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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā 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!

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A new perspective

In talking to a good friend today, I came to realize¬†how much my perspective on life has changed, now that I am back home. I have only now¬†really began the process of reflecting on my trip and how it has impacted me. More than ever before, I am realizing¬†¬†that life is too short and that it’s so important to live to the fullest, because you only get one shot. I am such a believer that it’s possible to do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it. It’s a message that we often preach to children, but so often we as adults forget to take our own advice. I believe excuses can sometimes just be fear, disguised. In thinking about my own experience, I feel so lucky that this summer I was able to go to Ghana and live out my dream, and that with¬†every day that passes, I am able to gain further perspective from my experience.

As some of you may know, at the age of 19 I lost a best friend to cancer, an experience that changed my life, as well as my perspective on life overall. There was so much Ali was not able to experience, and watching her lose her life at such a young age changed me as a person. I used to be somewhat shy, timid, afraid to try new things. When Ali passed it was one of the hardest, saddest times in my life-but it was also¬†the moment¬†I decided to take advantage of what life has to offer. As cliche as it sounds, I really understood that life is too short, and you really never know what lies ahead. From that moment on, I was determined to try new things and to live my life, and live the life Ali would have wanted to live herself. It’s what helped me gain courage in college¬†to go abroad by myself, to try new things, and make new friends…and even in trying new things to this day.

I felt compelled to¬†write tonight, because of my newfound appreciation for the Ghanian¬†mentality I observed, and the difficulty I am¬†recently experiencing¬†in ¬†trying to have¬†others around me¬†understanding it¬†. As I got to know the people and culture of Ghana during my stay I always saw such comrade, genuine compassion for others, and happiness all around. The school children may not have had¬† any toys to play with, a clean uniform, or maybe just enough money for¬† a small piece of bread for breakfast. The adults didn’t always have a pen or pencil to grade a test, or enough money to go to the college they wanted that year….but, they were all happy. They found happiness in the littlest things.

I started to take on that mindset while there-and it felt SO good. It’s not what we Americans are used to-¬†especially in New York. Life moves fast. There’s high anxiety, a lot going on¬†around us, people always on the go, places always to be-¬†and in turn, a lot for us to worry and stress about. Then there’s extra drama that’s created by friends and people around us, adding even more “stuff” to our lives. It’s almost unnatural for us in our society to stop and find happiness from little things..to not sweat the small stuff..to look at the bigger picture. We live in a smartphone-obsessed, drama-frenzied culture. The next best thing. Bigger is better. Less is certainly not more. Facebook¬†so actively a part of our¬†lives. Drama constantly¬†keeps us entertained, and clothes keep us stylin’.

In Nkroful, the small village in which I stayed, it just wasn’t like that at all. Adapting to this new mind-set¬†at first honestly was a bit of a challenge. No blackberry and no internet at first was almost anxiety provoking. I felt naked. We are so used to talking to everyone, knowing¬†who’s where and what is going on, that it’s like we lose focus of what’s really important..and right in front of us. You know what though? After 3 weeks of none of that, I LOVED it. It helped me really focus on what I was in Ghana to do. It helped me live in the moment, and not worry about silly little things I’d normally worry about at home. It made me feel more productive, and every morning I woke up with such a clear and positive mind. It was great! Every day I came home SO dirty from working with the kids. I gained weight from the carb-fest it was.¬†My hair a fro,¬†and quite knotty.¬†I didn’t look at a mirror for days at a time, and sometimes, we weren’t able to shower every day-but when you work with people who are so less fortunate than you- you realize all those things don’t matter at ALL, and your priorities start to change.

I¬†learned so much and gained such new perspectives on¬†life, and feel¬†so lucky to have ¬†had the chance to do so.¬†¬†I¬†‘ve had¬† a hard time coming back and adapting to New York, and work life¬†. I don’t just miss Ghana but I also miss being around a culture who thinks so calmly and positively about everything. Because I won’t be able to go back to Ghana so quickly,¬†I have been trying my best¬†rather than being sad, to¬†focus on the positive and realize¬†how proud I am for the entire¬†experience. I’m proud of myself for following my own mantra of¬†living life to the fullest by taking a plunge and trying something new, living out a dream I’ve always had.¬†I’m excited to share that I have applied for, and recently¬†accepted the position of Team Leader for next year’s Ghana volunteer program! I couldn’t be happier knowing I will for sure be back to visit my new favorite place in summer 2012!!!¬†¬†Though I miss it a lot, I am excited at the opportunities that lay ahead¬†this year,¬†in¬†continuing my work with Ghana and it’s people.

Not a day has gone by where I haven’t thought or dreampt about one of the kids, or the teachers, or a place, or the food. Today I received a call from one of the teachers and it made my day! It’s such a nice feeling knowing I have made such special connections with both children and adults there; I have a feeling somehow, we¬†will always stay connected.

I write this blog today to share with you how thankful and proud I feel to have been able to live my dream of going to Africa to help others-¬†¬†but also ¬†to encourage you to do the same. Do something you’ve always wanted to do. Try something new (be it a rollercoaster, or frog’s legs!). Try a new language. Eat a new food. Take that zumba class. Do something alone for the first time. Apply for a new job. Go on a trip. Volunteer. Take a risk. Be fearless. As my mother always says,

“Life is not a dress rehearsal. You only go around once.” ūüôā

I leave you all with this great song that is really popular in Ghana, but that also has such a positive life message about living in the moment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6etQIK4Y2Rc

Homesick for Ghana

*I have returned this morning. Usually this blog would be the last, but I am going a little out of order; I feel compelled to write this one now because leaving Ghana was so hard, and is the only thing on my mind. Because of the lack of internet last week, I am behind on my blogs and plan on continuing them in the next few days, so this won’t be the last.

 

 

 

I’ve never felt so connected to a country like this before. It’s not just a connection to one or two children; it’s a connection to a whole culture-a set of people and their way of life, a whole school of children, a new set of friends. It’s a deep respect for the youth of Ghana, but also for their elders who are working so hard at teaching them such strong values.

When people ask me, ‘so how was it’, it’s the hardest thing to explain. The past 48 hours have been a rollercoaster of emotions, and leaving Ghana has affected me in a way I never thought it would. Though goodbyes are always hard, leaving the kids at the end of the day Friday had to have been my hardest goodbye yet. The whole day was difficult knowing I was leaving in a matter of hours. How could I just leave? I started feeling badly thinking about how I have come into the lives of the children and then just up and leaving. It was hard in the moment to think about how my work affected the kids, and I just felt really sad to leave them after being so close to them for 3 weeks. When I got to work on Friday, one of the boys in my class, Nathaniel who is always, ALWAYS smiling, laughing and goofing around, looked really down. He came over to me, I said good morning and we hugged. Then he looked up at me, right into my eyes and without saying a word, tears started to fall. I’ve never seen him sad the whole summer, so it seemed surprising..and absolutely killed me to see. Who knew the class clown, the one student who never showed anger, sadness or frustration, would be so affected? It was so touching and as much as I tried to held back, that was the start of my day of tears!

Sad Nathaniel

We had a great last day of camp filled with different whole camp games and activities, and ending with a big dance party. Through out the day, students would ask for my address, my phone number, and some just came over just to ask me to never forget them. Yesterday before my flight, I started to recieve phone calls from some of the students! I even recieved a text just a few hours ago from a student, asking if i have arrived in my hometown safely. Those kids are seriously awesome. During the last few days, I brought a notebook so the children could write messages to me if they wanted, and they wrote such heartfelt letters. One from a boy in my class named Solomon read,

“Dear Madam Alana, I am very glad to write you this leter. I will be sad of not seeing you again and I know I will see you again. I know you will remember me and also I will remember you too. I want you to tell your children at school that they should write a letter to me. I will be happy that your children will write a beutifull letter to me and I will be happy to see that. And I will remember you forever and I know you will remember me forever. I will be happy for you to help me in school. Lovely Madame Alana live forever. Regards, Solomon”

Another one wrote:

“Dear Madam Alana, I am with much pleasure to write you this letter. The reason why I am writing you this letter is that I want you to remember me when you have gone. When you go to NEW YORK I will be sad when you go there living me along. But Madam remember me when you go there. Wishes you all the best. Yours faithful, Micheal”

There are so many others that are so beautifully written.

One of the younger girls named Hannah, began writing her message, but after the first sentence just broke town in tears. It was so hard not to cry with her, but I tried my best to be strong. All day she would just come up to me, hug me, and just burst into tears.

Sad Hannah

At the school dance, other kids began coming up to me and Bea and hugging us, and that’s when the tears really began to flow. There was one girl in my class named Ahali, who was definitely a little different than the other girls…everyone made fun of her, no one paid her much attention. Every day, I made it a point to let her answer a question or to give her positive praise if she got the right answer and it always made her smile. About half an hour before I had to leave, I looked over and saw her sitting in the corner with her knees up and her head down, crying hysterically. I came over, sat down next to her, and without saying anything we sat there together with my arm around her shoulders. Some of the other girls came around and joined us…and you know how tears can be contagious with kids. Before I knew it, there were a whole group of girls sitting around me (and Bea) crying. Again, I tried so hard not to cry with them, but there’s only so much you can do when you feel just as sad as they do.I tried reminding them of the positive memories and the fun times we had, and reiterated over and over that I’ll never forget them. The hardest part for me, was knowing I may never see some of them again, or if I do, it won’t be for a whole year. It was the hardest afternoon, and when the van came to pick us up, it was even harder.

Sometimes people ask if 3 weeks helping children in need can really make a difference, and I have definitely also done the same. My answer, is that I believe it’s better to make a small difference than nothing at all. And, yes, I do truly believe that I made an impact. If I only touched the life of one child, that would be enough for me. Seeing the childrens’ reaction Friday when we had our last day of school though, and reading the heartfelt letters some of them have written me, makes me realize the impact is much larger than just one child. Sometimes when you work with kids, (and I know all my teacher and parent friends will probably be able to relate to this), you can be so wrapped up in how the experience is affecting you (either positively or negatively) that your ability to see how strongly it make be affecting children becomes clouded. All it can take is one small reminder though, and suddenly you sit back and realize how strong the impact you have made, really is.

It seems the work I was a part of, has affected an entire community in such a positive way..ways that I am first now realizing and probably will over the next several weeks. Though I have been crying a lot (truthfully, more than I would have thought), I am trying my best to practice the one quote I often preach, which is,

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

It’s true that this is a lot easier said than done. I am now beginning my reflections, and am starting to feel a sense of accomplishment, and of fulfillment… like I never have before. I love helping people and always have; but going to Ghana reached a whole new level of ‘helping’ and has almost made me feel ‘whole’..like I have completed a void that needed to be filled. If you are thinking that just sounded really cheesy, I’d have to completely agree with you. It’s really strange, I’ve never really felt this way about something though. It’s crazy to think one trip has the power to do so.

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints in our hearts, and we are never ever the same.” -Unknown

The people of Ghana have left footprints, and memories that I will have with me forever. I can never forget…every one of the children that I worked with..the inspiring teachers I saw teach….the amazing culture all around me. The proprieter of the school wrote me a letter that was so reflective of how my work, along with the other volunteers, has made a positive impact on the school and the community. He wrote,

“I am flabagasted¬†for your presence and performance at Rock of Ages Academy. Your presence and contributions has so much lifted the image of our school. You have really added colour to our school. You have genuinely contributed your quotea in developing our school. May the lord give you the strength to do more. May the favour of the Lord be with you. Stay blessed and have fun.”

After the last day of school, I told the proprietor¬†to come by and pick up all the art supplies that I had bought for the school to use next year. When he saw the amount of stuff I had brought, immediately he teared up and continued to say ‘God bless you’. He continued to repeat that words could not express his gratitude, and speechless he was. It was very touching to see him tear up, and in that moment, I teared up as¬† well and¬†gave him a big hug¬†; it’s the best feeling in the world to give to others, and I was filled with such a sense of joy and happiness for him, for his school, and knowing I may help add a little creativity to the school year next year when I am gone. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

I am so proud of the work we have all done, and I have a strong feeling this is just the beginning of my work in helping Ghana. One thing for sure, is that I know when I left yesterday, it wasn’t a goodbye, but more so, a ‘see you again’. I left knowing I will be back. I’m not entirely sure when but I know it’s something I need to do. I am so happy I went on this amazing trip and even more so am feeling so lucky to have been welcomed into such a beautiful culture and community. For now, my work with the Ghanian¬†people is not done. While I am back home, I will be working on creating a website for the school I worked with. Once it’s up and running, the principal and I will continue working together to add pictures and find ways people can donate as well. I am also working with Allison, the director of Humanity Exchange, in finding ways I can continue to work with the Ghanian¬†communities in the future. I have explained to her the strong impact my work with the Ghanian¬†people has had on me, and the overwhelming sense of connection I have felt with Ghana. I can’t wait to see what future opportunities await me. For now, I will live in the amazing memories I have of all the children, as well as the friends I have made along the way. I may be leaving, but the impact I have had on the school, the children, the teachers and the community will remain in Nkroful for the next year, or more to come.

To the people of Ghana, you will always be in my heart. You have inspired me in so many ways.

“We only part to meet again.”

 

The orphanage

I have had the honor of spending time with some of the children from a local orphanage, in which The Humanity Exchange has partnered with. I also spent time with some of the children from Living Stone School, a school located right next to the orphanage. Sophie and Pippa, 2 of the volunteers, have worked there for the past few weeks (school is now over). Beatriz and I had the opportunity as well to visit both the school and orphanage children after many of our school days.

The orphanage is called Word Alive Orphanage, and was founded in January 2000 by Reverand Charles Nyane. Originally from Ghana, Rev. Nyane attended seminary in the United States, and shortly after returned to Ghana where he established the World Alive Mission in 1996. By January 2000, the mission quickly expanded, and included 2 schools, 1 orphanage and 10 churches. They are all located in the Western Region of Ghana.

The children in the orphanage live like one big family. There is a host mother who lives with them, and is sweet and kind.  The other volunteers and I have noticed that it seems to be the bond the children have amongst themselves that provide the strongest support system.  There are 21 children in the orphanage and they range in age, and sex. The orphanage consists of 2 bathrooms, bedrooms, a kitchen, a space to eat and a playroom. There is also an outside play area they often use as well. 

One of the bedrooms. The children don't have beds that belong to them, they sleep wherever.

I expected there to be a strong camaraderie among the children, but it’s even more moving¬† seeing it in person.¬†¬†¬†The older children take such sweet care of the younger ones; when one of the little ones may fall and cry, one of the older ones are there to pick them up.¬†¬†Sophie and Pippa hung out with the children during the evening and were amazed at how involved the older children did in fact get. They helped cook, clean and prepare the little ones for bed.¬† Though it must feel normal for them now to play the adult role, it’s unfortunate that they don’t get a chance to really be a child.

The orphanage has been around for a handful of years, and most of the children have been there since it opened. These kids are so sweet and were such a pleasure to work with. When visiting the orphanage one most likely¬† has the image of a child sitting alone and crying, covered with flies-like they show in commercials, however it’s a lot different than¬†pictures. Kids in the orphanage may cry, but mostly¬†for the same reasons that our kids cry…maybe someone hit them, or took their toy. A lot of the times, almost all the kids are laughing and having fun all together, just like any other child. These kids are just a little bit different. Ownership of things and people mean more to them. Though they are ¬†often happy, sometimes expression of feelings can be a little harder as well, and sometimes their moods will vary as they may have a hard time regulating them¬†; some are always happy and smiling, some are quiet and don’t say much. We have found that some of the children have a hard time showing some ¬†emotions, most likely because they haven’t properly been taught. Even more so, some have trouble showing affection, sadly because they most likely haven’t received¬†much all their life. The days we were able to break through to some of the quietest¬†kids, have been the most rewarding!¬†Many of these children have experienced difficult losses, but overall there really is such a warm, noticeable camaraderie among the orphanage children that seems to provide comfort to them all. Though from the outside the orphanage doesn’t look like much of a home, it has very much become a home to the kids who live there. They have been very lucky to spend time with Sophie and Pippa for the past 3 months, who are so warm and loving. Though my time with them was not as long, I too have created some bonds I will always remember as well.

There was one child in particular who was loved by all of us volunteers and is one we will always remember. Because I am leaving a little earlier than the other volunteers, I had to say goodbye to the children at the orphanage yesterday. It was so sad and so very hard. Savior in particular had a very hard time with it. When I visited the orphanage for my last day yesterday, he was being quiet and was acting less friendly than normal. I had a feeling it was because he was sad I/ all of us, were soon leaving, and turns out that was exactly right. When I heard he was sitting alone, crying in the other room, it really broke my heart. At the same time, I was happy he was able to allow himself to do so. He’s a 17 year old boy, but at the orphanage he’s a brother, a father, a role model, and a leader to all the younger boys and girls. It’s good for him to learn that it’s ok to let his feelings out sometimes. Him and I spent many afternoons talking about different things like what he would want for his birthday if he could choose anything (he choose a bible and a cellphone), questions he had for the kids I work with in Harlem, what life is like in the orphanage, his future plans, etc. He’s a great kid and I want to try my best to write him a letter. Him and I made a video that he asked to show the kids in Harlem Link, and I can’t wait to do so this fall. I am so glad I had the chance to meet him.

Here are some pictures of both the Livingstone school children, and the Word Mission Orphanage.

Savior

 

 

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 ūüôā

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.

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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!

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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.

Expect the unexpected

A few months ago, our school linked with our neighboring school¬†in order to create a Peer Mentor program between our 4th grade¬†& their students with Autism. This has been a very exciting program and every week it brings me such joy to watch our kids learn, grow, and challenge themselves. They aren’t even aware of how much they will truly gain from this experience. I have a feeling it will be one that they’re always going to remember. In our last meeting, we explored some of the challenges they have experienced while working with the students from the other school. We discussed how sometimes, children with Autism may have a difficult time; they may shut down, or have an unexpected reaction to something. Our students were learning that sometimes challenges arise with new experiences, things you may not be prepared for. They were learning that sometimes you have to expect the unexpected, one of life’s most valuable lessons to learn –¬†and now, so am I.

Around a month ago, I was informed that there’s a high demand for teachers during the time I will be visiting Ghana. I had originally requested I work with children in the orphanage, but when¬†I heard¬†of the need for American staff in schools, I quickly suggested¬†I help by¬†providing counseling/art/play therapy to small groups of students. A few days ago I heard back. I was told that art therapy¬†is a foreign concept to the teachers in Ghana, and it was suggested that instead I teach art-with the¬†idea¬†that whatever therapy comes out of it will be additionally beneficial¬†to the students. Not only did the Ghanian staff like this idea,¬† 3 schools and 1 orphanage have indicated that they would like¬†me to run sessions with them! When I heard this, I felt a few different ways..happy, excited and then slowly nervous and uncertain. I’ve never written a curriculum, taught art, or any class at all for that matter. I started to panic.

As I allowed more time to process this information, I realized a few things. Not only is going to Ghana going to be a new experience for me, but the whole process will be a valuable learning experience as well. The truth is, I am a planner.¬† I like to be able¬†to plan things in advance. I know I am going to grow through this entire volunteering experience, because I have already started to. I am learning to be open to new ideas even further than I have been before. I’m learning how to¬†better go with the flow without being able to prepare so much for something. It’s good sometimes to have expectations, but it’s even better to have an open mind and learn things as you go- and that’s exactly what I am learning now. It’s easier said than done! Being a “teacher” for several classes is something I’ve never done before, and is not what I expected to be doing.¬†However, I’m starting to see the positives and get more comfortable and excited about this new role. New experiences must be looked at as new opportunities to learn about yourself and most importantly, to grow.¬†Though I am a planner, I am also an individual who thrives on challenges and this will be one challenge I am excited to take on. I’m sure the role will continue to evolve and change over time and it probably will even while I am there. I am lucky to have such a great clinical supervisor, teacher & social worker friends who are going to help me put some¬†material together. Soon, I’ll be able to learn more about the role, like what ages I’ll be working with, the frequency and duration of the classes as well.

My passion is helping children grow and learn about themselves, and every day at work I bring that dedication to each of my counseling sessions.¬† I need to remind myself that I always put 100%¬†of myself in everything I do, and will be able to¬†do just that with this program. I can’t wait to help these kids express themselves through art. I may not get it completely right. I may mess up-but that’s ok; ‘ll learn along the way. I have to also remind myself that no matter what I end up doing, it will¬†¬†make an impact in the lives of the Ghanian¬†children as I have successfully done for 5 years with students at Harlem Link. In the end, underneath the anxiety of the unknown, is the realization that time spent with the¬† Ghanian¬†children will be amazing no matter what my role is. I’m looking forward to helping¬†them explore their¬†artistic talents and learn ways to express themselves through drawing, imagery, music and journaling. Who knows where it will go. What I do know is I am going to continue thinking in this new mindset because when you stay open-minded, sometimes the most amazing things can happen when you least expect it.