The Powerful Compassion of Teachers

by | Jan 16, 2019

Our Little Ripples training days are full. Today, we introduced mindfulness, play-based learning, and began discussions around positive classroom and behavior management. Every minute feels vital when we know we only have four days to provide these teachers with additional tools and confidence to create safe, peaceful, and joyful learning spaces. The training topics take time. The teachers learn and practice new methods and ideas, and together, make practical plans for how they will integrate the training with their students. But they also speak openly with us about the challenges and problems they face every day in their classrooms. Some teachers have 70 to 100 children in their center.

During lunch, I squeeze myself in-between the teachers as they sit on a bench eating, chatting, and laughing. I listen quietly, grateful I understand French so I can get a small window into who these women are beyond the training. Next to me today was Hadija. During lunch Hadija is quiet and reserved, yet she is often the most vocal in training, asking questions and sharing intelligent and creative ideas. She teaches in the village of Boubara where refugees from the Central African Republic have been integrated with the local community—meaning they are not secluded in a traditional refugee camp or site but live near the village and use the village’s services and schools.

When Hadija became a community-based preschool teacher two years ago very few refugee children were attending. “I saw refugee children not coming to school. It’s not fair for refugees to not have an education. When I became a teacher two years ago, we did outreach. We visited all the refugee households and informed parents that their child should come to preschool. Parents would tell me that they go out and work and so they bring their child with them. I said, No. Bring your child to school and I will bring your child back to your home in the evening. So, after school, I have a group of children that I bring back to their homes.”

While the community-based centers are supported and managed by our partner, Jesuit Refugee Service, the preschools are government-run, so the families are required to pay a small fee of 3,000 CFA a year— about five dollars. Even that, Hadija explained, is difficult for refugee families. Some that cannot pay in cash instead contribute materials for the school kitchen. But she added that once parents realize preschool is good for their children, more parents are willing to pay the fees. “Parents see the children of their neighbors and see how they were changing and growing because of preschool. And so parents become more willing. This year, before the school year, many refugee parents were looking for me and asking me when school would begin for their children.”

When working in education within refugee crises, it’s easy to focus on the problems in the classroom and the barriers to getting children in school—these issues are always there and it’s our job to bring awareness to them and work with teachers to address them. But today, hearing Hadija’s compassion for refugee children and her efforts to ensure their right to education, I’m reminded that women and teachers like her are also always there, doing the work despite the many problems and barriers.

After lunch, seconds before we walk back into the classroom to begin our afternoon of training, as Hadija and I slip off our shoes, I asked her, “Hadija, why is education so important to you?” She quietly responded, “When I was a student, I loved being in school so much. But I got very sick and had to miss two years of school. That is why now I love so much being a teacher. And when I see that my students are learning, I get goosebumps.”

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