Coming Together Across Borders: Alumni Reflections on the 2019 Teach For All Global Conference Part 1

Samia Habli, Teach For Lebanon alumna

Reflecting on everything from the tour of the Armenian Genocide Museum, to the lecture by Dr. Richard Havonnisian, the interview with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and conversations with students during the community visit, I cannot help but relate what I learned at the Global Conference to what is happening in Lebanon. As my own country revolts against injustice and corruption, it is now more important than ever to acknowledge our history and our pain, reclaim our narrative from sectarian and divisive politics, and together create a vision for the country we hope to build. This necessitates reforms in our education system. 

As the Prime Minister put it, “Many systems limit how much you can learn because beyond a certain point, it goes against their own interests.” So how do we make sure our educational system is preparing students to lead rather than exacerbating the problem? How do we empower teachers and communities to instill good values and critical thinking skills in our students? How do we remain humble and know when to step back and listen to what our students truly need?

One of the most powerful moments for me was when the CEO of Teach For Nigeria, Folawe Omikunle, shared the story of the hummingbird by Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai. The story is about a huge fire raging through a forest. All the animals big and small retreated, helpless and afraid of being harmed by the flames, except for one hummingbird that kept flying back and forth to a nearby stream—each time carrying a drop of water to put out the fire as other animals watched or even discouraged it. “What do you think you can do? The fire is too big and you are too small.” The hummingbird finally replied, “I am doing the best I can.”

The story makes me reflect on all the times in my career when I felt like I was a small, insignificant hummingbird trying to put out a huge fire on my own. I think back to my Teach For Lebanon team, and I recall the reflection and Network Breakthroughs sessions on the last day of the global conference and I see an army of hummingbirds, elephants, lions, and giraffes all doing our part to prepare students to shape a changing world. We may come from different contexts with different challenges, but our vision is one. When these challenges seem insurmountable, intentional learning spaces like the Global Conference become necessary for stakeholders across borders to come together, support each other, and inspire one another to keep doing the best we can. 

Read Coming Together Across Borders: Alumni Reflections on the 2019 Teach For All Global Conference Part 2