Local educator says Holocaust education trip was 'one of the most moving experiences' of her life

GECDSB equity consultant Amina Abdulle was one of two dozen educators who went to Europe to learn about the Holocaust. (Submitted by Amina Abdulle - image credit)
GECDSB equity consultant Amina Abdulle was one of two dozen educators who went to Europe to learn about the Holocaust. (Submitted by Amina Abdulle - image credit)

When Amina Abdulle went to Poland to learn about the Holocaust as part of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center's (FSWC) Compassion to Action program, she was expecting to take notes in hopes of supporting staff and students in Windsor-Essex.

While Abdulle, the equity consultant at the Greater Essex County District School Board, took down plenty of notes, the trip had a much deeper impact on her.

"I don't think I expected to have a personal kind of connection," Abdulle said. "I think I was going in there with, 'I am an educator so I'm going to go and I'm going to learn as much as possible.'"

But then she and the other 23 educators on the trip had the opportunity to speak to a Holocaust survivor. The survivor spoke about family and what she went through. That's when Abdulle, who moved with her family to Canada from Somalia, began to resonate.

"We had a beautiful life and that was interrupted by war," Abdulle said. "I was really young, so it didn't impact me. And when we were there, I just kept feeling connected and remembering some parts of coming through the war that I didn't expect in a Holocaust survivor. She was absolutely incredible, and she was talking about her mother. I just recently lost my mother and I just kept feeling the feelings. I think it was a lot more of a personal heart trip than I expected. It was just one of the most moving experiences of my life."

That conversation with the survivor was just one of many things that impacted her on the trip, which included tours through former concentration and extermination camps Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Majdanek and Plaszow.

Program invited educators exclusively for first time

The Compassion for Action program invites influential Canadians on an eye-opening journey to learn about the Holocaust, racism and intolerance, with the objective of teaching them about the history of antisemitism and inspiring and empowering them to act against hate in their communities. Abdulle and the 23 others were part of the first time educators were exclusively invited to the program.

"Travelling with educators from private, public and Catholic school boards across Ontario on our inaugural Compassion to Action for Educators journey to Poland has been a remarkable experience," said FSWC Director of Education Melissa Mikel, who helped lead the trip.

Abdulle said, as an equity consultant, it was important for her to make sure to immerse herself as much as possible, so she can support educators and others to create great resources.

"For myself, especially as someone who is not Jewish and and does not have a direct connection to the Holocaust, I really wanted to make sure that I understood as much as possible so that the materials I create are as authentic as possible," Abdulle said. "It's really important to see a holistic picture of Jewish people and also when we think about the Holocaust, we're not telling the story for Jewish people."

Abdulle said this message of humanity and history is important to tell in today's classrooms. She, like others, has seen a rise in racism and antisemitism.

"Unfortunately, there's been and continues to be things that happen in schools around us," Abdulle said. "So it's really important for students and for all of us, to understand that the lessons that we're learning to ensure that we are moving past hatred that we are moving past negative because again when one of us hurts we all hurt. That's the goal we should remember."