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!

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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.”

 

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.

The Children Of Ghana

 

 

I’ve never used the word ‘amazing’ to describe things so much in my life as I have on this trip, but really it’s the only word to describe everything I see, smell, watch, listen to and observe around me every single day.

I have heard it second-hand, but now I am able to experience and learn myself that Ghana is such a special place. Everyone here is so friendly, and it’s so clear that there’s such a deep pride for those who live here. A Rastafarian man I met working in th market yesterday who lives in a local refugee camp (from the Ivory Coast) embodied this pride and spirit. He had such a positive look on Africa..even with all he’s been through. It’s really so inspiring. So many Ghanians are so open to meeting new people and that’s an amazing quality to have as a country.

Yesterday, I started realizing how fast time here is truly moving, and …I just can’t really imagine leaving here yet. I am not ready. I don’t know if I ever will be; I just love it here so much. I love not caring about what I look like, or what I am wearing..not checking my phone to see who texted me, or going on facebook to read the latest status’…I love not caring how (sometimes extremely) dirty I may be after a day of school or if an article of clothing is damaged. I am very much enjoying and embracing the African life, and realizing that there are such bigger priorities in life for so many people in this world. Like.. getting money each morning for lunch at school. Or wearing a pair of shoes that don’t fall apart. Or finding a pen to grade the children’s tests with. Or, for me, making a child smile just by holding their hand.

Me & Bea with 2 of the school teachers, Solomon and EmmanuelHangin with my cutie little Stage 1 friend, Blessing

The kids at Rock of Ages Academy School are truly amazing, and I think they are all going to grow up to be such great people. They are so smart. They are happy and they really do make the most of the situation they have been handed. It’s also so impressive to see how quickly and well the kids I am working with can retain information after learning something only once; it’s really such a pleasure to work with them. At our school, I love  to hear all the children giggle and laugh and see their positive spirits. Their helpfulness and empathy for everyone around them. I love the camaraderie they have amongst each other and how well they take care of one another. The older kids are always watching after the younger kids. Here, everyone refers to close friends as “sister” or “brother”, both children and adults. It sometimes gets me and Beatrice really confused, but we managed to figure out eventually which students are actual siblings. Here, if they understood it, the students would very much agree with “There is no I in team”. Though they fight just like any other child may, overall they are so respectful of others, much more than any American child I have seen. When a friend is hurting they show so much empathy. If a friend is happy, they show such happiness for them. They are also very good at taking care of the younger, and are very helpful to each other as well. They really learn to help each other and it must come from growing up in a community where everyone helps each other. On the weekends most of our children at school work with their families, as I think I’ve mentioned before. I have now found such deep meaning to the American saying, “It takes a village to build a house”.

Here in Ghana, there is also a well-known saying that goes, “A tree that stands alone will fall, but together the trees will stand.”

The boy to the right lives in the orphanage. Here he is with one of his "brothers" from the village

It couldn’t be more evident that the children of Ghana are raised with this mindset.

One of the teachers with his "sister" (really his niece)

The students at my school are also so respectful of adults around them. Any time I may drop something, there is a child picking it up. Any time I may put my bag down, there is a child there to give it back to my when I am ready to go. Today I tripped (because of my own two clumsy feet), and one of the students immediately said sorry to me! The respect they have for adults is amazing. They may have trouble not being silly at times, or may not like what an adult has to say, but I have yet to see a child speak back to an adult. On one of the exams last week, Beatrice and I saw a true/false question that read: “If you respect your elders you will a. live longer, b. die early, c. not have children.” Though it seems crazy that “A” is the correct answer, to me it makes sense that this is their believe, after being with the kids for just a week and a half and observing their values through their ongoing positive actions.

Because the kids don’t have much, they are very innovative and find many ways to creatively amuse themselves..in ways that American kids would never be able to do. An outsider (i.e. me on my first day) who may come along and look at the school property, may think these children must be bored, must have nothing and may feel badly that they don’t have anything to play with. At the end of the day however, these children may not have the same stories to tell, but they surely can talk about the what they did at school today and the fun they had doing it. It’s really inspiring and so impressive. It makes me almost embarrassed by the amount of toys and gadgets our kids have in America. To kids here in Africa, you can find entertainment easily if you look carefully at the things around you.

This one I find most impressive. Here, the children are crushing rock, then collecting the powder in a bag, and then they used it as face paint!

In Ghana….A large tree branch provides endless smiles and giggles as a see-saw. An empty water bottle becomes a lively musical instrument. Weeds become wind mills that turn in the wind, and a pretend pair of glasses. Flipflops become cars honking on a busy road built in the sand. A few sticks together become a game called “High Jump”, in which the boys challenge their ability to run and jump over them. Sand on the ground can so quickly be turned into a gameboard for the girls, in which they jump through different squares, according to a clapping beat. A plant magically turns into a beautiful necklace. A simple rock can become  face  paint. The favorite amongst the school children, is the large dirt ground that provides hours of football (soccer) fun. To a “bufaleh” all these things may just be useless object, garbage, pointless…but to the children of Ghana, they are toys, and really fun ones. Sometimes, all it takes is a little creativity and a whole lot of appreciation for the world around you.

My class

Yet another amazing week so far, and it’s only Wednesday. I have had the best time with the kids in my class. Because exams are over, we are able to spend more time together learning and playing games. Beatrice and I (and my portable speakers) have also spent a lot of time rehearsing the song for the performance Saturday. We are working on some dance moves, and perfecting it all. I can’t believe we are going to be a part of such a special occasion. All the people from local towns have been invited to the performance and I expect it is going to be so much fun. Ah, we (the female staff) got our outfits today!! Pictures surely to come this Saturday! They are really cool. Friday is our last day of school, and we are all having a picnic. That should be a lot of fun too.

This week, the kids asked if I can show them pictures of my family, so I showed them some..and they loved it! Especially the picture of me in my Avatar halloween costume! (Thanks Amy for my awesome picture album! It’s really come in handy). The kids saw my brother and asked if he was black. I explained he was not 🙂 They also asked about “yellow hair”, to which I answered by explaining what “blonde” and “brunettes” are. They also asked about the feeling poster, which I brought for them..they also absolutely love it and look at it all day long. We taped it up in their classroom so they will always have it. I brought Feeling Bingo with me, and this they loved as well. Today we learned about “PATIENCE”, as this seems to be an area of difficulty when the kids are in their seats and want to be called on (But really, what kid in any country is this an easy task for?!) I had some kids come up and we did some role plays to show what it looks like  both have patience, and no patience. For the rest of the afternoon they were trying so hard to be patient! During a game we played today, I had the kids break up into teams and we played a game where each team had to write as many things they can under a specific category which I would give them. They were SO into it and really took it seriously. Not one complaint, they were all very focused on the work and took it very seriously. At the end I gave the team who won glittery pencils and all others, stickers. Amazing how no matter how old the child, what language they speak, or country they are from, a reward always puts a smile on his or her face.

Again, the work ethic of these children, ages 10-14 is so very impressive. In Ghana they believe that education is so very important if you want to go far in life, and it is clear that families teach this to their children at an early age. I had the kids write letters for some of our Harlem Link kids and they were so excited about this idea. When I took out the white paper for them that I brought from home, they started cheering. Next I showed them a pack of colored pencils and markers, to which they also started clapping, cheering loudly and saying “Thank you Madame” over and over. It was such a sweet moment, one which made me realize how truly special this experience is and that perhaps this may be just the start of a lifelong journey to help the children of Ghana.

 The letter writing was SO awesome! We reviewed how to write a letter, how to introduce themselves, and ask about the other student. For this we composed a list of things the kids wanted to know about the American kids-they had SO many questions, like… How long does it take you to get to school, are you black or white, do you have family, what is your favorite food, game and color, what is the name of your school, what is your religion, what languages do you speak, and how many teachers do you have. It was really great to see how into it the kids got. And how appreciative they were of the materials I bought them. Here are some pictures of the kids working on the letters.

Frank with his 1st and 2nd draft of his letter for a Harlem Lin student!Me and some of my ladies of Stage 5

The children in our school really know what it means to appreciate. One particular memory that stands out, is of one of the boys in my class named Monister. (He made an appearance in one of my last blogs, a favorite for sure!). The day I introduced the feeling poster to my class, I saw Monister standing with the poster folded up under his arm at dismissal. I asked him what he was doing with it, and he said that he wanted to show his grandmother the poster, with a big smile on his face. I asked him to point to the feeling he was having and he pointed and said “excited”. When asked why, he said because I brought the poster to show the class and he was going to show his grandmother. It made me so happy to see one thing meant so much to him. Yesterday he came into school with such a smile on his face, and the poster in hand.

Me and Monister. I love this kid.

Yet another memory-and student-I will always remember.

Today in the middle of the day, the female teachers told us it was time to visit the seamstress. I’m unsure if it’s because it’s the end of the year, but it’s crazy to me that teachers can just leave, with all the children in classrooms unattended. Teacher attitudes seem to be a bit different here. When there is a sick child, or sad child, a teacher doesn’t do much. Some kids were unable to get money from their father before school, and therefore are sad because they cannot by lunch that day. Sometimes kids are really sick or don’t feel well and often can be found sitting by themselves or with an older student who may be trying to help them. Teachers don’t respond to them, it feels strange to see this. If a child seems to have really bad fever, sometimes they will  be sent home, but so far I have seen teachers pretty much ignore a sick child, or tell them to lie down. If Beatrice and I advocate enough for the child, they may give them a headache pill or tell them to sit near them. A hug seems to be the least popular response to a sad/crying child, which is so different than what we think would be our natural instinct.  The kids are learning me and Beatrice run to the kids who are sick, hurt or sad because we give them so much love and TLC, the way we are used to it. Though I know it’s not the way they do things here, I’m still going to continue as long as I am still visiting..it’s SO hard and heartbreaking to see a sick or crying child, and just ignore them. Even worse, is watching the teachers ignore them. The images below are some of the ones I find the hardest to see:

This child had a headache and fever. Most likely a small case of malaria. (common here)

 

This little girl had thrown up on her clothes, so the teachers removed her dress, but that's pretty much it. I found her sitting like this alone, burning up. We brought her to the teachers, who then (finally) sent her home.

As I said in the past, corporal punishment in the schools is also a social norm in Ghana. When Beatrice and I inquired a bit about this, teachers told us it’s in the Bible and they said it’s the only way to get children to do as told. Her and I tried but miserably failed at explaining the impact adults hitting a child will have on that child’s social behavior with other kids when they are mad. They really couldn’t understand, and when we told them it’s illegal where we are from, they were amazed. It’s so interesting to learn about the social norms of different cultures-to learn others view on things and how they socialize  in different ways..though this is something I won’t really ever agree with or understand I guess. I at least feel a little better knowing sometimes they teachers may lift their sticks to hit but it only acts as a threat, and if they do sometimes it’s a small tap.

I have to run now but will write another one tomorrow about an unforgettable trip that the girls and I recently took to a nearby refugee camp. Stay tuned!

I leave you with “That Thing”, a HIT song here in Ghana

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z4VrDu_ZYw