Shawn Arsenault loves his job as a teacher.
So much so that he spent part of his summer teaching in classrooms halfway around the world.
“The experience itself was amazing,” said the Jasper Elementary School teacher of his recent trip to Africa.
Arsenault was one of 16 teachers from Canada, four from Alberta, who were selected to participate in Me To We, an organization which, among other goals, helps to better educate children around the world and give individuals a chance to experience another culture through hands-on experience.
Arsenault spent two and a half weeks in Kenya and in that time had the opportunity to teach a Grade 5 class, the same age group that he works with here in Jasper. The most obvious difference between the two educational settings was the lack of technology, he said.
“Even textbooks are pretty rare there,” Arsenault said. “Kids mostly take notes, listen to the teacher, and repeat what the the teacher says.” Arsenault noted that children often had to share pencils with their classmates because resources were so limited.
Class sizes were another difference that Arsenault had to adjust to. The class he worked with in Kenya had 77 students, compared to the 24 he teaches in Jasper. However, he reflected that the students’ attitudes made the learning environment productive.
“Over there, it was really just about having a simple, basic lesson and they would really enjoy themselves. There’s 77 kids and you could hear a needle drop in the classroom. It was eye-opening to see how kids there value education,” he said of his Kenyan students.
When Arsenault wasn’t teaching, he was helping to lay the foundation of a new schoolhouse. The heavy work included hauling water from the closest water source to the site where the concrete was being mixed.
Arsenault also participated in several cultural activities while in Kenya, including a water walk that entailed fetching water for one of the local families. Women in the area of the country that Arsenault visited often walk up to six kilometres round trip to bring water into their homes. They haul water in twenty litre jugs that they have to carry with straps across their foreheads.
“It was one of my favourite moments when we got back with the water and the woman said that we had given her a two day break because we had gotten all that water for her family,” Arsenault said.