Earlier this January, Huron Christian School (HCS) participated in a unique event called “A Day in their Shoes,” which gave staff and students at the school a taste of what life might be like for students who attend a variety of schools that partner with EduDeo Ministries— in the Dominican Republic and in other developing countries, like Ghana, Zambia and South Sudan.
Over the past few years, HCS has been intentional about helping Christian Schools in the Domincan Republic, through the work of EduDeo Ministries. The cause is close to the heart of Jacquie Gerrits, a grade 8 teacher at HCS, who spent five years teaching in the Dominican Republic, at Santiago Christian School. Gerrits first went to the Domincan Republic with her family when she was 17 and describes the experience as “life changing.” Years later, on one of the many trips she took to the country afterwards (with members of her church in London Ontario) Gerrits helped construct the San Meteo school, which HCS still supports today. During that trip, a missionary she was working with turned and said, ‘Jacquie, if you like being here so much, why don’t you stay?’ For Gerrits, that conversation was the “beginning of a journey” which led her first to Haiti and finally to the Domincan, where she taught for half a decade.
The aim of “A Day in their Shoes” was to have HCS students understand elementary schools in developing countries a little bit better, by experiencing some of the things that students in those schools experience, says HCS grade 5 teacher, Aileen Schouten. She and Gerrits also hoped the event would highlight the educational blessings that are easy to take for granted in Canada—like well lit facilities and computer labs.
That was one of the reasons “A Day in Their Shoes” began with a technology free morning. For their math and bible lessons, each student was given limited supplies: one piece of lined paper, a pencil and an eraser. If they wanted to use other materials to help with their activities, students were allowed to pick up found items like stones and sticks outside. In bible class, only the teacher was given a bible, and students were encouraged to act as scribes, relying on memory as they learned. The lesson was meant to emphasize a few of the challenges that come with limited resources while highlighting the value of oral tradition. For some, a reliance on memory in bible class allowed them to connect with scripture in a way they hadn’t before.
Later in the day, students from different grade levels spent time learning together in groups. The afternoon’s multi-age classes functioned like a one room school house— a typical learning model for many schools that receive support from EduDeo. Each class was assigned a specific country to research: Belize, The Dominican, Ghana, Nicaragua, South Sudan or Zambia. After looking at various aspects of their assigned countries (population, natural resources, educational systems) students in all of the groups were invited to make their own toys out of found objects.
“It was interesting to watch the students at first struggle with what they could create from the recyclable materials” says Phil Beck, Canadian Partnership Coordinater at EduDeo Ministries. “What can you create from cereal boxes, tin cans, plastic bottles and the like? Yet, slowly some very ingenious creations emerged. There was an immense sense of pride as the students shared their creations with the whole school community. There is a learning moment in here as we, North Americans, can sometimes overlook the creativity and pride that communities in the majority world have as they wrestle with the realities of their lives.”
Beck says he enjoyed walking alongside HCS for “A Day in their Shoes”, and liked the way that teachers made the event relatable to what education is like for many children in developing countries. Not only did students reflect on the challenges that face schools in different parts of the world, they also gained an appreciation for unfamiliar learning styles.
Whenever he visits schools, Beck also tries to help students understand just how many children (roughly 72 million!) don’t have access to any formal education at all—due to the responsibilities they have at home, their lack of financial resources or simply because of where they live. Beck spoke specifically to students about a young boy he met in Nicaragua named Moises Martinez, for whom the closest school was about 10 km away from his home, across very mountainous and treacherous terrain. EduDeo has since become involved in building a basic two-room school in Moises’ community, through its partners in Nicaragua. As a result of those efforts, Moises is now able to attend school, with the hopes of being a farmer when he is older.
While it’s unlikely that mountainous terrains will ever prevent HCS students from attending school, “A Day in their Shoes” did remind the community of the precious role that education plays for children all over the world.