Teachers from Brantford, Ont. share love of music, language and ukuleles in Ecuador

A pair from Brant County, Ont., who are teaching English abroad are using music, specifically, ukuleles, to educate students in Ecuador.

Genevieve Rochette and Catherine Gorecki took their love of song and 20 ukuleles on a 5,000-kilometre trip to St. George Centro de Nivelacion, a small English as a Second Language (ESL) School in Banos.

Tears were shed at the airport when the pair landed considering years had been put into the planning of the gig before it was put off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It got shut down like the day we were leaving back in 2020,” Gorecki told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton. “So being here is a dream come true to be able to put our plan in action and be able to help just because that was the original idea.”

Rochette, an early childhood teacher at Ecole Dufferin, and Gorecki, a retired Grand Erie District School Board teacher, were invited to teach at St. George Centro by Josh Beedham and his wife Natalia Campana.

Beedham, who’s from St. George, Ont., founded the school after moving to Ecuador in 2012.

He connected with Rochette after learning of the unique ukulele-language program offered at the St. George-German School in Brant County.

Seeing a great opportunity for kids to learn English with music, Rochette recruited Gorecki and the planning began with the most critical part of the trip – the packing of the instruments.

“The Branford Music Center packed them up for us and they’ve been sitting for three years in the boxes,” said Gorecki.

“We were a little worried about what … what condition they would be in when we pulled them out, but they were perfect.”

The teachers partnered with James Hill, a noted Canadian ukulele artist from B.C., for training sessions and a contribution of some of his works as educational material for the South American trip.

“Because it’s an English immersion school, we’re just teaching that instead of French … exactly the same way we teach in Canada with the ukuleles,” Rochette explained.

Beedham says getting an education in music is rough in Banos, a tourist venue near the Amazon Basin with a population of about 20,000. There is no music school or place to buy instruments.

“To go to a music school, a lot of families can’t afford the time or the bus fare to travel that far,” he revealed. “So this is a really unique experience for our kids.”

Rochette says it’s unlikely this will be a yearly event due to inflation putting costs for their stay and shipping about two and half times what it was when they originally scheduled the trip pre-pandemic.

“So we’re thinking … maybe every other year and bring maybe more ukuleles along.”

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