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The life-changing impact of educators around the world: Michaëlle Jean, a leader with a vision

It’s a new year, and a fresh start for the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). On January 5th 2015, Michaëlle Jean officially became the Secretary-General of the largest francophone institution in the world. She is the first woman to occupy this function and also the first non-African appointed leader for the OIF.

Mrs. Michaëlle Jean and Mr. Abdou Diouf in Paris on January 5th 2015. Crédit photo: Cyril Bailleul/OIF

Starting the year full of optimism and with a great sense of responsibility, the former UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti is undertaking a renewable 4-year mandate. During her acceptance speech, Michaëlle Jean emphasized the importance for all parties and head of states to do better, and always more together:

“Que nous faisions mieux, et toujours plus ensemble.”

As head of the OIF, Mrs. Jean is the political spokesperson and official representative of the organisation internationally. She is also responsible for the implementation of the political and diplomatic action of the Francophonie. She is succeeding to Mr. Abdou Diouf who was the Secretary-General from 2003 to 2014.

Who is Michaëlle Jean?

Born in Port-au-Prince Haïti, Michaëlle Jean immigrated to Canada with her family when she was young. She became a Canadian citizen and pursued literature studies in Montreal as well as in Italy. Subsequently, she worked for ten years to alleviate the suffering of women who are victims of domestic violence in the province of Quebec. In the late 1980s, she joined CBC and Radio-Canada as news anchor and journalist. Her work and commitment towards building a more just society didn’t go unnoticed, as she became the 27th Governor General of Canada and Commander-in-Chief for the period 2005-2010.

The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, official photo.

Throughout her career, Mrs. Jean gave speeches and shared her passion, commitment and hard-working attitude towards building stronger societies. For instance, she has given talks about the value of revitalizing communities, the importance of sustaining women in leadership, the value of education as the key to freedom, as well as the way with which art can be used to foster social transformation.

The value of multilingualism

Having had the chance to attend one of her conferences in Toronto in 2012, I was amazed by the ease with which Michaëlle Jean could express her hopes for the future, describe difficulties she encountered throughout her life, and discuss the lessons learned that continuously pushed her forward, always striving to build a better world while taking concrete actions. During the conference, she expressed herself with the utmost clarity and stance, while using both French and English. As she explained during the talk, speaking many languages revealed to be one of her greatest assets throughout her career. Being fluent in French, English, Creole, Spanish and Italian, in addition to reading Portuguese, Mrs. Jean’s multilingualism opened doors and new opportunities for her throughout her extraordinary career. Indeed, it was also through her mastery of both the French and the English language that Mrs. Jean thrived as a journalist for CBC and Radio-Canada. As her career progressed, it was in no small measure thanks to her language skills that Mrs. Jean became a leading figure in diplomatic relations as Canada’s Governor General, then as UNESCO’s Special Envoy for Haiti, and currently, as head of the OIF.
In a speech she gave in five different languages to the United Nations in 2009, Mrs. Jean expressed that she believes that many of the world’s problems occur because people fail to communicate with each other. In the context of globalization and expanding international relations, languages reveal to be immensely valuable in building a new world based on solidarity and the celebration of cultural diversity.

«It is my firm belief that misunderstanding, exclusion and violence, which are never justified, are the result of dialogues that never took place and debates about ideas that were never launched.»

Education as the key to freedom

In addition to multilingualism, Mrs. Jean values education as a means to open up possibilities for youth. In her talk where she discussed education as the key to freedom, Mrs. Jean described the life-changing impact that educators can have when creating for their students inclusive spaces of learning, creativity and civic virtue. It is through education and the work of devoted educators that today’s youth is uplifted and inspired.

« Impossible d’envisager la Francophonie du XXIe siècle, ni de grand projet francophone axé sur le développement, sans l’impulsion des femmes et, j’ajouterais, sans l’énergie, la participation et l’engagement des jeunes. Nos pays sont des pays de jeunesse. Il faut aussi donner aux jeunes toutes les raisons d’espérer. »

What is the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie?

Simply put, the OIF is the international organization which provides a platform for francophones around the world to strengthen their ties and improve their conditions. There are 274 million francophones in the world and an estimated 900 000 French teachers spread over five continents. In addition, 77 member states and governments are part of the OIF. It is from its head office located in Paris that the institution organizes, for instance, the Forum mondial de la langue française, an opportunity for civil society and youth from around the world to meet every 3 years to discuss issues that relate to the French language. It also provides an opportunity for people to celebrate and showcase the various cultures that constitute “La Francophonie”. The first Forum mondial de la langue française was actually held in Quebec City in 2012. It attracted close to 2000 participants originating from 93 countries. The four themes explored during the event were the economy and the workplace, linguistic diversity, cultural references and the digital world.

In-class activities for students

Sharing the belief that education is valuable, we have developed pre-tour educational activities to do in class to provide an opportunity for teachers and students to prepare for their upcoming educational tour. In our first unit about La Francophonie et la gastronomie, we prepared questions for group discussion, as well as an activity which explores where French is spoken around the world. These activities are in line with the French Immersion Program’s general outcome “Appreciation of the French Language and of Cultural Diversity”. We challenge you to see how much you know about la Francophonie. Take a look!

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