A teacher creates hope for the future even in the middle of conflicts

“The most important thing is to educate mothers”, says a teacher in a refugee camp in Jordan. “I can give my students wings, so they can fly” states a hairdresser-teacher in Sierra Leone, who has lost her entire family in the war. In honour of the International Teachers’ Day, seven teachers from all around the world share the most important part of their work.

  • Children shout in chorus “zero, zero zero”. There is a mathematics class ongoing in Abeille d’Aspam’s Community School in Léogâne, Haiti. There’s a rivalry going on who gets to go to the chalkboard. The fourth grade's teacher, Hilaire Lejeune, 41, teaches the variations of measure units for surface areas. The favourite subject of the teacher is mathematics and it shows in the students' enthusiasm . As his main profession, Lejeune is an accountant. He has received few months teacher training. After the earthquake of 2010, he also received training in psychosocial support; the teachers were given means to help the traumatised children.
    Lejeune’s old school collapsed in the earthquake, and after temporary arrangements, the children now attend classes in a brand new and a safe school built by Finn Church aid.
    Lejeune has always wanted to share what he himself has learned.
    “Even as a student, I worked as a substitute teacher when the teacher was sick. During my studies, I also worked as a teacher”, he says.
    “I want to teach the children that we work as a team in the classroom and share things. If someone for example doesn’t have any lunch, the other give from theirs’”, he continues.

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  • The first school in Ohn Taw Gyu refugee camp, Myanmar, was built a year ago. Hundreds of children study there in three separate turns.
    Many children have witnessed violence and fled with their parents, leaving behind everything that is familiar.
    One of the goals of the refugee camp’s school is giving the children a chance to integrate into the society of Myanmar. This is made possible for instance by teaching the children Myanmar’s language, along with their native Rohinga.
    Teachers are volunteers, who have received a crash course on teaching. One of them is Pan Nu Phyu, 23.
    “I want to make the children’s lives beautiful”, she said in an interview for Actions-magazine this spring at the courtyard of the school.
    “If a person is educated, they will know the difference between right and wrong. Teaching it is the school’s responsibility.”

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  • Hawa Kamara’s long hair is braided so that the highlights shine against the dark hair.
    She teaches hairdresser students at the Zimm training center. As a teacher, she is well-liked and skillful.
    However, teaching has never been Kamara’s, 29, dream. She doesn’t like to talk in front of big crowds and her future hopes were always artistic – singing and making movies.
    The civil war tore Kamara’s life apart. The rebels raped her and killed her father.
    Kamara lost her mother and lived with her uncle for a long time. She went to school, became a hairdresser and worked for years in the capital Freetown.
    As the years passed by, she also lost her uncle, got married and had a daughter.
    Near the end of the war, the rebels killed her husband and daughter right before her eyes. Kamara tried everything to stop the murders. A deep scar in her arm remains as a memory of this.
    After all the hardship, she decided to go back to her hometown of Zimm. When the training center asked her to become a teacher to the aspiring hairdressers, she took up on the challenge.
    “I am happy that the students regard me as a role model also. It is a very responsible job – you must live right, exemplary”, she says.
    The most important thing in teaching for Kamara is to help others move on with their lives. “I can give them wings, so they can fly”, she describes her effect on her students’ lives.

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  • Erja Kauppinen teaches English at Puotila primary school in Helsinki. The school is big and multicultural; the students in Kauppinen’s 3rd through 6th grades come from many different backgrounds. There are between 10 and 21 students studying in class at a time.
    “I wanted to become a teacher because of the variety and humane qualities of the profession. They are matters that I still enjoy”, Kauppinen, 41, tells. She is also a member in the Teachers Without Borders-network.
    “Teacher’s work and duties have become more demanding as a whole. For me, the most important thing is to get the students enthusiastic and enjoying the teaching, and to trust themselves as learners. I hope that apart from absorbing knowledge and skills, the students also absorb a way of life that takes other people and the course of life into account.
    As a teacher, I regard it as my duty to bring the enjoyment of learning and quality to each school day of the year. When succeeding, I feel content.”

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  • Teacher Nisreen Al-Monsour, 33, teaches reading skills and basics of mathematics to teenage girls at Zaatri refugee camp in Northern Jordan.
    The girls attending reading skills course, aged fifteen and up, haven’t been attending school in Syria and don’t know how to read and write. The four month course prepares them for school.
    Al-Monsour, a refugee herself, wants as many girls as possible to attend school for as long as possible.
    “If a girl is not at school, she does housework, cooks food and carries water. Even girls as young as 9 or 10, are in charge of housework and looking after their younger siblings, and that’s too much responsibility to a child that age”, Al-Monsour said in an interview this spring.
    “The most important thing is to educate the mothers”, Al-Monsour says.
    An educated mother wants her children to get education as well.

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  • Retired Finnish school teacher Lea Hopkins is in the middle of starting a volunteer teaching stint in Mundri, South Sudan. She will teach at a local teacher training institution for six months.
    Why trade the comfort of retirement days for extremely rough conditions in South Sudan?
    “Curiosity and quest for knowledge are important motives, but also gratitude for my own good life. I want to do my part in helping other get that as well. When I retired, the opportunity arose. My children are grown-up and my husband promised to take care of the household, when I’m here”, Hopkins says.
    “I didn’t know much about South Sudan previously, but when the opportunity to work here came, it just felt right. The more I get to know this country, the more fascinating it seems!”
    To Hopkins, being a teacher is a way of life. “I am now in my 60s. As a young teacher, I teached, when older, I raised. I hope that my students have learned from me a curiosity for knowledge, basic principles of life, and above all, a respect for life in all its forms. All life is sacred and valuable.”

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  • Smile spreads over Jean-Aborbert Niende’s face. “I love teaching. I think it’s great to spread knowledge and teach. This is exactly what I want to do.”
    Niende teaches students aged between 6 and 14 in the town of Bouar, in conflict-torn Central African Republic. The teacher, who circulates in different schools, has about 60 students in a classroom at a time. “At the beginning of this year, coming to school was sometimes dangerous. Sometimes we had to shield ourselves from the bullets. Many teachers fled. The children left in the villages were too afraid to come to school”, he tells.
    “Here in Bouar it has been peaceful since the spring. Many left the town, but now nearly everyone has come back. We have enough teachers for the school year starting in November” Niende rejoices.
    As before, he commutes to work with his moped.
    “It is old and worn, but I love it and it works. That’s the most important thing.”

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Texts:  Minna Elo, Satu Helin, Ulla Kärki, Eeva-Maria Laakso and  Lea Pakkanen
Photos:  Ville Asikainen, Kofi Ayisa, Zara Järvinen, Meeri Koutaniemi and Kirsi Liikanen