Youth worker Alpha B. Kirabira and his group are staging a free Teachers Appreciation Gala in Surrey this coming Saturday evening. (Photos by Tom Zytaruk).

Surrey teachers to get appreciated Saturday night

They’ll be the star attraction at free “Teachers Appreciation Gala” at Chandos Pattison auditorium

It’s good to be appreciated, right?

If you’re a teacher, this coming Saturday it’s your turn for a hearty slap on the back.

But first, a lesson: Did you know Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet?

It is fitting, then, that a local youth worker named Alpha B. Kirabira, founder of Help Change My City (HCMC), is launching a first-of-its-kind event here in Surrey, on April 14 — a “Teachers Appreciation Gala” that will pay tribute to all public and private educators in Surrey, Delta, Langley and New Westminster.

“I want teachers to understand that we are aware of what they do — I want them to understand that they are valuable,” Kirabira told the Now-Leader. “Don’t stay home, come on out and enjoy an evening of jazz, ballet and opera. We may have Bhangra there. The teachers come in, and just love on them, because they’re very much amazing. I really want it to impact every school if I can.”

Kirabira said school teachers make a big difference in the lives of young people. “Many of us wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for a teacher. Everybody has a teacher story; everybody has a teacher that impacted their lives. It’s very important that we let them know.”

The free evening of jazz, ballet and opera will be at the Chandos Pattison Auditorium, at 10238 168th Street, from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Doors open at 7 o’clock. Get your free tickets at Eventbrite.ca

It’s billed as an “elegant intersection of philanthropy, encouraging the arts, education, and support for the teachers who teach our underprivileged youth that have the potential to shape our beautiful city.”

Kirabira, who went to school at Regent Christian Academy in East Newton, founded Help Change My City in 2012 in Surrey. Now Vancouver-based, with a staff of six, the not-for-profit organization offers “personal development and advancement” programs for youth in the Lower Mainland, in particular homeless, “multi-barriered” children and teen parents.

“What we do is personal and leadership development in the lives of youth and young people. What we do is mentoring for some homeless youth, we also do mentoring for kids that are in schools. So we go into schools, and we teach them that they are valuable,” he said.

Alpha B. Kirabira

“Success is being able to take care of yourself, your community and beyond. Mentorship crosses all boundaries. We just meet the young people where they are, and walk with them.

“Many times young people find their value today in social media, how many Twitter followers do you have, Snapchat, Facebook and these kind of things. But what that has done is it has also in a way stolen their self-esteem, because one day you feel you have a hundred likes, or a thousand likes and the next day you say something and you have no likes at all so so the young people’s self-esteem and value has gone up and down according to what people are saying around them, or what social groups they are a part of,” Kirabira said. “But what we want to teach them is that you are valuable before you leave your home, valuable before anybody says anything. We say that you have skills, abilities, and talents and giftings that make you, you, and that is good.”

So why honour teachers, in particular?

“Every day they go into school and they face many difficulties, many young people showing up, and everybody’s got their personalities and their stresses that happen within the school day,” he explained. “If it wasn’t for teachers, and school staff, and the individuals, I would not be where I am today. They stay up many hours to mark exams, and plan ahead and do all those kind of things.”

Kirabira said teachers have made it possible for parents to be able to go to work knowing their kids are in a safe place. “Basically teachers provide a safe place or a safe environment where young people can walk in, be able to learn, grow. Teachers are the second, I want to say, level of impact behind the parents. These teachers needs to be appreciated because of the amount of time, the amount of efforts that they give.”

It was a teacher who sponsored Kirabira to come from his native Uganda to study in Canada when he was 12-years-old and in Grade 7.

“I was able to learn, to get the opportunity of a lifetime,” he said. So at 17 years old, I went home and I played a role in starting a school in Uganda. (An elementary school in Kampala).”

“I wanted to give back to the country that has given me so much, but I also recognize that there’s people here that are in need,” he said. “Small businesses in Uganda are helping fund this project so that we can give back to teachers. I really want to make that also known, because it also helps the people in Uganda to recognize they’re making a difference abroad.”

“We’re glad to do it. Why? Because we all have something that we can do to make a different in the lives of others. We’re priviledged to be able to make a difference in the lives of youth in Canada.”

The youth worker admits he’s a bit nervous about this first teacher’s appreciation, which he hopes will blossom into an annual event. “It’s a new thing, so everybody’s wondering — what is this? We want to do an annual event, and it’s going to get better and better as we go. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

He’s hoping up to 1,000 will attend. It’s not entirely unprecedented. On Oct. 20, 2017, he staged his group’s third annual Youth Engagement Gala in Vancouver, at the Fairmont Hotel. “The first one was kind of small, but now it brings in 1,700 people. The first one was three years ago.”

So, what does Kirabira get out of all of this?

“I get to give back,” he said, “and I’m really excited about that. I will go the distance to find a way to impact one more life.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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