” he said. “You learn a lot about yourself and the people were incredible.

“I’m glad I went. I wish I’d have gone sooner and applied sooner. It was an experience.”

He said one of the most heartrending experiences was visiting a slave castle with a group of students and feeling almost overcome with claustrophobia in one of the holding rooms where people were held before being shipped to America.

“The depth of educational compassion I gained, I really believe I grew while I was over there.”

Teachers can apply for Project Overseas through the ATA, which then advance names to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. For more information on Project Overseas, visit