Sharmila Pillai laughs and says shes suffering from
post-masteral depression: I have nothing to do. Im trying
to look for a job! She misses working on the thesis that led to
her masters degree in educational studies, because she could
just write what I enjoyed.
Pillai, 34, took the long way around to this milestone. She picked up
a bachelors in English literature in India, then found a prestigious
position teaching English as a second language in a posh French school
back home in Ethiopia. The salary allowed her to travel. Eventually, in
1996, she immigrated to Canada, and earned a TESL (teaching English as
a second language) diploma at Concordia, but it wasnt enough. I
had this teaching certificate, but I had already taught. That did not
satisfy me. She re-evaluated what she wanted out of life.
I want to get back to Africa, she said. I wanted to
be in the developing field rather than in the classroom. What Im
interested in is developing informal education at the grassroots level.
After a false start in applied linguistics, Pillai found her place in
educational studies, looking at the integration of culture and schooling
in sub-Saharan Africa. What kind of education do shoeshiners want or need?
How can little girls who sell tomatoes be reached? The schools are
among the trees in Africa, Pillai said. Under the tree, thats
the school. Sometimes theres a plank nailed to the trunk, and thats
She wants to help train the teachers. How can I develop an educational
program? I want to guide other people, ask them, What do you think you
need? She shyly asks for a small prayer to help her get home.