Gini Dickie is a teacher-librarian, as well as a political activist in her own right living in Toronto, Canada. She worked as a teacher in northern Nigeria with CUSO-VSO, she worked at Expo ‘ 67 and she has been active working with Chilean refugees. She has worked in the inner-city Regent Park area of Toronto, as well as with York University. She also owned her own typesetting business for a brief period of time and everything she has done has taught her about the world around her, as well as about herself.
Dickie was born March 23, 1948 in Brantford, ON. She has two younger brothers and her father was still a student in optometry college in Toronto when she was born. Her father went to school on the GI bill after coming back from the war. After her father graduated, the family moved to Fergus, ON and her Dad was the one and only optometrist for 40 some odd years in their community.
“I was a good student and I guess I was always looking for challenges outside of the classroom too,” says Dickie. “I have a high level of energy. I joined everything there was to join. I was involved with sports and brownies and guides and student government. I would go to conferences outside of the town to meet other people. The key thing that affected me was having a high school teacher from Africa who opened windows onto the world for me.”
Dickie went to Nigeria in 1969 to teach English. She arrived in northern Nigeria during the Biafran war. Dickie was there for two and half years. She also visited Tanzania and England (where she taught English for six months) before her return. She came back to Canada to get her education diploma from the University of Western Ontario.
Before she left for Nigeria, she attended McGill University after receiving acceptance to Queen’s and the University of Toronto as well.
“I wanted to learn French. It was a very exciting time in Quebec and I got involved politically at the university. It was also the time of Canada’s 100th birthday and Expo ‘67 and I was able to work as a hostess in the United Nations pavilion and that was very exciting and eye opening as well.”
Dickie has taught on four continents. When she arrived back in Toronto after completing her education diploma, she wanted to teach, however it was a time of declining enrollment in the schools. She did other things for 17 years before she was able to officially teach again.
She worked at the Cross-Cultural Communication Centre, as well she was active with the NDP. She did solidarity work with Chilean refugees. She is actually still involved with the Chilean community and her children’s fathers are refugees from Chile.
She worked for the school board as a school-community relations worker from 1977 to 1980. Then she and her Chilean partner went to Ecuador and lived in Quito for almost two years where she worked in community development and teaching. Her daughter, Aisha, was born in Quito.
She came back to Canada and ran a typesetting business for about two years. It taught her that running her own business is not for her. She worked at a legal clinic for Spanish-speaking people with a lawyer and one of the difficult things she had to do was transcribe the stories and testimonies of refugees who were torture victims. Dickie learned a lot.
Dickie later went on to be a senior project officer in the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC). The international bureau had just started and they were looking for people with international experience. Her Spanish-speaking skills came in handy, as she linked community colleges and CEGEPs in Canada with similar institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean. Her son, Nico, was born in Toronto in 1986.
Then she finally got her chance to teach in Toronto. She started working with the Toronto District School Board in 1991 with Jesse Ketchum Public School.
“I taught grade seven and eight special education, children with learning disabilities. I did that for five years and then I moved to a school in Regent Park called Lord Dufferin Public School, where I taught grade six for nine years.”
Continually learning has been a theme throughout Dickie’s life.
“In Nigeria that was obviously true because it was such a different culture, I learned so much about Nigerian culture and the language. We all grow up with stereotypes and prejudices that we need to be aware of and one of the things you learn from students is to challenge your thinking. I have taught kids with learning disabilities and now I can see the complexities of their lives. When I went to teach in Regent Park, I could see the richness of their lives and how they were proud of their community and their desire to learn and improve their lives and this challenged my own previously held ideas.”
After working in Regent Park, Dickie was seconded to York University where she taught in a Faculty of Education program with an equity and social justice focus. She had the privilege of working with the professor who started the program, Dr. Patrick Solomon. She was there for three years.
Now she is a teacher-librarian at Clinton Street Public School.
“I plan to be teaching for several more years,” says Dickie. “When I retire, I think I would like to become a full-time political activist. It would be carrying on the same thing. I see teaching as a ‘subversive activity’. It is political activism in that sense. I’m involved in starting a solidarity museum, I’m involved in all kinds of things and I’ll just have more time to do them [in retirement]. It’s really about challenging the status quo and continually trying to make this a better world.”