Madam, I love you

**Updated: Pictures are up!

Those were the last words I heard from the principal, as I hugged her and headed towards the van on our last day running camp in Salman. It was our first camp, and successful it was. It made me so proud to finally see all the work I’ve been a part of for so many months, in action. The experience was moving for everyone, including the principals and teachers. Let me tell you all about.

Our 1st camp

Our first camp, camp A, took place in a village called Salman (pronounced like Sal-mah). The school we worked in was a private school. It was chosen, because Adamus has directly affected it’s community. The entire village was relocated, in order for Adamus to use their land for mining. As I discussed in one of my previous blogs, when Adamus will relocate a village, they will give back to the community with money and houses. There are other things given as well, such as churches, schools, etc….basically any building that was previously in their village was built from scratch by Adamus, in a much newer revamped version. The school we worked at was one of these buildings.

Our summer camps provided lunch for  every child. Thanks to our amazing donors, I had over 700 dollars to bring to the camps and utilize as needed. I thought about what would be best for the program, and came to the decision that we’d use most of it to buy breakfast for all the kids in each of the camps we were going to run, since our program was unable to cover both meals a day. This couldn’t have been a better decision!! The kids and principals were so thankful, especially at this school!  All our schools were grateful for the breakfast we were able to provide for them, but so far the kids and teachers at Salman, seemed to be the most appreciative. With some of the 700  dollars we raised in NY, we were able to provide breakfast to about 400 kids. The cheers and smiles on the kids faces when they found out breakfast was provided every day, was priceless. (One group has even made a ‘thank you’ video for you guys!) If you donors didn’t already know, you ROCK.

When we got to the school on th first day the kids were so excited, and curious as to who we are and what we’d be doing. Because it was an Adamus school, it was much different than the school I worked in last year. The walls are all brick, and each classroom is really big. There are real doors with locks, and windows that shut! We walked around to get situated, and I was able to briefly meet with Rockson and the principal. We asked to have all the kids lined up in assembly, so we could introduce ourselves and tell them all about what the next few days will be like. I was so excited it was finally beginning. I went through each volunteer’s name, and got them pumped, and then off each group went with their “madame”.

The kids at assembly on our first day of camp

Once everyone was settled, I was able to meet with the principals, an older man and woman. I instantly thought to myself that they must be married, because I got two answers to every question I asked! Ha. (Turns out I was right!) Regardless of the occasional bicker, I grew to love the two of them rather quickly.  They were both very warm and welcoming, and seemed so excited about our program. They were very willing to help in any way they could too. A lot of their teachers were around, and as I requested, stayed with their regular classroom of kids. I wanted to include local staff in our summer camp program for 2 reasons. One, because they are really helpful with things like translating instructions, or managing any difficult behaviors. Two, because I think it’s important, and very much a part of this program, that we not only learn from the children and the culture, but that we also exchange ways of teaching and learning, with the local teachers as well. If we can at least leave the school staff, having learned at last 1 thing from our summer camp, I would be so happy. The teachers at this school turned out to be really great. They got so involved!

When all was settled that first day, I was able to visit the chief of the town for our 3rd camp, camp c. As I blogged previously, it was such a cool experience. On the ride home, I had a chance to talk with Rockson to learn more about education and children in Ghana. Rockson is from here, so is a great resource. Our conversation began when we were trying to estimate how many local kids would be joining our summer camp in Salman. In this village, there is a somewhat high rate of kids who don’t attend school. I learned from Rockson that some just drop out, and some just can’t go at all. The reason for not attending or for leaving school, are the same; the family most likely does not have enough money, and needs the student to work on their local farm, or to sell goods for their family. Because we knew the rate was high in Salman, we invited them to our school program. I was most excited to see what it was like working with these kids. I had expected that their English may not have been so strong, but some of them ended up not knowing English at all. A lot of the local kids who were invited choose to sit and watch, rather to engage. This was most likely because it was overwhelming, or because they just didn’t know what was going on. Nonetheless, it was really nice having them there; it was really great seeing some of the school kids working with the local kids. A lot of them knew each other, but some of them were just meeting for the first time, and still played so nicely together. There were definitely a few that were a bit roudy, and a few that were just too young to engage at all, but overall their presence really added to the experience.

I had thought that I would be sad not being able to work with my own group of kids, but in just the few days of working with Salman, I grew appreciation for my new role; instead of working with 1 group, I had the chance to work with them all.  Besides getting the chance to work with a whole new community of kids, I loved being able to watch all the volunteers do their thing. It helped me learn a little bit more about who they were, but I also got a chance to observe 6 different teaching styles. I love that. I noticed some of our volunteers would pair up with others through out different times of the day, and I really enjoyed watching their teamwork, each having had such a different background and age from the next. Some groups were a bit rowdy for the 1st day or so, but with just a little patience and practice, they volunteers working with them were able to have them back on track in no time!  I saw SO many creative games, and activities going on in each classroom..it made me feel like a proud mama! I watched one volunteer teaching her kids all about yoga and the importance of breathing when stressed. I watched another volunteer teach her kids new songs. Another, ran a whole dance circle with drums and everything… It was just awesome. Actually, sorry, I meant to say, it was fantasical. You read it right.

The non-word word wall

In all our fun teaching the kids at Salman, we had a few moments that stand out. Kids in general can be really funny…but some of the kids we worked with walked around saying some words we had never heard before and weren’t so sure they were actually even words… Fantastical was one of them. They say it about everything! And, they say it like it’s a word that’s completely normal. An example of how they may use it….”Madame, look at my drawing. It is fantaaaastical.” Say it outloud to yourself. It’s kind of catchy. We adults have not stopped using it. There are 2 other words that have us crying, we laugh so hard  whenever we think about them. I’ll save the best for last. The next, is “Sasabosom”. One day I was reading through some of the stories a group of kids had been working on, when I came across the word “Sasabosom”. Clearly, I lost my cool and keeled over laughing. It took everything in me to calm down and ask one of the kids what on earth this word was. Sharon and I, one of the volunteers, weren’t able to find out that day, so we came home and in our stupid over tired laughing fit that was, we looked the word up online. All I hear is “Alana, I found it!”.. I came over to the computer. “I got it! Here look. It says it’s a hairy vampire that lives in the forest and sometimes can be seen, but isn’t often. It’s something scary.” I looked up at the computer..”Sharon, umm you are getting that information from a site alled Monstapedia… I’m not so sure that definition is real.” And the laughing fits continued for the night. We finally were able to ask a child the next day what it meant; we learned it is the term that kids refer to when speaking about the Devil. Oh, and we also learned that it is really called “Sasabonsom”. But let’s face it, Sasabosom is so much more amazing. I’d say we use that one about once a day, the least. It’s a great word.

The last amazing word we heard at this school, was called…(drum roll please)…”insosophysicalmentality”. (Hear it in your head with an African accent).  I first learned about this word when I happen to walk into Sharon’s room again one day, and the class was playing hangman. One boy was filling out the letters for a really long word. He was so serious, and focused on what he was doing. (I am already laughing as I type this). I learned he was filling out the words because as excited as he was to have his class guess this word, they all knew he would pick this word because it’s apparently his favorite. When I saw it on the board I had to stop myself from bursting out in laughter because it is NOT a word. Our little friend Solomon (who turned out to be one of our favorites) fought and fought that it is in fact a word, and even went so far as to say it’s in the dictionary. His friends were all laughing at hime, but he even had some supporting him shouting out that it was a word. One kid furiously pulled out the dictionary to even try and support his friend! I suggested we settle the debate by asking their teacher. So, we marched up to the teacher, asked him to get a pen, and little Solomon began spelling his word, letter by letter. I suggested the teacher write each letter out as well, to see if he would recognize it better on paper. With a very serious face, Solomon began to spell out the word for his teacher. “I-N-S-O-S-O..”. As the teacher was writing, and the word began to get longer and longer, you could tell that the teacher was realizing that this was in fact a madeup word by the smile that began to creep up on his face. Poor Solomon just stood there with the most serious face, reading it over and over, until his teacher stopped him and told him it was not a real word. It was like Solomon’s world was crushed. I felt bad but it was really a great moment. From that day on we haven’t stopped joking about the word. Sharon and I even went so far as looking up the word on the computer to try and help him out a little..or at least to see if “insoso” has a meaning. Well, we found nothing, but even though it may not be a real world, it is a word in our books, and is one we will never forget. All these words are currently hanging in my room on the “Non-word Word Wall” we created..who knows what else will be added as this trip continues!

 

The End

Leaving this camp was definitely difficult; me and the volunteers felt a special connection to this group. It was clear that the principals of this school felt the same way. At the end of the program, there was a lady that came by to sell cloth. I knew that one of my volunteers has been very interested in shopping locally whenever she had the chance, so I called her over and together we excitedly looked through this basket of beautiful materials. There were so many different colors and textures. The principal came by and asked which ones we liked, helped us translate prices, etc. When we picked out the ones we liked, she tapped us on the shoulder, and said  “I will buy”. Words can’t express how much this meant to me/us. I get chills thinking about it now. Here is this woman, who has less than me, who is so busy running this school. Here we are to help them, give to them, provide…and she is giving me a gift? My instinct said, don’t take it, this isn’t right. I felt wrong somehow taking something from someone in a village where so much was taken from them..where I was supposed to be giving to them. I looked into the principal’s eyes, and heard her say “I want to buy for you. A gift”, and continued to kindly turn down the offer..but then,  something about the smile in her eyes, the sincerity in her offer, made me realize it’s something I had to do. I really honestly was struggling with whether or not I should take it. When I realized how much it would mean to her to take it, I decided to give in and accept. She was so overjoyed and I gave her such a big hug. It’s a moment I truly will never forget.

As I’ve been doing at all my schools, I also had the chance to meet with the principals and interview them at the end, about the camp, their thoughts on Adamus and what they have learned from us volunteers. I love knowing that we can come and help, but even more so I find it much more rewarding knowing we can leave a piece of our work behind. If the schools can learn from even 1 thing we did and keep it as part of their school culture, that makes me so beyond happy. Part of the interviews I conduct with each principal at the end of each camp, is to find out exactly that. Something about the interview I conducted with these 2 principals, really stood out to me. I asked both of them to join me at a table, and showed them the questions I had for them. Together, we read them outloud word per word. Something about their dynamic as a married couple I think, made it such a unique experience, rather than working with the typical principal. It was also really interesting to get a female perspective, as so many of the dominant roles here in Ghana are male dominant. So, I was really excited to see what they both had to say.

We began by talking about the impact Adamus has had on them. I asked them how they felt when they were asked to relocate, and they said at first they were scared of the unkown. They didn’t know what it would be like. I can only imagine what it would be like to leave the only place they knew all their live…where they cooked every day, where they had babies…that land is so much more than land, it’s their home. Interestingly enough, when talking to them they seemed so happy about the move once they got to the new village. I guess it makes sense, because it was SUCH an upgrade to them. They said they didn’t miss their old village at all. Now they had bigger houses, and a nice school, and they were so happy about the facilities they were given. Because of this, they really had nothing but positive things to say about Adamus. It helps for me to have these types of stories, because I have such conflicted feelings about Adamus and their work here. It’s comforting to know that some people are really happy with what they have recieved, rather than sad for what they have lost.

I then was able to talk to the principals specifically about the camp program. They couldn’t thank me more, and continued to say ‘God bless you’ to me through out the week, but especially through out that meeting.  It seemed both husband and wife were really genuinely pleased with the program. The best was asking them to rate on a scale of 1-10 how happy they were with the camp. The husband said 7…and then I heard a bunch of bickering in Twi, the local language. A few minutes later when the husband stepped out, the wife told me she thought it was a 10! Ha. Gotta love married couples. Especially married principal couples 🙂 (Steve and Margaret, I told them about you and they loved that we shared something in common!) I delved a little deeper and asked them what they liked most about the camp. They said they liked that the kids have a chance to use their brain in new and creative ways. The husband said that their school is so focused on academic, there was no time for too much play or fun (Reminded me of the charter school world a little..). The wife said that she never saw the kids so excited to come to school and was amazed and so thankful to see the school in full attendance every day of our summer camp! She was emotional and all she continued to do was thank me and said what a good person I am/we all are. She also added that it’s good for the children to see people from outside, from other countries come and work with them. I was so happy to hear this all, and I too got a bit teary eyed. For a moment, one of the teachers stopped by and we asked him the same questions. He gave me a ’10’ and said that he loved the camp!  I asked him if there was anything he saw that he learned and wanted to do when we are gone, and he said definitely the running and jumping activities. He said that his kids don’t get enough chances to be active, and pointed out that some kids who may be really low academically may be really talented in sports, or music. Such a great point! I felt so accomplished when I heard this, that we’ve opened the door to a whole new range of activities and ways of learning. Just to note, this one teacher at one point had his jeans rolled up and got so into the relays that he was doing them along with the kids! As always, kids anywhere in the world love nothing more than to see their teachers be silly, and show that they too can be fun, so the kids went ballistic when this guy hopped on one leg, or skipped. It was so great to get to talk to him and hear that he would love to carry on some of the things we did in camp.

As much as we prepared, it was so hard to say goodbye. The night before camp, I had a talk with volunteers about endings, and goodbyes. I thought it would be helpful to pass along what I have learned from both my counseling experiences in NY, and my experiences of saying goodbye to the kids in 2011. Last year, our goodbye was so emotional and was just too much. I wanted to avoid making that same mistake again. I told the volunteers that we want to try our best not to cry in front of the kids, because it will set the tone for the kids and they will all follow. I spoke about the importance of leaving on a positive note, but reminded them it’s ok to tell them you will miss them and that it’s sad. Goodbyes are sad, period. They just are. So, it’s definitely important to acknowledge that. It’s also important to leave this kids with a happy, positive feeling. It’s really hard, i know it because last year I couldn’t help but to cry with the kids and now it’s just a really sad memory in my mind. I told the volunteers that it’s important to let these kids know you will always remember them, and that they too can always remember you. I also suggested they tell the children not to be sad, but to happy because we’ve spent so many good times together. I also was really honest with them and told them pointblank, tomorrow is going to suck. It’s not going to be easy. You may be more sad than you think. You may not be sad at all. That is ok, everyone copes differently. I asked if they could just wait until we get in the van to cry, so the kids don’t see it.

In the end, the goodbye went as good as it can go. Some kids were crying. Some didn’t understand. The volunteers did a fantasic(al) job and in the end, I think it went very smoothly. I was really proud of them all for handling it so well. Surprisingly, I was ok, but I think because I have experienced it once before, I was more mentally prepared to handle it and somehow put up some sort of wall. Funny, I realized that last day  I took a lot less pictures…probably as a way to close myself off a little bit. Whatever it takes, to each his own really. I told the volunteers it’s ok if they cry, and I would be there for them through the night, because it’s a lot to process. I know for me, it was particularly hard to leave both the set of twins (from the pic I posted on facebook) and the female principal. When it was time to leave, the two girls just looked at me with tears in their eyes. They just stared, with that I-cant-believe-you-are-leaving-me face. It was awful. I gave them one last hug, and just had to walk away. Everyone knows I am really emotional and sensitive when it comes to this stuff, but I knew if I sat with them, I too would fall apart. Before I left, I went over to the principal and gave her a big hug. I thanked her for the cloth, and said I will always remember her. Ah, getting teary just thinking about it now. I think I’ve sort of blocked the ending out of my mind as to not get sad and be a role model for the volunteers, so it’s good  I get a chance to reflect on it now. Anyway, the principal hugged me tight, then looked at me, grabbed my arm, and said “Madam, I love you”. Just another moment I will never forget. As we piled in the van, we tried to each go in 1 by 1 in order to prevent the kids from crowding the car and making it more emotional. While we did this though, the principal had all the kids gather on the grass to watch our car drive away…which was exactly what we were trying to avoid! Nonetheless, there they were all staring, some smiling, some crying, some just trying to get their last wave. I had sang “Boom Chicka Boom” with the kids through out each camp day and boy did they love it….so right then and there, I thought what better way then to leave the kids with something positive and a smile…I rolled down my window and just started singing with them. I sang it out my window, and they sang back, until we were too far to hear them anymore.

There’s not much more to say, than what an amazing journey this has been. The pride I have after seeing something I have put my heart and soul into for so long, is a feeling like no other. I am proud of it all..myself, the volunteers, and the school for making it all happen and making it go SO well! It’s true that we have to enjoy the moments in our lives and appreciate each and every one of them, and where I am right here, right now, I couldn’t be happier.

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