(I apologize for not having the pictures again, I know it’s so much better with them! Internet isn’t fast enough but soon I will be leaving Axim and then will be able to post pics..stay tuned)
*Written Thurs, Aug 2
Today is one of our days off, and I am just taking the day to reflect, and relax. I’m sitting at one of the gazebos at our hotel, over looking the beach, hearing the sounds of the waves, and thinking how happy I am to be here…and how sad I am that there are only a few days left. Time is moving so fast, as they always say it does when you are busy and enjoying your time. I wish I had more time here, but I am trying to make the most of each day. We’ve been staying at this gorgeous hotel called Axim Beach Resort. The 6 volunteers and I share a villa overlooking the water. There are a total of 6 volunteers, and 3 rooms for them to share. I have my own room, and there is a shared common room. Some of the volunteers have been sharing that they feel it’s a bit conflicting for them to come back here at the end of the day, after being in village all day long. I agree to an extent; it feels a bit lavish staying here when there is just so much poverty around us. Nonetheless, it’s still a pleasure to be able to come back here at the end of a long day, to catch up with ourselves and unwind. Even at times when one wants to be adventurous and try new things, I think some type of familiarity is nice to have, something of comfort, and this hotel has been just that. We supply the volunteers with water every day, and the rooms are cleaned every day/every other day. We do have showers, though whether or not the water is cold daily is questionable :). Like last year, my care for what I look like or how dirty I am, goes out the door the minute I am with the kids. I think all the volunteers feel the same way. If it means no shower, or a cold shower, we’ll take it. It’s all about embracing the experience! At this hotel, we are served breakfast and lunch daily, and have access to internet and laundry, which are both pay per use. The internet is very poor, but it’s better than nothing. Besides dealing with the usual GMT delay (Ghana Maybe Time, refer to last year’s blog!), it’s been great. I have come to realize I am much more used to the slow Ghana pace this time, vs last year; it’s just a part of the culture. At times my New Yorker definitely does break out when we have breakfast being served slow as can be, and we have somewhere to go! Oh, just one more thing that will always make me appreciate Ghana. As long as you have a smile on your face, who cares about time? Ha.
Camp 2: Success!
I can’t believe how quickly time is going by. Not only has our first camp finished, but now, our 2nd one has to. I have really loved the experience of seeing different schools, and their different management/cultures. The 2nd school we worked in, was in a village called Anwia. The school we volunteered in, is the only public school in Anwia. Like Salman, Anwia was affected by Adamus, but in a different way. Adamus currently utilizes some of the farming land in Anwia; as a way to give back, they have supported this school by providing them with new facilities. These include a drinking water pump, 2 large bathroom houses (1 for the older kids, 1 for the younger), and trees on the school grounds. When speaking to the principal during our pre-interview, it sounded like he was very pleased with what Adamus has done for them. This was great to hear. We had made an agreement with all the schools we were to work with, that the maximum children we can work with was to be 120. Because this was a public school however, it was a bit of a challenge settling on the right number. When Rockson and I met with the principal at the school a few weeks ago, he told us that there were about 320 kids between the youngest grades and oldest. One of the hardest parts of this job, is turning away our support to a certain group of kids, but due to both budgeted finances, and the amount of volunteers we have, it’s just not possible for us to work with such a large group. The principal then divided the camp into two groups; 3 of the lower groups, and 3 of the upper. I had known that the volunteers had really wanted to work with the little ones, so I tried my best to see what we could do to work with them, but unfortunately their were 183 of them and that was just too much. After taking some time to think and having a few phone conversations, the final decision I made was to work solely with the 3 upper groups, with a total number of 143. The principal warned me that some of the younger kids may still want to come and be involved, but he told me the local teachers will be there to try to manage them.The volunteers and I were prepared to handle a lot more kids at this school and couldn’t wait to meet them!
Both the schools in Nkroful and Salman were private schools, but this one was public. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to tell a difference, but both myself and the volunteers did notice a few. A lot of the kids at this school knew a lot less English; understanding even simple instructions was hard for them here. I was told this occurs often in public schools where classrooms are overly crowded and students cannot receive the individual attention they need to learn. The principal showed me the lower classes; two small rooms in which 90 kids fit in each day. I couldn’t believe it, and felt really bad. We noticed the kids we worked with struggle much more so than children in the 2 other schools, with spelling words, and matching letters to sounds.
It was that much more rewarding for my volunteers when they were able to make a breakthrough during our time with them. One of my awesome volunteers, Steph, had a class that had no idea where a lot of the continents and countries were. She spent an afternoon reviewing the world map with them and going through the different categories. For the next two days, the kids were able to retell some of the things they learned and even apply them when asked to point them out on a map or answer questions in a game of trivia. That was really cool to see! It’s exciting for me also to see some of the volunteers experience for the first time, what I had the honor of experiencing last year. It also gives you a chance to be creative with your teaching, and finding alternative ways to get through to the kids. I saw another volunteers, Heather, playing a game called 4 corners, which didn’t involve detailed instructions and was easy for the kids to catch on..they loved it! I myself had a really great experience with one of the older groups as well. One of the other volunteers, Sharon, was having the kids draw using stencils of different animals. I was just walking around looking at their pictures, when I got this sudden idea to have the kids make the sounds of the animals they drew, just to add a fun element to the activity. We thought we’d try it out, so we had each kid stand, say the name of the animal and do the animal sound. Not only did they like it, they got such a kick out of it. As I kept going, I kept thinking of more creative ideas to add to it! I’ve worked with kids before where they make “music” using different sounds…and I was ready to try it with this group. I had each stand in a semi-circle around me. When I would point to them, they were to make their sound. The quicker the activity, the more you can begin to make “music” with the sounds. It turned out so well! At times we had to stop because we were all laughing too much. Such a simple game, with not many words. They totally got it and had a lot of fun with it! Me and the other volunteer couldn’t stop laughing. I couldn’t stop smiling, because it was so great to see the kids enjoy it so much. It went on for a while, our little animal choir. I remember thinking, if we tried doing this with our kids in NY, it would either turn stupid and sexual in some way or another, or they would be too cool for school. Not these kids. They totally rocked at it. They got so good at it, that we invited the principal to come watch. We even performed our little choir in front of the whole camp group at the end of the day. It was such a good time! A great group of kids.
Working at this school, posed one challenge for both myself and some of the volunteers; a challenge I certainly had not prepared for. It was true what the principal said about the local younger children who were not invited to our camp; there were so many of them that came by to watch, and even try to play. Of course they wanted to, who wouldn’t? This group of fun, happy adults came to your school to play..but with other kids and not you. I can imagine the level of curiosity and wonder these kids had watching us, as well as their natural kid-like urge to want to join in and play too! Watching them watch us, and not being able to include them, was one of the hardest parts of this camp. It was really hard for a lot of the volunteers and myself to turn them down or tell them to go away. It was definitely another hard part of my job…especially having to tell the other volunteers not to feed or give arts and crafts supplies to them. If it was up to me and my ‘i want to help the world’ mentality, we’d have helped every child in that school and even that village-but unfortunately, we just were not able to. Because we are funded by Adamus, we only have a certain amount of money budgeted per camp. We also only had 6 volunteers and didn’t have enough to work with more than 6 groups. Also, I ordered and brought with us just the right amount of materials for 3 camps with 120 kids per camp. As much as you want to be able to help everyone, it’s just not possible and one thing I am learning through this experience, is the importance of setting boundaries of some sort with this type of work. Not easy! These cuties would crowd around the doorways watching, and for a lot of us it was heartbreaking. I think one of the challenges of the role of team leader, is trying to balance both sides…the admin side, and the volunteer side. Here I am someone who always, always wants to help others, and I have to tell the volunteers not to help the locals. It makes me come off to the volunteers as someone who is cold and doesn’t care, and that’s far from the truth. That was definitely a struggle for me at this camp, more so than the others because there were just so many. It’s a horrible feeling having to turn down kids when you know they just want to play, and that they have nothing. Alas, I still have to follow the rules, and our program just doesn’t have the supplies, the man power, or the money to provide for these kids. So, I had to tell the volunteers to please not engage with them….Not easy at all!
One particular experience stands out for me, from the rest. It was one of our afternoons with the kids, where we have all ages play together in a whole camp activity. This day we were playing Steal The Bacon. Within just a few minutes of the game beginning, one boy and girl were so excited to run and grab the ball in the center, that they ended up colliding and as a result, the girl was hurt. She got badly cut on her chin..so bad that even after a while, the bleeding wasn’t stopping. The poor thing was standing there crying hard, and it was a mess. As all kids do, her classmates were surrounding her to see what was going on. We were able to get them to move and give her privacy. The teacher asked one student to grab a mixture of mud and grass, which is used here to stop the bleeding. When we saw even this remedy was not working, it was time to get her to a clinic. We were able to have our driver bring her to the local clinic, and there was no way I wasn’t going with her. Though she had a (male) teacher there, she still looked really afraid so I hopped in the car and held her hand all the way to the clinic. They took her in to be seen right away. I was surprised, since there were a lot of woman with crying babies all around, but I am glad they noticed the urgency of her injury. I went into the dr.’s room with her, which was a tiny room with a cart full of first aid materials, and a wheelchair that was being used as a patient’s chair. The nurse looked it over and said she would need stitches. I wasn’t able to stay, so I stood outside with Mandy, the other Adamus social responsibility staff member, the student’s teacher and myself. They gave her a shot to numb the area, and then stitches on her chin…while sitting in a chair!! I was amazed. After that I sat with her while we waited to get her medication, and then a shot to prevent infection. All of that was 17 Cedis only, which obviously there was no way I wasn’t paying for. 17 Cedis is only about $8.50 in NY. She recieved a discount because she was a student and did not have a hospital card, but I was so happy to be able to help out and pay for it. When that was completed, we went back in the car, where I held her hand and gave her some cookies. She was SO brave, didn’t cry at the dr’s once! What was most impressive? She came back the next day all ready to go! Children’s resiliency is so admirable. I was so glad to be able to go to the dr. that day, and to help pay for her medical as well. It meant so much to me.
What was also a really cool component to it all, was when we went to bring her home; we sat down with her mother and grandfather to explain what happened. Sure enough when I looked up at her grandfather, I realized I knew him! He was one of the chief’s members and i had met him when I went to the chief’s palace a few weeks back to discuss the camp! He didn’t speak much English, but he didn’t need to; his smile said it all. He thanked me for paying, and gave me a firm handshake. It was in that moment that I got the chills because it wasn’t just that I knew this man… I felt like such a member of this community in that moment. It’s the best feeling. Things keep happening to me that continue to make me see it, feel it ; the more things come up, the more I really truly feel I am a part of this community. That’s what makes this trip so much more unique from last years. People know who I am here. They know I come to help. I am part of the culture here. I am part of their world. Even when we were leaving the clinic, it happened…when we were walking out of the clinic, into the van, I suddenly heard “Madam Alana!!”…it was two of my kids from the school I worked at last year, who saw me down the road and wanted to say hi. It’s such a good feeling 🙂 I love it here and really could see myself spending more than just a few weeks here. I feel so comfortable, and oddly, so at home. I am not ready to leave!
We only had three days with this group, but from what I saw it wasn’t about how much time they had with our volunteers, it was the time spent with them that really mattered to the kids. This goes back to what I have written about in the past, when people ask if they think a few days/weeks can make a difference. I personally think 1 day is definitely not going to, but if you have just a few days to spend with them, you end up giving the kids a gift that they’ll keep in their mind and hearts forever. It doesn’t just end there, it stays in the community… it stays in conversations, it stays in the school culture. For some kids, we are the first people with different races or from different countries, that they have ever met. Our impact is strong and it’s such a great feeling knowing that what we are doing may perhaps make a lifelong difference. As I always say, you can’t change the world but you certainly can change a few people’s individual worlds. And that’s exactly what we are doing.