Reflecting

A quick thought that came to me today…

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

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

 

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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!

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