Transferring Cultural Knowledge and Skills: Afghan Teachers for Afghan Students in Montreal

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article describes the experiences and perceptions of a small group of Afghan women teachers who have set up a small community school for Afghan children in Montreal. It situates the work that they are doing in the context of knowledge transfer and of social capital building in a diasporic context and discusses this heritage education program in relation to transnational processes of living and learning in multiple sites. The women, who were all teachers in Afghanistan, experienced conflict and a political situation which ultimately forced them to leave their homes; as immigrants to Canada they experience the multiple challenges of individual and family integration. However, as volunteer community teachers, they have strong ideas about the work they do and a strong sense of purpose to it; they use their own professional understandings and skills to transmit the cultural knowledge and language skills which they believe are important for young Afghan Canadians and their families in Montreal.

Resume

L'article decrit les experiences et les perceptions d'un petit groupe d'enseignantes afghanes qui a mis sur pied une petite ecole communautaire pour les enfants afghans a Montreal. Il situe le travail qu'elles font dans le cadre du transfert de connaissances et de l'investissement social, dans le contexte de la diaspora, et met ce programme d'education sur le patrimoine en rapport avec les processus transnationaux de vie et d'apprentissage dans des endroits varies. Les enseignantes, oeuvrant toutes en Afghanistan, vivent des conflits et une situation politique qui finit par les forcer a quitter leur patrie. En tant qu'immigrantes au Canada, elles font face a de nombreux defis relativement a l'integration individuelle et familiale. Toutefois, comme enseignantes communautaires benevoles, elles ont une opinion definie sur le travail qu'elles font et visent des buts bien precis. Elles se servent de leurs propres connaissances et competences professionnelles pour transmettre le savoir culturel et les habiletes langagieres qu'elles jugent necessaires aux jeunes Canadians afghans et a leur famille a Montreal.

Introduction

Since it opened on October 18th, 2003, a new Dari language and culture program for Afghan children living on the Island of Montreal has enrolled over thirty children. These young Afghan Canadians spend from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. every Saturday in the classes which are held at an inner-city primary school and are taught by two Afghan women teachers. Other students, who live on the South Shore of Montreal, have been attending similar classes since December 2002. This article describes the experiences and perceptions of the small group of Afghan women teachers who have initiated and developed this program as an initiative of the Afghan Women's Association in Montreal. An introductory section of the article introduces the school and describes the student and teacher population. This is followed by a discussion of the teachers' own experiences, their perceptions of the knowledge transfer processes they are engaged in, of what is important for there to teach the students and why. This data is collected from a series of informal visits to the school, from a group discussion, and then from a follow-up, in-depth interview with the school director. The women talk about the importance of mother tongue instruction, and of the development of tarbia, which is a particularly significant Afghan concept that refers to good manners and proper development of a child. The article concludes with some thoughts on the multi-levelled benefits of this program, and some recommendations for further research and policy development.

A Community School for Young Afghan Canadians

According to the Statistics Canada census of 2001, there are approximately 2,900 people of Afghan origin living in Montreal. This population is relatively spread out, with families in Park Extension, Cote des Neiges, and also further east on Henri Bourassa. …