Every year I look forward to what I enjoy most about IATEFL: talking to friends and colleagues from different corners of the world, attending presentations, having intimate meals with colleagues who I value and respect and going home with interesting thoughts and ideas. However, this year IATEFL was considerably more than that as I had the privilege to attend three very moving and thought provoking sessions.
The first one was Brita Fernandez Schmidt’s plenary session. Brita runs Women for Woman International-UK, an organisation I had never heard of. Brita is not only an engaging speaker, but her enthusiasm, optimism and belief in what she does are uplifting. Her organisation works with women in developing countries by offering them a holistic approach that involves, amongst other things, access to education and knowledge and the support of their communities. We watched some very moving videos of some of the women the organisation has helped. Brita received a standing ovation. I went away with something she said in her plenary: ‘There are no poor people; only people who live in poverty’.
The second moving talk I went to was by Nick Bilbrough (The Hands Up Project) and Rita Thabet (UN Relief and Works Agency). I had already attended Bill’s talk last year and was very moved by the work he does with Palestine children. They both talked about the work they do through remote theatre with these children who live in challenging circumstances but are so enthusiastic and eager to learn. For the last ten minutes we connected live to Gaza and watched three of these children perform a play, a metaphor about the wall that divides them and causes so much anger and sorrow. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.
The third moving talk was on the final Friday, a talk by Patricia Santos, an amazing teacher from Rio. I had also been to Pat’s talk the previous year, when I heard about the children she teaches, who suffer terrible poverty, come to school hungry and are often victims of domestic violence and the violence that surrounds their neighbourhood. This year Pat talked in the same passionate way about teaching unplugged. She has no resources, no books, no computers, so she uses the children’s daily reality to create her lessons. She told us how a little girl, who’d been at home all morning doing chores, came to her and told her it was her birthday. Pat hugged her and wished her a happy birthday. She told Pat she was the first person to acknowledge her birthday. Pat used this to create a lesson where the children made birthday cards for this girl and learnt the months and dates, but they also learnt about kindness towards each other, self-respect and a sense of worth. I think I had run out of tissues by then! Great teachers change lives and Pat is certainly doing this against all odds.
These three wonderful talks, together with others, e.g. Alan Maley’s excellent talk about his path and beliefs over a period of 55 years, confirmed and reinforced my own belief that our jobs are not just to teach English and Methodology but to be educators and instruments for change.
I am grateful for NILE for sponsoring me once again and I hope to have the chance to go to Liverpool next year.
For photos of the NILE team at IATEFL, visit our Facebook page
Photo of Patricia Santos and Maria Heron