*From Wednesday, July 18th, 2012 (Sorry, really poor internet where we are!)
Today was one of those days I know I will never forget for the rest of my life. I know have said this before about my previous experiences here in Ghana, but today was just so special and will always stand out in my memory. I was able to visit my kids from last year, in the town of Nkroful and the school “Rock of Ages”. The principal and I have been communicating these past few weeks. Just last week we confirmed the summer camp dates for this village, as well as my own personal days I will be visiting. During this email exchange, the principal said he will be sure to pass along the dates I will be arriving, as well as the camp dates, to the staff and kids. The very next day, while still in NYC, I received a call from one of the girls who I taught, Esther. She told me she heard I was coming July 19th and 20th and was excited for my return. They may not have email to spread the word, but they still have a pretty quick and efficient word of mouth system 🙂 I thought this was awesome. I have received calls from Rock of Ages students, all year round, but this one exemplified to me just how excited and ready they were for my arrival- and it made me 10 x more excited than I was already, to just get there and be with them!
I’ll never forget the butterflies of excitement I had in my stomach driving up the very familiar road to the school, this morning. It’s a bit of a hill, so when we got close to the top, all I could see were kids jumping and hands in the air waving. I could tell they were yelling, but couldn’t hear what-but as we got closer, the yelling got louder and louder. I realized then, they weren’t just yelling. They were chanting. They were chanting my name, “Madame Alana”, over and over again. Tears welled up in my eyes; I couldn’t believe it. I was so overwhelmed with emotion (and have been all afternoon just trying to process it all). Kids began banging on my window and trying to open my door. When I confirmed with my driver when I will need to return, I opened the door and suddenly I felt like I was in a movie. A sea of children, well over 100, surrounded me..chanting, yelling, laughing with excitement. As I looked around, I realized just how special this arrival was to them; there wasn’t just smiling faces all around me, but as I began to look around me, I noticed the signs. 1, 2, 3, then 4, 5 large signs, some painted, some handwritten. One said “Akwaaba madame Alana”, and another, “We missed you very much.” Again, I was simply overwhelmed with emotion.
I also saw that all the kids in the class I worked with made individual signs they were each holding up, with similar messages. It was so beautiful, and I was really moved. The kids put SO much time and thought preparing just for my arrival. It was such a good feeling looking out and seeing so many familiar faces. It was also cool seeing new kids who didn’t know me but seemed just as excited. (I wondered what the kids told them about me…Madame Alana is this white girl from New York who taught us how to Chicken Dance and talk about our feelings..ha).
All the teachers let the kids from all classes come out of their classrooms, so there were just literally hundreds of kids roaming around, some coming up to hug me, others looking at me from far with a smile. I tried as best as I can to go around giving as many hugs, holding as many hands, and saying hi to as many kids as I could. I wanted to savor every second of this moment, because I didn’t want it to end!
It felt so good to be back spending time with all my kids from last year. Monister, Solomon, Beatrice, Daniel, Michael, Nathaniel. They definitely got bigger, and some were totally trying to play the whole I’m an adolescent boy so I don’t get excited to see people-thing. Nathaniel, the class clown but deep down softy from last year, tried to keep this up for a while, but broke down and starting being silly and talkative with me eventually! It was just so great spending time with them again. The youngest kids were super shy and seemed almost overwhelmed at first, but then they came around! Blessing, one of my favorite cuties, got SO big! I couldn’t believe it.
Once the excitement settled down, we hung out in the classroom. The kids were so excited still and more silly than ever before. To provide some consistency for them, I did some of our old favorite games. First request, was that we do the under water morning greeting- they can’t get enough of this one! (Thanks again to my Harlem Link teachers who helped me out with this one last year- the best!) Then we played Simon Says, and Indian Chief, two other games they could play for hours. They asked for Hangman, so we did that as well. I even went around and had each one tell me how they feel 🙂 It was just an overall AWESOME time.
I had some time to talk to the teachers. It felt like sitting down and catching up with old friends. They were just as happy to see me, and asked me all about my trip, my kids in new york and my family. I told them that our kids in Harlem were able to write them letters back, and they were so excited about this idea. I asked them also about the beautiful signs, especially the big one that looked professionally done. One of the teachers from last year who was one of the best teachers, told me he had the class that I work with, make individual signs for me, because he thought I would like it. I LOVED it and thanked him a bunch! Then I asked about the big sign. They told me that a group of children brought in money and together they were able to pay to have a local artist make it for me. WOW. I couldn’t believe it. What made it even cooler is that they tied it in with something we did in camp last year. (This made me laugh!) Last year, at the end of every camp day, we had all campers competing against each other. For lack of creativity, one afternoon, in the spur of the moment when we couldn’t think of team names, we thought of “Team Alana”, “Team Pippa”, “Team Sophie”, and so on. Apparently the teachers are this school have been so psyched about summer camp beginning, they have already broken the school up into groups, and gave them these names! Each group has a banner like mine made. Can’t wait to see them. I also noticed a picture hanging in the office, that was from the end of the year celebration where me and Bea dressed up last year. That meant so much to me..it’s like they really consider us a part of their school community.
When people ask if I feel I can really make a difference in such a short amount of time, today couldn’t be more evident that the answer is yes. It shows how strong a human connection can be. It’s the gift of just being present and giving your time to others, that really stands out in people’s memory. It shows that spending time with someone, doing a mitzvah as they say in Judaism, can truly be more powerful than any expensive gift or tangible thing. It’s really just incredible how they welcomed me, how much it meant to them. So many things about it was just so moving to me- the time spent on each sign, the way the teachers were just as excited, the picture hanging in the main office of all the school staff from last year- that included myself and Beatrice. It all meant so much to me, words really just can’t fully describe.
The teachers told me that they even stopped hitting the children as discipline in school a week before my arrival, as a way to celebrate (in that case I should tell them I am coming every week!). It’s just incredible, and is a day I really will never be able to forget. At the end of the week the principal came over to where I was staying so we can talk further about camp details. He also said he came over to thank me. For what I asked? And then he said, ‘I want to thank you for boosting our school moral, our school name. Because of your presence, children from all different villages registered with us. You have given our school a good name and is somewhere kids want to be.” I was speechless. If that is not a sign of an impact, I don’t know what is!
As well as seeing differences in the children, it was really such a great feeling to see how the school has changed and advance in a positive way. For example, in the main office, there was a radio! I looked up and saw they had a whole new electricity system in the school. That’s so great. They also had garbage cans, which showed they were starting to make an effort to take better care of their community. Last year when I showed the teachers what hand sanitizer was, they rubbed it all over their face and arms, because they were so curious about this thing which they had never seen. Now, there’s a bottle sitting in the main office of antibacterial, that one of the parents donated. It was great to see overall how things have really evolved. The principal was so excited to share with me that he got his first modum and now his emails are fast. He even got a printer! It’s a great feeling to see a place change for the better. I was so happy for them. I was so happy the entire day; I had a permanent smile on. Unfortunately my time was cut short around 1:00 when it was time for me to go meet the chief of one of the villages. Though I was really looking forward to this new experience, the little kid in me was laying on the floor throwing a tantrum at the thought of leaving-but, nonetheless, I said goodbye and told the kids I will return tomorrow. I look forward to spending another day with them and then having more camp time at their school later in a week!