We know teachers experience countless gratifying moments in their careers. But how many experience those moments thousands of kilometres away from their schools? And how many get to not only help students make a difference but witness the positive change that comes as a result of what they’re doing?
For Heather Hughes-Leck, those opportunities have come as the result of week-long school trips to sugar cane villages in the Dominican Republic. Next March will mark the third trip for the school, and before the final bell had rung this past June, 32 students had signed up.
With an already full plate (she teaches English in Grades 10, 11 and 12 and Grade 12 sociology), when another teacher first approached Hughes-Leck about the trips she didn’t hesitate. “I’m the teacher facilitator for the Human Rights Club and the Eco Club at the school and I strongly believe in human rights and social justice.”
Hughes-Leck has no doubt they’re helping people in the villages where labourers can work up to 12 hours a day seven days a week for next to no pay. West Jet, the airline they travel with, allows each student to bring two pieces of luggage free of charge. “One is your luggage and the other is supplies,” explains Hughes-Leck. “So this year we’ll be able to bring 32 50-pound bags of donations.”
It’s a big impact, for sure, but it’s the effect that the trips have on the students that gives her goosebumps. “The kids come back profoundly changed,” she says, adding that many struggle with reverse culture shock upon return. For some, the trips awaken an interest in a career in international development. For others, the effects are more subtle but equally profound—greater appreciation for friends and family or reduced consumerism, for example.
For her part, Hughes-Leck says her actions are inspired by her two children. “I need to believe the world is going to be a better place for when they grow up,” she says, adding that the current generation of students has a big role to play. “People grumble about teenagers today but I see a lot of great teenagers. I really do.”
I love to dance, despite not being very good at it.
I am horrible at all video games.
I have a loud face; I would be horrible at poker.