Summer Camp Team in Anwia

(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

Axim

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.

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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.

Reflecting

A quick thought that came to me today…

Some of the kids here don’t know their birthday. Some babies walk around barefoot without pants. Some adults wear the same shirt day after day. It may sound sad; I know at first I felt somewhat saddened when I asked a child, “what’s your birthday”, and heard back, “I don’t know. I’ll ask my mom if she knows and will tell you tomorrow.”Naturally I also felt sad when I saw babies in a local town walking without shoes or pants. We’re so used to diapers, shoes and clothes, it’s off putting at first. But then, I thought about it, and realized it’s only sad because we come from a society where those things are SO important….even to adults, birthdays are a big deal in the US. And here is a child, who didn’t even seem to be bothered that she didn’t know her birthday. I realized, it’s just not important.  More so, what’s important is what’s essential for survival…and knowing  a birthday isn’t one of them. Or, wearing pants for a baby, isn’t either. Instead he can just walk around bottomless because it’s easier for him to go to the bathroom without soiling another piece of clothing to wash. Instead the child’s life can be celebrated all the time…for being here and healthy. It makes me disgusted in a way that we have such priority for birthdays and such when there are places in this world that it’s just not even a part of the culture, simply because there are more important things to know, care about, and deal with.

Those things…clothing, birthdays..things we put such emphasis on in the US..they just aren’t a priority here. And I love it. Here, priority is 2 things in order to survive: health and happiness. That’s it. And really, that’s all you need.

 

Ghana Summer Camp: behind the scenes

Camp is going so, so well so far! Today we finished our last day at the first village we worked with. I will blog about it all, but before I do so I thought I’d talk a little about the behind the scenes of it all.

There is so much that has gone into making this camp happen; meetings, phone Skype phone calls, google docs over the winter and spring, and then in person planning meetings and scheduling that goes on, on-site here in Ghana. I have loved every second of it so far. Before I left I thought this part of the experience may feel daunting or intimidating, but in actuality it’s been the most amazing, exciting part of it all. This is a whole new element to the trip that I didn’t have last year and it has made my experience so different in such a positive way.

For the past 7 months, I have worked consistently with a team at The Humanity Exchange, to put together all the componenets of the program. The first 2 steps were to begin thinking of the dates we wanted to run the camp, as well as the villages. The first one was a lot easier than the second. I selected the dates for our summer camps based on when I was available, while also keeping in mind when the school we worked with last year ended. Then exact details of the program aren’t planned until the few months leading up to the program, but there is so much that is done before those months are reached. During this time, I worked on the details of each day of the program, as well as how many days will be best at each camp, the age groups we want to work with, and the total amount of kids I think is best for each camp. The process was worked on up until the first day of the program! Needless to say, it took a lot of time and team work to make it all come together into the final schedule that we have this summer!

Through out the winter, I worked on my very first marketing project. I was responsible for writing up a few things: an ad for the program, the website portion of the program, and a video advertising the program as well. Though this was all very new to me and at times challenging, it was a great process and felt very exciting through out. It got even more exciting when emails began to roll in and the interview process started. I had so much fun getting to know different people’s backgrounds, occupations, and motivation to travel abroad. It was a long process, and though we originally intended to find 10-15 volunteers, we were able to find 6 fabulous volunteers, who straight from the phone call interviews, I knew were perfect matches! With all the advertisements and work we had done thus far, we had to work on the next step; finding the villages that were the best fit for our program.

It all begins with Adamus Mining company. The Humanity Exchange works hand in hand with a mining company here in Ghana called Adamus. This year, because of all the community work I’ve been able to do, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot more about the company, and how they have worked in both positive and negative ways with their communities, as well as their involvement in the selection of the villages THEX works with. There are lots of different opinions about the mining companies in Africa overall and how they affect communities within; I myself have conflicted feelings about it. When I first heard about the mining companies and how they move villages out of where they live in order to mine there, it felt unsettling. I thought only negative thoughts. However, as I began to talk to mineworkers and community members, my opinion has changed a little. The first time I heard it, I thought it sounded so invasive and unfair to the people. I am learning that it sounds a lot worse to a bystander, than it actually is for those who are moved. This is because, as much as there are a lot lost, there are also a lot of benefits in a mining move.

Just last week, I learned all about the process, from the start when a mining company wants to move to a particular place, to the time that the locals have settled in. First the mining company will use different gps tracking systems to find areas that are potential for gold mining. Once found, Adamus will then apply to see if they can get a license for this area. When I was talking about this with an Adamus employee, two thoughts crossed my mind…1-‘do the people have a say at all?’ and 2- this oddly reminds me a lot of the charter school space issue in NY. The similarities actually continue; I was told that Adamus then holds a big hearing. At this hearing, there are Adamus members, important political figures, and the members of the potential village are also invited to listen as well as to speak. The hearing lasts for a while and whoever would like to speak can, similary to other types of hearings. It made me happy to hear that the village members at least get a chance to be heard, but I comtinued to feel concerned about their well being. My next question was, is their opinion really heard? I was told that yes, their opinions were heard and were very much so taken into consideration. Besides acting as a place for voicing opinions, the hearing is also a place where offers are made to the village people and negotiations begin to take place.

I was really interested in hearing more about what it is that gets negotiated. The mining company takes into consideration all that takes place on the land they want to move into. So, for example, they consider whether there was farming and crops growing there. Once all of those details are considered, they will then make offers to the people so that there needs will be met. Offers include money, but also agreements such as the amount of new land given, etc. Adamus will also give each family a newly build brick house with rooms, doors and electricity. These houses are a lot nicer and bigger than the houses that they had before, so they feel this is an advantage. I have heard that some people try and move into the village that will be relocated, so they can also be included in benefitting from a new home. I also heard that some families will have several people stay at their home, so they can get a bigger house; since the number of rooms in the new houses will match the amount in the old houses. The families who are moved are given a lump sum of money, which makes most families very happy. However, there is much controversy about this, and possible plans for change in the future. This is because if some families who were previously making money on crops they sold from thier farm land, and in their new space they do not have this space any longer, in the long run they will be deficient of funds they once had. When speaking with someone from Adamus, I myself felt this was a concern and he told me that Adamus is already trying to update the system. Perhaps in the next few years families will recieve money through out the year, rather than solely in the beginning, in one lump sum.

With this said, Adamus works with The Humanity Exchange, in order to help give back and provide support to these villages which they re-located. There was a lot of discussion around which areas would be best to work with, for our summer camp. The 3 villages that were decided in the end, are called Salman, Nkroful and Anwia. Above is a picture of the houses that were still being worked on last year, in 2011 when I visited. The other is the “after” picture of the village after the houses were completed and the families have been all moved in. It was pretty cool to get to see the work both before and after.

One important step that needs to be taken before proceeding with any of our camps is to consult with the chief of the town. This was definitely one of my favorite parts of my trip thus far! The chief is the promiment decision maker and figure of the village. One becomes chief through passed down generations, so there is no voting involved. The chief has many representatives who work with him and makes decisions with them, as the chief delegates tasks to them. For example, one time we were unable to meet with one of the chiefs, so his members met with us instead. (When I say us, I mean me and Rockson, the social community liason for Adamus Resources). I had the opportunity to meet with the chief of Salman, and Anwia. Both were such different experiences but equally as exciting! Because I arrived in Ghana a few days before the volunteers, I had time to have meetings and do different prep work. It was during this time that I met the chief of Salman. Me and Rockson arrived at his “palace”, which wasn’t much a palace at all, but it is a larger living quarter than most people have. When we got there, there were a few seats lined up in front of the chief, who was sitting down with 2 woman, and 2 men. Rockson began the meeting by explaining what the camp will be like, listing the number of kids, ages, activites, etc. The chief’s assistant than spoke. The interaction between the 2 went back and forth for a little while. Every now and then, Rockson would translate to me what was being discussed; he said that overall, the chief was very pleased with this idea and was very grateful for my help. Then, Rockson presented my gift for me. Allison, the program director, had suggested perhaps I get alcohol at the duty free shops in Morocco, to give to the chiefs, so Rockson handed over a bottle of rum to the chief and his members. Once they took a look at the bottle, huge grins appeared across all of their faces, and everyone was laughing and saying things I couldn’t understand. I took this as a sign that they were happy, and smiled along with them 🙂

Meeting with the chief of Salman was similar, but more intense. It was such a surreal experience! When Rockson and I went to visit this chief, there were 10 people who were there to represent the chief. Though he was not there, his representatives were equally as important and involved. The process was similar with Rockson explaining, me talking, him translating. This crowd had a lot of questions for us, such as what will happen with the local staff. We ensured them that they can be a part of the program, and that it would in fact help to have them around to help when there are language barriers and to control behaviors. Similar to the last meeting, everyone was very pleased and thankful with the camp idea. I was able to shake each representatives hands, and provide a minute of entertainment to them all by repeating a few phrases, to express my thanks and happiness. It felt so empowering to be working on making this camp happen first hand, and watching it all unfold made me feel so proud to be able to help these communities. It made me feel like I was suddenly initiated into their communities. Both visits were really unique and special opportunities; I don’t think I’ll experience anything like that again.

Another important task upon arrival, was to meet with each of the principals, in order to review the camp details. This was another favorite part of my experience so far. I was able to meet with the principal of Nkroful on my own and met with the principal of Anwia with Rockson. The schools are all a bit different in number, so we had to work out how many children we were able to have, based on an approximate 1:25 ratio for each of our 6 counselors. It took several meetings to make sure that we can work out an appropriate number, but we were finally able to come up with final numbers for each camp. We would be working with 130 kids in 2 of the camps, and around 145 kids for the third. One major factor that also played a role, was looking at how much program money we had in order to pay for lunch for each student. I think one of the hardest parts of this has been turning down groups of kids that we just don’t have the man power or finances to work with. However, as I’ve been teaching the volunteers, there comes a time you do have to set boundaries of some sort, because it’s natural here to feel like you want to keep helping people more and more as much as you can.

Adamus has taken an interest in learning more about how our summer camps are affecting their communities. Because of this, I’ve created a pre and post interview, which includes questions about the locals views on Adamus, and how they feel the camp has affected their school. Hopefully it will help us get further insight, and we may even be able to see if their opinions have changed or stay the same over time. I was really excited at the thought of delving deeper into the local communities, and was really looking forward to this step. I had the chance to do a final interview with the principals at Salman today, and it was an amazing experience. I’ll talk all about it in my next blog coming soon.

I am enjoying the role of Team Leader so much, and it’s the community work that I am doing this year that is making this experience unique and very different from last year. I love it! Who would have known a year ago when I came to Ghana for my first time, that was just the start of a whole new experience and chapter in my life? I never thought I’d be running a volunteer program and creating a summer camp program in Africa. I feel so lucky to have such an experience and can’t wait to see how this shapes me moving forward in my career and life experiences. The first week of camp is over and I can’t believe it..as always, time is flying by. Soon I’ll be posting all about Camp A, Salman. There are so many amazing pictures, but with the slow internet connection we have here, I am unsure if I’ll be able to post them. I will definitely try 🙂 I look forward to sharing more with you about my experience running my first Ghanian camp in the town of Salman in my next blog!

To The Mosque

Hi from Ghana!

It has been 4 days in Ghana, 6 days total since I left NY, and it has been nothing but amazing. Not only is it great to be back, but the experience has been totally different…in a good way. I am taking it all in and loving every minute. My internet access has been very limited so I haven’t been able to post much, sorry! However, I have been writing my blog entries off-line, so lookout for a few posts in the next upcoming week for sure. Below is the first, which I wrote last Wednesday night/Thurs am…I didn’t change it all so, to make it feel more real and in the moment. Here ya go!

My first 48 hours

I am in Accra after a long journey…what a whirlwind these past 48 hours have been. My flight over from NY was great, and surprisingly the time went by quickly. I only slept one of the 7 anda  half hours; probably because I was so excited to arrive. As most of you know, I had an 18 hour layover in Morocco. I had never been there before, so all at once I was very excited to visit, but yet nervous at the thought of traveling around by myself- but, more on that later. My flight landed in Casablanca, Morocco at 7:30 bright and early in the morning. I shuffled on to the shuttle bus with the rest of the crowd, where I met two other woman who were heading to Accra, Ghana as their final destination as well. In typical me fashion, by the time I was in customs I had already made a friend (who little did I yet know would be my buddy for the next 24 hours straight). After getting my passport stamped, we were off to find out where to go next. When passenger flying with Royal Air Maroc to Morocco have a layover more than 8 hours, the airline has a private hotel in which they can stay until their flight takes off. Needless to say, I was qualified 🙂 Eleanor, my new friend, and I, waited for our hotel tickets, then went outside to wait for our shuttle…walking around the airport in itself was really cool….Two of my favorite things at airports are when you hear a mix of languages from all over the world, and when you see family members reuniting at arrivals. In this airport, I saw it all, and was already loving every minute of the journey. It was great hearing all the different languages, in particular Arabic and French. I was always really bad at languages, but it’s funny how it always works that when you hear a different language than your own spoken, especially to you directly, you suddenly can think of random words from all the different languages you know-but, more on that later. Here we were in Morocco, and I couldn’t wait to see what our day would unfold.

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Casablanca

When we stepped outside, the air was heavy and wow was it hot…I had heard that it was supposed to be 110 degrees in Morocco upon my arrival, but didn’t quite know how it would feel. It was scorching..definitely put NY’s little heat wave a few weeks ago to shame! I had been to Eilat, Israel, and always thought that was the hottest place I’ve been, but this was even hotter. We hopped a shuttle to the hotel, and then we arrived, to what was the start of a chaotic next few hours. Though I was feeling really grateful that I had a place to stay in the interum of waiting for my next flight, the hotel was a bit of a mess. When we arrived, they didn’t have any rooms for us, and told us to wait an hour. They told us to enjoy breakfast in the meantime..though we were pretty sleepy (It was about 9:30 their time, so 4:30 am NY time), our hunger trumped our tiredness and we excitedly sat down to our first African meal….unfortunately when we walked in, we were told there was no more food. Wamp wampppp…it felt like the day was making a turn for the worse, but…in my usual positive manner I made the best of it and settled for whatever there was- cucumbers, jam, and a piece of bread. Eager for sleep, we went back to the front desk, where a room was finally available. Eleanor and I said goodnight, and took a nap for a few hours. The beds were a bit skeevy, and pillows lumpy and stained…but that didn’t stop me from passing out- I took my sweatshirt and neck pillow, made it my blanket and pillow and was out for 2 hours.

When we woke, it was time to eat again, but this time our expectations were a bit lower…and for a good reason- more cucumbers and bread! This time, there was a little rice and other vegetables well…it definitely wasn’t the meal of the year, but I was thankful at least we had somewhere to stay. (Seema, tripadvisor reviews weren’t kidding!!) At this point, I was still a bit out of it but I knew staying in this hotel all day was not an option. I was looking forward to visiting the city, and was a woman on a mission. I was going to find a way to make this bad day into a good one. Though Eleanor wasn’t on the bandwagon at first, I (the one who was anxious and unsure about traveling through the city by myself for weeks before this trip!)- shared with Eleanor my eagerness to go and explore, and explained it would be totally fine and safe. “We have to go see what’s out there!” Though I didn’t have a plan as to how we’d get there, and was ready to go by myself if she did not want to go, we asked the receptionist what the best and most affordable way would be to go if we went together; Eleanor wasn’t planning to travel beyond the hotel so she had a limited amount of cash…but we made it work. Now, a lot of you know I was looking forward to trying to brave and go around Morocco by myself. I was even thinking about meeting a Chabad Rabbi who my stepfather connected with via email (only my family!)…but, the roaming services on my phone were just not connecting, and I was too tired and unsure to go solo. I felt a little bad that I wasn’t able to try and beat my fear of trying something new and going alone…but I thought about it and realized-I am still trying something new and going with a friend I JUST met, and that’s definitely still something different in itself. So, off we went to the city!

The taxi ride brought on a new calamity….I felt like there was a candid camera, somewhere. We got in the car, and realized the driver speaks not one word of English. He only spoke French. I took French when I was in high school, but suddenly I started throwing a mix of all the languages I had known…french, spanish, I think I may have even threw in a hebrew word in there…. clearly that got me nowhere. The driver was getting frustrated with us, Eleanor was hot and flustered, and we were stil sitting there in a un-airconditioned taxi in 110 degree weather, all speaking over each other….needless to say we weren’t making much progress. As I tend to do when there is nothing else to do, I started laughing. I swear, all that was missing was Chevy Chase. Eventually, miraculously, we were able to understand that the driver was trying to make us an offer to go to the city, show us around, and take us back for $70.00. A cab one way is usually $40.00, so this was definitely a deal, but Eleanor was short on cash, so she quickly declined the offer. I had my heart set on visiting this one mosque, so I quickly threw out the name to the driver, and told him just to take us there. “To the mosque”, I said, and off we went. (Pause for a sec- the driver wanted to take us on a tour. A tour. The guy speaks no english. Could you imagine what the scene would look like? Ha. Again, Chevy Chase, where are you?) Somewhere along the ride Eleanor broke out her N Y bargaining skills, and got the driver to take us to the mosque, wait for us for an hour, and then return back to the hotel, all for $50. He agreed, and all were happy. I would have liked to see more of the city,but it was probably too hot to walk around for much more than an hour anyway. Though it was incredibly hot, and humid, I rode the 45 minute ride to the city with a smile on my face, because the day just kept getting more interesting.

The Hassan II Mosque

They say some things are worth waiting for; this definitely was. This mosque was by far one of the most beautiful landmarks  I have ever seen. It’s huge from far, but as you drive closer, you see it is really so vast, and breathtaking in person. This mosque, the Hassan II Mosque, is the largest mosque in the country of Morocco, and the 7th largest mosque in the world. I was completely mesmerized. I have always loved Moroccan inspired designs, so I was that much more excited to see the original! I remember when I studied abroad in Spain, I was always so into the Morrocan/Middle Eastern inspired doorways, gates, buildings and patterns. The architecture, detail, design, space of this mosque was incredible. There was SO much detail in every building and wall. The patterns were SO beautiful; I couldn’t stop looking at them. I was in complete picture heaven! Every building had such a unique design, different from the next. I have a feeling pictures don’t do it justice, but here are some:

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I only knew some information about this mosque before arriving, but unfortunately didn’t learn much while there, as they didn’t have tours. When I got home I researched more about it. The mosque was built after the former Moroccan King, Hassan II. It was built in 1986 as a gift to the king, who said,

“I want to build this mosque on the water, because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the Creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.” There were 10,000 artists involved in making this building. You can certainly tell a lot of time was put into every detail of it. It was cool to find out later, that the building had a Moorish influence, from those who inhabited in Spain. I read on Wikipedia that it is very similar to one of my favorite buildings in Spain, The Alhambra. I definitely see the resemblance. I also could tell that the mosque was able to hold a lot of people, but wasn’t sure if people still did pray there, and quite how large it really was. I learned that the mosque can hold 105,000 worshippers at once, with 25,000 inside and 80,000 in the ground surrounding it. Crazy! I also learned that the mosque’s minaret is the world’s tallest, at 689 feet.

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The area itself felt so clean and peaceful. Being that it was right off the ocean, it had a very serene atmosphere. There were people sitting at different spots, some with their eyes closed, some simply sitting in silence; You can tell the mosque was a special and mystical place for some. I could very much see myself sitting there for hours with my journal or my thoughts, and enjoying it much. In ways, it reminded me of some of the spots I saw in Israel that held the same sacred value to people from all over the world. It was such a beautiful place of worship, right in the middle of a busy city. I loved also how it was right on the ocean. I didn’t realize that there was such value of the ocean being so near. I learned later almost half of the surface lies above the Atlantic. I also learned that this is one of the only 2 mosques that are open to non-Muslim in all of Morocco. I felt really privileged to have visited such a special place. It had such a calm, relaxing feel to it, which was perfect for the type of day we had already. I loved it, and didn’t want to leave when our hour was up!

The different patterns/textures:

 

 

 

 

 

After our walk around the mosque, we headed back to the hotel where we freshened up, rested for a bit and headed to the airport. Our next flight was at 1:30 so we ate dinner and were all ready to sleep on the flight. I was so excited to finally sleep! Just as I started to fall asleep after takeoff, the lights when on and they started to serve food. I couldn’t get a break ha. Funny enough, I got a kosher meal served (unsure why), Allison my director may have thought I was kosher. Either way, I got a large meal that even came with a mini bottle of wine! Not bad.. I threw that in my bag for later.  I wasn’t able to sleep after that, but when I finally arrived in Accra, I had a good 6 hour nap! I was then taken on a small plane like last year, to a village called Tacoradi, where I then had a 2 hour ride to the place I was going to be staying in Nkroful (same place as last year).  I was so happy to finally be back!! It felt good to see so many familiar signs, street names, smells of food, sights of kids and women selling things on the street…it felt so comforting to be back.

I am about to go to bed now, but am really looking forward to the next few days of camp planning, visiting the school sites, and meeting everyone. Tomorrow morning, I get to meet the chief of one of the towns we’ll be working in.  Can’t wait! This is a new and exciting responsibility and after months of prep in NY I can’t wait to do some of the hands on prep here in the village. Looking forward to what the next few days have in store for me!

 

School Pride

I have seen schools with strong school pride, but I’ve never seen anything quite like The Rock Of Ages Academy’s school pride. It was more than a few smiles and cheers; the school celebrated the end of the year with two breath-taking, beautiful events which truly exemplified what pride they really have, and I feel so lucky to have been a part of both.

 

 The first was last Friday, the whole school “Picnic” . Those who were able to afford it, came their “Friday outfits”, a blue jersey top and bottom. They looked really cute, and everyone was so excited. The teachers were all wearing their staff t-shirts, and to assure that we all looked uniform, the proprietor stopped by our dorm at 6:30 am just to drop off shirts for Bea and I. We were honored to receive the shirts and felt like such a part of the community. After hanging out for a few minutes, and having a morning assembly, the children began gathering around by the entrance; we were told they were waiting for the band…we had no idea what this meant. Within minutes a van pulled up and the kids all began screaming and running towards the van, hitting it’s sides. When it stopped, out stepped a BRASS BAND!

This was the last thing Bea and I expected to see, knowing we were in a community with not much money. But now we understood the importance of the day, and couldn’t wait to see what was about to unfold. The kids were quick to surround the band, who started to play. Bea and I really weren’t sure what was going on, so we thought we’d step back and watch. But the next thing we knew, we were being asked to lead the whole camp in a procession through town! Her and I each were lead one of the two lines of children the teachers helped form, and that’s all we were told. The brass band, who was in the back of the 2 lines of children began to play, and everyone began to dance. The kids began marching, dancing, waving their arms and walking to the beat of the music. There they were, over 200 kids dancing, singing, clapping, and most of all smiling huge grins as they danced their way through town to town in the streets. All the teachers were dancing as well. They were actually all encouraging the children to dance the entire time. In the middle of the procession the oldest kids took over the front of the line, and were given a large school banner which they waved proudly. The kids kept asking myself and Bea to dance with them, and so in between trying to keep all the kids (somehow) in line, we joined right in and began dancing. We were completely amazed at the entire event. Even the smallest kids were in the group dancing, smiling through the street, right next to cars, without any fear or fatigue…and it lasted for a while! We didn’t keep track, but it felt like 2 hours. With each new field, or town that we passed Bea and I began wondering when the picnic was going to start. We asked one of the staff members, and they said this WAS the picnic! Confused yes, but having a great time we were!

It was the most amazing thing to see….people from all the towns we passed through were all standing along the sides of the road watching. Some joined in, others clapped from where they were. Some woman came by laughing and spraying the children (and us) with perfume, as a way of showing celebration and happiness for our school. Others came by with white powder and threw it on some of the childrens’ heads, which the children then rubbed all over their faces. This is a common way of celebrating here in Ghana. The whole event was just awesome. Picture a big brass band, leading hundreds of cheering kids and staff from one town to another. It was such a happy celebration, and it was clear that our school is shining with pride.

Once we got back to the school grounds, the children ate, and hung out for a bit. Then, it was time for some football (soccer) with a local school. It rained, but rain over football, and these kids will pick football any day 🙂

Introducing The Rock of Ages football team!

 

Saturday July 30th, 2011

Saturday morning was the big school celebration that the children have been practicing for, for months. One day Bea and I assisted the male teachers in a taxi ride through different towns, where we stopped to hang the banner above at multiple locations. In Ghana, most people don’t have emails, so the best way to get the word out regarding an event is through signs. It was really cool to see how the teachers put up the signs, and all the effort that actually went into actually finding a way to get each banner up.

 

It wasn’t easy! Because the even was so important, whether the task was easy or hard didn’t seem to matter to the staff; the dedication to this task was impressive. While Bea and I were on this little day trip, we took it upon ourselves to talk to different locals from each town, inviting as many people as we can. Since the first week I came to the school, the students and staff had been relentlessly practicing the different songs, dance and skits for the show. It important that they got it right, especially since all their parents would be there.

Typically on GMT (Ghana Maybe Time), the event was set to start at 9 am Saturday …and didn’t begin until around 11:30! Bea and I were asked to come at 8:00 so we both were getting a little frustrated with the whole Africa time. Nonetheless, it was a really exciting morning-especially because we were finally able to wear our awesome staff uniform!

 

The kids loved them. The celebration was such a success. Many important guests from different towns and district were invited to speak. Different age groups did different performances-songs, dances, poems, and plays.  The big  day to sing our song was FINALLY here! It was really exciting to finally have our kids perform Wavin’ Flag. Watching them do the real thing, totally brought tears to my eyes. I felt like a proud mom! We accidentally downloaded a version of the song that was a little different so the kids were off a little, but it didn’t matter- they rocked it! Bea and I were SO proud of them. It felt really good knowing we were successfully able to teach them the words and some dance moves in under two weeks!

So many people came to watch!

The ceremony ended with awards and certificates given to both the youngest and oldest grades, and books given to those students who excelled in certain subjects. Bea and I were so proud of our classes!

The little KG graduates!

What a special weekend it was, and I felt so honored to be able to celebrate the end of the year and all the children’s successes with our community.

A school like no other: Part 2

 

Since Monday, I have grown so much more comfortable in the classroom with the kids, and am starting to grow very fond of them. Though they have had exams every day, I am able to spend time with my class, Stage 5, from 9-10, and then later in the day between 1-3:30. Every day I find something new and it’s been such a surreal amazing experience. Though we don’t always understand each other, we find a way to communicate. The kids in my class vary in levels, though a lot of them speak fairly good English. At first I was pretty nervous going in, because they didn’t tell me what to teach and I had no idea what to do with them. However, over the past 3 days I feel like I have already made a small difference in their learning. I continue to grow and learn on this journey as well, mostly that trying new things can sometimes end up being something really great.

I taught the kids about NYC…where we are on the map, our transportation systems, and who are kids are. They LOVED hearing about Harlem Link kids. Here I was, teaching a lesson I wasn’t even sure they understood, and one of our really smart kids raised his hand and asked “What is the population of the kids at your school?”. I was blown away!! It was just one of the many moments of this trip that have made me laugh and one I’ll always remember. The kids seem to love learning in general. Any time we are on “break” and they are allowed to play in the “yard”, they gravitate to their classrooms and if I am near they will ask me if I can teach them. Some things I have taught them so far: American greetings, funny morning meetings from Harlem Link (THANKS Tara and Elah!!), currency and geography, NYC transportation and schools, Simon Says, and lastly, what makes me happy the most, different feeling words and how to use them 🙂 They really loved learning about this, and now even come up to me and say “Madame, I FEEL happy today”. Ha, ahhh..music to my ears. I played “Feeling Charades” with them and they really loved it!

All smiles after our feelings lesson!

 

One of my students named Monister showing a pretend angry face

As I tell the kids back in Harlem, feelings are universal. No matter what language one speaks, feelings are the same everywhere. I can’t wait to give them the feeling poster I brought from home next week.

Beatrice and I have learned that not only are we working in the school teaching kids, we are also teaching the adults. They are just as curious about us “bafaleh” as the kids. They are muh better at English and though they don’t speak perfectly it’s a lot of fun to talk with them about-different parts of our cultures and religions, the students in their school and Ghana in general. With Beatrice being from Spain, and me from America, we have a lot to talk about! So far, we have introduced them to pizza, American sports, and antibacterial gel (which the male teachers put all over their arms and shirts they loved the smell so much!). I really enjoy the staff here and love that we have just as much a chance to get to know them as well.

I will end this (very long) blog with my day today. I had by far the best day with the kids that I have had since here, and one that will certainly be a memory I will never forget. All week I have been telling the kids I will be bringing them in music and today I did (I’ve brought my Ipod and portable speakers). I wanted to teach them some American songs and Beatrice and I wanted to teach Stage 5 and 6 a song together, and we decided on K’naan’s ‘Wavin Flag’. So last night I got the lyrics from the internet, and after lunch I wrote down the words on the board and together she and I gathered both our classes into one room and taught them the lyrics. It was such a surreal experience and hearing the kids sing the words back to us after a while of teaching it to them; it almost brought tears to my eyes.

They did so well and I can’t wait to rehearse with them again soon. Hopefully, if we reach super star quality, the good news is that the headmaster said we can perform in the school’s celebration performance going on July 30th for all of the nearby towns!! That would be awesome. Bea and I are going to work extra hard all of next week to make sure they learn the words and perhaps a dance move or two, so we can be part of the experience with them. After they did that, we showed them some American beats…we taught them (warning, the following statement may leave you feeling disappointed or somewhat embarrassed) Justin Bieber (come on, he IS an American heartthrob), Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Katy Perry, Eminem & Rihanna, Jay-Z and some others. They didn’t just like it, they absolutely LOVED it! We had such a blast with them during this….all they wanted was to see us dance, so I finally put the speakers and Ipod down and Beatrice and I gave them a little dance. Then, we invited them to come up to the front of the class to dance, and it was hysterical! They were really feeling “California Girls”. The class got a bit rowdy so we moved to outside, where we proceeded to dance the Chicken Dance. The little kids were alllll over this one! There were children surrounding me and Beatrice, it was such a fun moment.

Playing music for the children outside the classroom. This picture makes me smile.

Our 10-14 year olds were a little too cool for school for this one. We eventually tired everyone out (ok, maybe more so us, the adults) and we spent time hanging out with the adults and some of the kids who were sitting down on a nearby bench as well. There were actually  kids laying down today because some didn’t feel well. Actually, we think they were sick because today was “cold” for the kids, compared to the normal heat. Me and Beatrice found this amazing, since at home it would feel really good to have a breezy day in 70’s! When I had the kids tell me how they felt today, almost the whole class said “cold” and many kids even got sweaters to put on. It was really funny to hear them be so cold.

One last bit of really exciting news! Beatrice and I have been invited to the school’s Graduation Ceremony…not just to watch it but to be IN it! Our principal has purchased material for all of the staff, and they have included us in this! They gathered all the staff members for a quick meeting a few days ago and we voted on the material we liked the best. Then today a seamstress came and got all our measurements and we will recieve the uniforms Wednesday. It was SO cool, we got to pick one outfit from the list of outfits below:

It made me and Beatrice feel so a part of the community. We are so excited to get to wear (and keep) African clothing! There is no doubt in our minds that we are going to look like fools (Um, we already stand out just a tad) but it sounds like it’s a very important event in the community and we are so excited to be a part of it. Oh, and if you are wondering which design the female staff and me and Beatrice all picked out together, you’ll just have to wait for the pictures after July 30th 🙂

Here are some more pictures:

One of the my sneaky little friends from Stage 1 or 2. She doesn't speak English but every day when I arrive she comes to hug me .

 

The seamstress asked me to hold her baby. I couldn’t take her fast enough!

This truly is such a unique experience and today I thought to myself, I couldn’t be happier being anywhere but here in this moment, singing, laughing and dancing with these Ghanian children.

 This weekend me and the 3 other volunteers (Beatrice and 2 sisters from England, Sophie & Pippa) are going to visit Cape Coast, so we have been permitted to take off work tomorrow. I’m going to miss the kids tomorrow but can’t wait to see them again Monday. For now, me and the girls are so excited for our roadtrip this weekend. I have to wake up early, so I should probably get to bed, but I’ll try and post about our trip next week. Also just a side note, I wish I could post more pictures, but our internet connection here is pretty slow, so unfortunately you’ll just be getting a glimpse now and will see all my pictures when I am back!

 Let this weekend’s adventure begin 🙂