I’ve never used the word ‘amazing’ to describe things so much in my life as I have on this trip, but really it’s the only word to describe everything I see, smell, watch, listen to and observe around me every single day.
I have heard it second-hand, but now I am able to experience and learn myself that Ghana is such a special place. Everyone here is so friendly, and it’s so clear that there’s such a deep pride for those who live here. A Rastafarian man I met working in th market yesterday who lives in a local refugee camp (from the Ivory Coast) embodied this pride and spirit. He had such a positive look on Africa..even with all he’s been through. It’s really so inspiring. So many Ghanians are so open to meeting new people and that’s an amazing quality to have as a country.
Yesterday, I started realizing how fast time here is truly moving, and …I just can’t really imagine leaving here yet. I am not ready. I don’t know if I ever will be; I just love it here so much. I love not caring about what I look like, or what I am wearing..not checking my phone to see who texted me, or going on facebook to read the latest status’…I love not caring how (sometimes extremely) dirty I may be after a day of school or if an article of clothing is damaged. I am very much enjoying and embracing the African life, and realizing that there are such bigger priorities in life for so many people in this world. Like.. getting money each morning for lunch at school. Or wearing a pair of shoes that don’t fall apart. Or finding a pen to grade the children’s tests with. Or, for me, making a child smile just by holding their hand.
The kids at Rock of Ages Academy School are truly amazing, and I think they are all going to grow up to be such great people. They are so smart. They are happy and they really do make the most of the situation they have been handed. It’s also so impressive to see how quickly and well the kids I am working with can retain information after learning something only once; it’s really such a pleasure to work with them. At our school, I love to hear all the children giggle and laugh and see their positive spirits. Their helpfulness and empathy for everyone around them. I love the camaraderie they have amongst each other and how well they take care of one another. The older kids are always watching after the younger kids. Here, everyone refers to close friends as “sister” or “brother”, both children and adults. It sometimes gets me and Beatrice really confused, but we managed to figure out eventually which students are actual siblings. Here, if they understood it, the students would very much agree with “There is no I in team”. Though they fight just like any other child may, overall they are so respectful of others, much more than any American child I have seen. When a friend is hurting they show so much empathy. If a friend is happy, they show such happiness for them. They are also very good at taking care of the younger, and are very helpful to each other as well. They really learn to help each other and it must come from growing up in a community where everyone helps each other. On the weekends most of our children at school work with their families, as I think I’ve mentioned before. I have now found such deep meaning to the American saying, “It takes a village to build a house”.
Here in Ghana, there is also a well-known saying that goes, “A tree that stands alone will fall, but together the trees will stand.”
The students at my school are also so respectful of adults around them. Any time I may drop something, there is a child picking it up. Any time I may put my bag down, there is a child there to give it back to my when I am ready to go. Today I tripped (because of my own two clumsy feet), and one of the students immediately said sorry to me! The respect they have for adults is amazing. They may have trouble not being silly at times, or may not like what an adult has to say, but I have yet to see a child speak back to an adult. On one of the exams last week, Beatrice and I saw a true/false question that read: “If you respect your elders you will a. live longer, b. die early, c. not have children.” Though it seems crazy that “A” is the correct answer, to me it makes sense that this is their believe, after being with the kids for just a week and a half and observing their values through their ongoing positive actions.
Because the kids don’t have much, they are very innovative and find many ways to creatively amuse themselves..in ways that American kids would never be able to do. An outsider (i.e. me on my first day) who may come along and look at the school property, may think these children must be bored, must have nothing and may feel badly that they don’t have anything to play with. At the end of the day however, these children may not have the same stories to tell, but they surely can talk about the what they did at school today and the fun they had doing it. It’s really inspiring and so impressive. It makes me almost embarrassed by the amount of toys and gadgets our kids have in America. To kids here in Africa, you can find entertainment easily if you look carefully at the things around you.
In Ghana….A large tree branch provides endless smiles and giggles as a see-saw. An empty water bottle becomes a lively musical instrument. Weeds become wind mills that turn in the wind, and a pretend pair of glasses. Flipflops become cars honking on a busy road built in the sand. A few sticks together become a game called “High Jump”, in which the boys challenge their ability to run and jump over them. Sand on the ground can so quickly be turned into a gameboard for the girls, in which they jump through different squares, according to a clapping beat. A plant magically turns into a beautiful necklace. A simple rock can become face paint. The favorite amongst the school children, is the large dirt ground that provides hours of football (soccer) fun. To a “bufaleh” all these things may just be useless object, garbage, pointless…but to the children of Ghana, they are toys, and really fun ones. Sometimes, all it takes is a little creativity and a whole lot of appreciation for the world around you.
Yet another amazing week so far, and it’s only Wednesday. I have had the best time with the kids in my class. Because exams are over, we are able to spend more time together learning and playing games. Beatrice and I (and my portable speakers) have also spent a lot of time rehearsing the song for the performance Saturday. We are working on some dance moves, and perfecting it all. I can’t believe we are going to be a part of such a special occasion. All the people from local towns have been invited to the performance and I expect it is going to be so much fun. Ah, we (the female staff) got our outfits today!! Pictures surely to come this Saturday! They are really cool. Friday is our last day of school, and we are all having a picnic. That should be a lot of fun too.
This week, the kids asked if I can show them pictures of my family, so I showed them some..and they loved it! Especially the picture of me in my Avatar halloween costume! (Thanks Amy for my awesome picture album! It’s really come in handy). The kids saw my brother and asked if he was black. I explained he was not 🙂 They also asked about “yellow hair”, to which I answered by explaining what “blonde” and “brunettes” are. They also asked about the feeling poster, which I brought for them..they also absolutely love it and look at it all day long. We taped it up in their classroom so they will always have it. I brought Feeling Bingo with me, and this they loved as well. Today we learned about “PATIENCE”, as this seems to be an area of difficulty when the kids are in their seats and want to be called on (But really, what kid in any country is this an easy task for?!) I had some kids come up and we did some role plays to show what it looks like both have patience, and no patience. For the rest of the afternoon they were trying so hard to be patient! During a game we played today, I had the kids break up into teams and we played a game where each team had to write as many things they can under a specific category which I would give them. They were SO into it and really took it seriously. Not one complaint, they were all very focused on the work and took it very seriously. At the end I gave the team who won glittery pencils and all others, stickers. Amazing how no matter how old the child, what language they speak, or country they are from, a reward always puts a smile on his or her face.
Again, the work ethic of these children, ages 10-14 is so very impressive. In Ghana they believe that education is so very important if you want to go far in life, and it is clear that families teach this to their children at an early age. I had the kids write letters for some of our Harlem Link kids and they were so excited about this idea. When I took out the white paper for them that I brought from home, they started cheering. Next I showed them a pack of colored pencils and markers, to which they also started clapping, cheering loudly and saying “Thank you Madame” over and over. It was such a sweet moment, one which made me realize how truly special this experience is and that perhaps this may be just the start of a lifelong journey to help the children of Ghana.
The letter writing was SO awesome! We reviewed how to write a letter, how to introduce themselves, and ask about the other student. For this we composed a list of things the kids wanted to know about the American kids-they had SO many questions, like… How long does it take you to get to school, are you black or white, do you have family, what is your favorite food, game and color, what is the name of your school, what is your religion, what languages do you speak, and how many teachers do you have. It was really great to see how into it the kids got. And how appreciative they were of the materials I bought them. Here are some pictures of the kids working on the letters.
The children in our school really know what it means to appreciate. One particular memory that stands out, is of one of the boys in my class named Monister. (He made an appearance in one of my last blogs, a favorite for sure!). The day I introduced the feeling poster to my class, I saw Monister standing with the poster folded up under his arm at dismissal. I asked him what he was doing with it, and he said that he wanted to show his grandmother the poster, with a big smile on his face. I asked him to point to the feeling he was having and he pointed and said “excited”. When asked why, he said because I brought the poster to show the class and he was going to show his grandmother. It made me so happy to see one thing meant so much to him. Yesterday he came into school with such a smile on his face, and the poster in hand.
Yet another memory-and student-I will always remember.
Today in the middle of the day, the female teachers told us it was time to visit the seamstress. I’m unsure if it’s because it’s the end of the year, but it’s crazy to me that teachers can just leave, with all the children in classrooms unattended. Teacher attitudes seem to be a bit different here. When there is a sick child, or sad child, a teacher doesn’t do much. Some kids were unable to get money from their father before school, and therefore are sad because they cannot by lunch that day. Sometimes kids are really sick or don’t feel well and often can be found sitting by themselves or with an older student who may be trying to help them. Teachers don’t respond to them, it feels strange to see this. If a child seems to have really bad fever, sometimes they will be sent home, but so far I have seen teachers pretty much ignore a sick child, or tell them to lie down. If Beatrice and I advocate enough for the child, they may give them a headache pill or tell them to sit near them. A hug seems to be the least popular response to a sad/crying child, which is so different than what we think would be our natural instinct. The kids are learning me and Beatrice run to the kids who are sick, hurt or sad because we give them so much love and TLC, the way we are used to it. Though I know it’s not the way they do things here, I’m still going to continue as long as I am still visiting..it’s SO hard and heartbreaking to see a sick or crying child, and just ignore them. Even worse, is watching the teachers ignore them. The images below are some of the ones I find the hardest to see:
As I said in the past, corporal punishment in the schools is also a social norm in Ghana. When Beatrice and I inquired a bit about this, teachers told us it’s in the Bible and they said it’s the only way to get children to do as told. Her and I tried but miserably failed at explaining the impact adults hitting a child will have on that child’s social behavior with other kids when they are mad. They really couldn’t understand, and when we told them it’s illegal where we are from, they were amazed. It’s so interesting to learn about the social norms of different cultures-to learn others view on things and how they socialize in different ways..though this is something I won’t really ever agree with or understand I guess. I at least feel a little better knowing sometimes they teachers may lift their sticks to hit but it only acts as a threat, and if they do sometimes it’s a small tap.
I have to run now but will write another one tomorrow about an unforgettable trip that the girls and I recently took to a nearby refugee camp. Stay tuned!
I leave you with “That Thing”, a HIT song here in Ghana