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Pictures- Finally!

I have finally uploaded and organized the photos and videos from my trip. You can follow the link below to the collection which is separated into sets- just click on the Ghana link and you are there. I would suggest viewing each set as a slideshow, but its up to you- and clicking “show info” in the top right corner so the descriptions show up. Also for some of the short videos, you may want to pause them and let them load before viewing, just so that they don’t stop midway through to load. Enjoy!

Pictures and Video from Ghana


Did I really go to Ghana? (Sat., 7/11-Homeward Bound)

It still seems unbelievable to me that I just did what I did for the last two weeks. It has definitely been an adventure, but most of all it has been an incredible experience that I am proud to add to my life’s journey playbook. It has not gone without harrowing moments, like Amanda trying to sweep a lizard out of her room only to have it drop its tail and turn over and play dead, or Claire’s frightening encounter with a giant flying cockroach, or a bullfrog’s croak ejecting Kaitlyn out of her chair at dinner, or even the chance encounter with the gutter lizard. Together we have used enough bug spray to coat the city of Fredericksburg and filled our life’s quota of scary and bumpy bus rides. We have been lucky enough to meet some of the most generous and caring people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and been through many emotional ups and downs as we have witnessed the daily lives of the children and people of Winneba.

I thought of this trip as an adventure at first, but as I sit on the plane just barely 2 hours from American soil, I realize that it has actually been one of the most humbling, touching, and life altering experiences of my life so far (motherhood being the other one). I will be ever thankful for the opportunity that I have had and hope to be able to repeat it some day. Ultimately I have learned a few life lessons that I truly hope remain ingrained within me as I travel the rest of my life’s journey.

I have learned that if you set your mind to something that you truly care about, you can make it happen no matter the odds (witness Comfort’s drive to bring a love of reading and demonstrate the importance of it to her town).

I have learned that we are not that different after all, no matter where God places us on the planet. (I was a direct witness of that this morning as I saw people up at 5 am walking to work- we all have to take care of our families and ourselves no matter where we live).

I have learned that smiles are contagious and can create a connection between people, no matter what color your skin is.

I have learned that although our skin color, cultural beliefs, and even religious beliefs may be different, we are all in this together and diversity is what makes the world an interesting place to live.

I have learned to not form judgment of people and places until I see them for myself.

I have learned to be thankful for what I have and remember everyday how lucky I am to have the true treasures of life- friends and family.

And above all I have learned that trying to make a difference in people’s lives and helping in any way that you can matters. It is the small things that add up to big things that can eventually affect countless people.

Thank you for following my experiences in Ghana for the last two weeks. Over the next few days as I settle back into life in Virginia, I will post links to pictures, and hopefully the images will help to give you a clearer picture of the wonderful people and landscape of Ghana.- so please check back soon!

Saying Goodbye (Fri., 7/10)

Our final day in Ghana ended perfectly, I think, and the events of today provided a perfect bookend to our trip. After our final Lagoon Lodge breakfast, we bid our second goodbye (they had already left and returned-to our chagrin) to the group that Kaitlyn deemed Eurotrip (a group of high schoolers from the United Kingdom who came to visit and deliver toys to orphanages). They came for a noble purpose; however they often kept us up until all hours of the night and were very loud (their last night they were up until 2 am). Even the staff breathed a sigh of relief as their bus pulled away. Amidst our cheers and claps I knew it would be a great day.

We were only able to visit one school today because the rain had washed away the roads to the other two schools we had originally planned to see. But we were treated to a pleasant surprise when Gilbert and Rebecca, two teachers from the workshops, stopped by to pick up the suitcases filled with supplies that were destined for their respective schools. Gilbert is from Ateitu, a rural village school. We really wanted to visit it but there was no way to get there. Drs. Houff and Wright visited it when they were here last and said that English is difficult for the students because it is so rural and there is no library. They also said that children bring buckets of rocks to school to help with any repairs or construction. Rebecca works at University Practice South Campus, the school that some of us were originally supposed to work at. Unfortunately the rain made the dirt road impassable so she came to get the school’s supplies. The school is cement, similar to Methodist with boards over the windows and like Methodist, there is no bathroom, just the yard.

We were able to visit University Practice North Campus and it was a treat to see the teacher’s reactions to the supplies we brought. They made us take pictures and tour some of their classrooms. Their student/ teacher ratio is about 75 to 1 and they were quite busy studying when we interrupted. One classroom was studying Citizenship Education and the independence from British rule, while the other class was studying creative arts and properties of colors. The campus was a bit dreary just like all of the other schools we have seen, yet the students were eagerly learning.

During lunch today, we were able to thank the hotel staff for their welcoming service with small gifts and tips. It was a treat to watch Dr. Houff call each one over by name and hand them their gift- the looks and thankfulness on their face were indescribable. I will truly miss them all and if I am lucky enough to step one foot anywhere on the continent of Africa again, I will make it my duty to come back to say hi to these friends we have made. I think they will miss us too, Eben (who we have all been calling Evan this whole time and he never told us any different) said we were tops of all the guests who have stayed at Lagoon Lodge! We also got a treat courtesy of Drs. Houff and Wright and Buzz- shirts with the University of Education Winneba logo on them, as well as a copy of a Ghanaian play. We were very excited to have something from the university to bring home.

We took a last walk through town today as well, and to our surprise stumbled upon Fedilia, another teacher from the workshops (it was like someone was trying to remind us what our original purpose was and what had occurred the week before- it seems so far away). She was excited to see us and wanted to help us in our search for a few more gifts to bring home, so she led us through the back alleys and backyards of Winneba toward a hidden gem of a market that we would never have found on our own. It was filled with all types of goods, from clothes, to fabric, to household necessities, to groceries and fresh produce, meat, and fish. It also seemed as if the town had caught onto the spreading Obama fever- we heard a tribute song to him on the radio as well as a radio newscaster who was very excited that Ghana was in America’s news (The New York Times had his visit on the front page). After some shopping we were forced to say goodbye to her and head back—it was a long walk(at least a couple of miles) and we were tired, but we had to get back for our date with “the dancers.”

Isaac, the hotel manager, arranged for an African dance troupe to perform for us today and it was an amazing performance. The four members danced outside to the beat of many drummers while families and children trickled onto the lodge grounds to watch with us. They performed all types of traditional dances from Zimbabwe, Greater Accra (Ghana), Togo, and Guinea. One of the dancers was deaf, yet you could not tell at all- just goes to show you can do anything if you set your mind to it. At the end of the performance they had everyone stand up and try the dances out. Dr. Houff even had the children prancing around like a train. It was fun to watch. I was busy holding Eban’s 10 month old daughter, Erika—and I am proud to say I was the first white person to do so (we have definitely made children cry and dogs growl because of the color of our skin). Josephine, Eban’s wife said they will call me when she speaks her first words.

Our farewell dinner was touching and it was sad to have to say goodbye to the people who have treated us like family since our arrival. Professor Joppa and Colllins (not sure his title), Comfort and her sons, Ben and Raymond, all joined us to share thoughts, memories, and conversation. I must say that we were all looking quite nice in our new dresses that the dressmaker, Georgina, had made. Many pictures were taken and emails exchanged and I truly do hope that I am able to return someday to see everyone again. Professor Joppa gave each of us portfolios emblazoned with the UEW name and Drs. Wright and Houff and Buzz all received honorary UEW scarves. We in turn gave Professor Joppa a bottle of whiskey, which he seemed very pleased to receive.

Though it was a melancholy day filled with many hugs and good wishes, it was a fitting end to our time here. Over the past few days I have felt a bit lost because we had finished working with the schools and it seemed like our purpose was over. However after a few unplanned encounters with the teachers from our workshops (including an encounter with Agnes and her driver- other than being a fabulous teacher, she is also the vice-chancellor’s wife) as well as Ivy, a student from the workshops we ran into on the street, I was reminded of our original purpose here. I am sad to leave but happy to get home and see all of those I love. I will always remember the people here, though, and I hope that I have left a little part of me here with them that will make their lives easier and futures brighter.

Abigail, Eba, Me, and Prince (all made us feel at home at the Lagoon Lodge)

Abigail, Eban (better known as Evan), Me, and Prince (all made us feel at home at the Lagoon Lodge)

Big city, here we come (Thurs., 7/9)

Today we finally made it to the capital city of Accra to do some shopping, and shop we did. Accra is Ghana’s capital and a pretty busy city with street scenes that would rival New York. We passed countless shops along the route as well as street salesmen and business men on their way to work. We even passed a coffin shop with amazingly decorated coffins shaped like fish, houses, and cars. The people here, if they can afford it, like to be buried in coffins that symbolize what they did in life, so if you were a fisherman you would be buried in a fish. Ben decided teachers should be buried in a book shaped coffin.

Once we reached our destination, Comfort and Ben (who was in Accra for a job interview…send him good vibes!) led us through a very large flea market to find souvenirs and gifts. It was similar to flea markets at home with lots of bargaining going on, though the store keepers were a bit more aggressive than I was a used to. Thank goodness Comfort and Ben were there – they were excellent at getting a fair price from people as well as telling people to stop dragging us away to their stores. We were all quite successful in our venture and I am glad that we had the chance to drive through the city of Accra again.

During our rain holiday yesterday, I had an opportunity to browse through some local magazines and read some editorials written by and for Africans. One particular article struck me- it was about the Western perception of Africa and how it is focused on the land, animals found here, and poverty. Africa is not portrayed by its busy cities with skyscrapers and important commerce; instead its poor areas and faults are shown in the Western media. I had that same perception before I came here, not really knowing what to expect, but although I have not seen skyscrapers, I have seen pretty tall buildings, a bustling city center, a town in the midst of ongoing commerce, as well as tourist meccas on the ocean. It has not been what I pictured before coming, and when I think about it, all of my perceptions are based upon stories or documentaries that portray a certain side of Africa. I am glad that I have had the opportunity to see for myself that there is much more to Africa than I first believed- I have come to adore the areas that I have visited and hope that your perception of Africa has changed a bit by my descriptions.

Everywhere we went today there were reminders of President Obama’s visit. The people here are very excited and we saw more than one salesperson selling various posters, American flags, and T-shirts commemorating the visit. I did speak with one shop owner, TJ, who showed me his Obama button and spoke about how upset the people of Accra are that he will not be speaking at their public square. Instead he is flying into Accra and immediately driving to Cape Coast to speak and tour (but not carrying onto Elimma as I mentioned before) and then returning straight away to fly out. TJ said that people feel that because he is visiting Cape Coast (a wealthier area) and not venturing through their capital city, he is ignoring the common people of Ghana. TJ was quite animated in his discussion and you could tell that the President’s decision had upset many residents immensely—bet the news back home doesn’t give you inside information form the streets of Ghana! Anyway, we are all on pins and needles about our plane flight and hopefully we will have our feet on home ground by Saturday evening. Tomorrow we will deliver more supplies to schools in the area, watch some native dancers at the lodge, and have a farewell dinner in which we are all going to wear our fabulous dresses that we had made the first day we arrived and say goodbye to a few of the University staff and professors. I most likely will not be able to post again until I touch down at either JFK or my house, so please check back for my closing remarks as well as a link to the much promised pictures from this incredible journey. See you soon!

A billboard welcoming President Obama to Ghana

A billboard welcoming President Obama to Ghana

Rain, Rain go away…(Wed., 7/8)

When I woke up this morning I thought that we were in the midst of a monsoon. I have never witnessed it rain so loud and so hard for such a long period of time. It started in the middle of the night and lasted for thirteen hours and because of it we were unable to go to Accra today. The bridge that takes us out of Winneba had flooded, schools were closed, homes and shops were overwhelmed with water, roads became muddy rivers, and the lagoon water almost reached our doorstep at the lodge (2 days ago it was dry and today people were fishing in it). This was an event for the people here as well, because although it is the rainy season, it does not usually come all at once like it did today. Our plans have now been shifted, and we are to head to Accra tomorrow and visit the schools on Friday. We are also still a bit fretful because we have found out that the airport will shut down upon President Obama’s arrival (Friday) as well as upon his departure (Saturday evening). It will be a nail biter of a morning Saturday when we leave, I suppose we will just have to wait and hope that our plane leaves on time.

Abigail and Evan both helped us kill some time today though. We interviewed Evan about his experience in the school system here and found out a few things we did not know. The end of year exam that I have mentioned can be taken twice and if you fail it you are held back. If you fail it too many times, as Evan put it, “You would be better off to learn a trade.” He was a product of caning and does believe that it maintains order, though it is his worst memory of school- he only had two teachers who did not cane. His fondest memories are of talent shows with music, and playing table tennis on the school team (they also had football and netball). As he progressed in school, the student/teacher ratio decreased- he says because many could not keep up because of circumstances and dropped out. After college (their high school) he went to technical school for a bit because he did not have enough money to attend a university. We did ask about the roles of women in this society, and he said that women have every opportunity that a man does in the educational programs as well as occupations (and Abigail agrees) however women of the house (even the young ones if there is no mother) must keep the house- all aspects of it. So they essentially have two jobs if they pursue their education and a career (sounds familiar to me). It was an interesting interview and we videotaped it to place on the group blog when we get home.

After our discussion with Evan, Abigail taught us how to carry items on our heads like the women here. Carolyn nailed it, but I did not do so well with balancing a basket of mangoes and pineapples on my head. I believe we added some laughter to Abigail’s day- she definitely got a kick out of watching us try. She also joined a few of us in the game Bananograms (a word game sort of like Scrabble)and she was pretty darn good. The staff here has become like family and I know that they will be missed when we leave. The rest of the day was pretty non-eventful, however, and all of us became even more anxious to get home and see all of the people we miss and love. Just keep your fingers crossed!!!!! 

The instructors of our impromtu class: "How to properly carry items on your head"

The instructors of our impromtu class: "How to properly carry items on your head"

Helping in any way we can (Tues., 7/7)

Well, tonight as I look at the black dirt underneath my fingernails, I think back and know that I (and everyone else in our group) left a pretty big impression on Winneba today. It was our last day in classrooms and we were all able to teach and have an impact on the students in different ways. Getting to the schools this morning however was not completely uneventful and the story that follows should relate the details.

Opening Scene: Taxi with Claire, Mandy, Christina, and Comfort is disembarking from the Lagoon Lodge and heading up the very bumpy and uneven dirt road that will eventually take them to Methodist Primary. A big scrap is heard from under the car and it cuts off. Driver gets out and walks to the other side of car and bends down.
Christina: What did we hit?
Claire: I don’t know, but something probably got knocked off underneath.
Comfort to driver (in Fantse): What did you do? These teachers will be late to school. Fix it.
Driver gets back into car and tries to start it, no go. He continues to try.
Mandy: What is that river of water flowing past us?
Driver gets back out and goes to river and places hand in it.
Claire: Do you smell gas?
Mandy: Do you smell gas?
Christina: Do you smell gas? Oh wait…did he just put his hand in the river of water to see if it was gas? (turns to other two girls in the back seat looking concerned) Should we get out?
Driver returns and tries to start car again.
Claire: Yes!
Comfort, Claire, Mandy, and Christina move so fast out of car, skipping over the gas river as they go, that they would have missed a lightning bolt. They run far away from it as movies of cars blowing up play in their heads. All are safe and driver, displaying the resourcefulness that many people of his culture possess, eventually splices a cable together to fix his damaged gas line. Disaster averted.

And that is how our day began, and we did get to Methodist, though a little behind the other taxis that brought the rest of the group ( and not before Comfort woke her son, Ben, up to take us- I don’t think he was too pleased). Today also began with lots of rain (hard rain) and apparently that means that school does not officially begin on time (all students walk and cloudy days also mean not very much light in the classrooms). So it was okay that I was a bit late, and when I got to my assigned classroom the teacher handed me a Math book and said that they needed to do revision (review), I should pick any part of the book and go over it with them. Again, I thought TIA (this is Africa-go with the flow) and decided to teach and review fractions. With a little reminding they remembered and we were able to review comparing fractions, adding and subtracting them, and finding a common denominator. I was amazed at the eagerness and concentration that these students put into the Math lesson—they wanted an opportunity to learn so badly. I was also amazed that about half of the class were faces I had not seen the day before…according to the teacher, sometimes students miss school for weeks at a time because they are needed to work, and what they miss is not made up-there is no folder with a neat pile of makeup work waiting for them when they return- instead they just try to catch up on their own and learn enough to try and pass the end of year exams.

After this lesson it was break time (thank goodness because the rain had left things even more humid and sticky and there was no breeze to move the air). Children were running around and playing a keep away type of game that involved the person in the middle trying to match shoes in some way without being hit by the ball (though I did not catch the rules), while some were taking plastic candy wrappers that have famous African football players on the back and making crowns and hats out of the left over wrappers. After they tried to teach me the game Ampi and laughed at me because I found it impossible, we returned to the classroom and the teacher asked if I would teach English. They were working on a reading lesson about being in a restaurant so I took the opportunity to teach them the Banku song that I had learned from one of the teachers at the workshops. I wrote in on the board and read the words and then we sang it together…it was fun and they love to sing, so it definitely got them ready for the lesson. I was also able to review subject/verb agreement (is/are, has/have) as well as past and present tense and adverbs (from yesterday). The big exam is coming up and it determines if they pass or stay at their level (which is B4-like fourth grade at home, though their reading level is probably 3rd grade)—and yes, as I mentioned before, ages range from about 10 to 18+. They were very appreciative of this lesson and I think a bit confused because I did not follow the normal pattern of instruction that they are used to. I had them do some exercises to make sure they understood subject/verb agreement and when I went over the answers, they were in shock. “You are not supposed to give us the answers,” they said. It was crazy to me because I was just making sure that they understood, not grading them. I am afraid I definitely confused them. An extremely respectful eighteen year old in the back paid very close attention to the lesson and when I talked to him about how impressed I was with how well he did, he said, “I just want to learn how to speak English well.” My thoughts were that I wished I had a year to teach him because after being forced to work his whole life, he at least deserved to be able to speak English if that was his wish.

After this lesson, it was time for break and as they were leaving two boys began to scuffle and push each other (this occurs often, probably because there are so many students crammed together). The teacher and I broke it up and he had them go kneel with their faces against the wall and went to retrieve his cane (like a switch). I must have had a disgusted look on my face; though I did try to hide it, and I asked him to excuse me as I stepped outside (I did not want to witness him punishing them). To my surprise he followed me outside and asked, “You do not think I should cane them?” I told him I understood that is how they do things here, but I was not used to seeing it and it bothered me very much. So he asked me what I thought he should do to them. I suggested he could talk to them in order to resolve the issue, or at the very least make them stay inside during break and not enjoy this time with their friends as a punishment instead, and to my dismay, he put the cane down and left them where they were. I felt pretty darn good that he talked, listened, and respected what I said—little steps, little changes.

After break he taught a lesson on Fantse (and just like I did yesterday, I sat and tried not to look completely lost while listening). He definitely has a great rapport with his students and during the Fantse lesson, they were completely engaged and smiling and laughing. He used his cane to point at the board (and probably to act as a deterrent)- but no one got caned (unlike yesterday). Perhaps I did make a difference. I also noticed that as we were having our group picture taken at the end of the day, he tossed his cane into the bushes so it would not show in the pictures.

[Quick sidenotes: One thing that I finally had answered today was the issue of tribal scars. I had many children in my room with scars cut into their skin on their cheeks. These are tribal markings that show others which tribe they belong to. Some were just one vertical mark while others were horizontal or cross markings. According to the taxi driver, they show which region you are from and show a closeness and respect for the tribe from which you come. Following the taxi driver’s information, many of the students in my class were from more western regions of Ghana. Another interesting thing that we witnessed at the schools was that quite a few women carried babies on their backs throughout the day as they worked. The government has made a big push for breast feeding, and to implement their mandate, the time allowed for maternity leave has increased from 6 weeks to 3 months and the government requires the workplace to allow nursing mothers at least one hour a day to nurse while at work. (End of sidenotes) ]
We each brought three books and small satchels of personal items to offer as a thank you gift for our teachers, and we gave them to them today as we left. I was touched at how excited and thankful my teacher was at the receipt of the items. The look in his face was genuine delight and I do not believe I have ever given anyone anything that was that well received – the students were excited too and had him take everything out of the bag and looked through all of the books…it was definitely a dry your eyes moment. Then came time to say goodbye, and I was so sad to have to say that I would not be back…though I told them I would always remember them and maybe I could visit when they were older and see how much they had learned and grown. My heart fell to pieces (for about the 100th time) as more than one child took my hand and asked if they could come back to America with me. How I wish I could bring them all…Mary, with the stoic demeanor and serious face that you have to fight to get a smile out of, Esther, with her ever helpful nature, and all the rest who were not sure of me or my color at first (some were afraid to touch me), but accepted me with open arms – yes, we were only there two days, but these children (and adults) touched us all in a way that cannot be described. The courtyard filled with them all as they waved goodbye, offered high fives, and reached out to touch us one more time. Though we all had different experiences at the school, we did either get to hear from others or witness some engaging and impressive lessons that were taught by the teachers at the school. As we pulled away, we were able to see the teachers unpacking the two suitcases filled with supplies that we had brought for their school and realized that even though we may have made just a dent in their problems, it was at least a dent and we had made it.

We were also able to make a difference in Comfort’s life today and I will never forget the look of joy and appreciation on her face when we finished reorganizing her hard fought reading resource center. We separated the books into nonfiction and fiction by reading level and also reorganized the chapter books, reference, and professional books and gave each section a label. We made pretty quick work of it with all of us lending a hand and she was overwhelmed with excitement when she saw the finished product. Just another little step.

We did get the opportunity to have a couple of animal encounters today- Mandy and I saw what she has aptly named “The Gutter Lizard” crawl out of the gutter by the library, walk down the sidewalk, scare the people near the window in the library (actually make them jump and scurry across the room), and then disappear. It was a lizard, which Evan called a mompum (not sure about the spelling), and was about three feet long and hissed, according to Mandy. It was an adventure and apparently they make good dinners, “just as good as goats,” Evan told us. We also saw a mollusk, I guess it was a snail but a big one, clinging to the inside of a ditch. Its shell was about the size of my palm and I have deemed it “The Sewer Snail.” The adventure never stops around here. We also received our dresses from the dressmaker (they are all beautiful) and awesome shirts that Comfort had made for all of us in true African prints. Evan witnessed us all showing them off and said that we are now allowed to call ourselves Africans. We are planning on wearing them on the flight home, so if you see a group of women with a token male all wearing bright African print shirts, you will know that we have returned! Tomorrow we are headed to Accra to the flea market and Thursday we will visit more schools to deliver supplies.

I am torn between my anxiousness to get home (and yes, Jonah, hug you very tight) and my desire to stay here and continue to try to make a difference. The one thing that I have learned today is that even the smallest attempt to help someone or some cause is important. If you can make a difference in a few lives, or even just one- it matters to the person you have impacted and that is enough. You can’t change the world, but little by little you can take small steps and try, and to use Comfort’s words, that is how “you can affect the world around you.”

Students at Methodist Primary stream out onto the courtyard to bid us farewell.

Students at Methodist Primary stream out onto the courtyard to bid us farewell.

The way it really is…. (Mon., 7/6)

I have started taking bets on what will wake us up first…the rooster, baying goat, torrential rain, staff setting up chairs in the courtyard for breakfast, or maids sweeping (they do keep a very clean lodge). Today it was the rain and the rooster…still better than hearing an alarm clock though it would be nice if it happened a bit later. Today we headed to the schools to help our teachers and get a good idea of what education is like here. We were in public schools with a very high student/teacher ratio (though private schools offer a lower number.) Unfortunately University Practice, the school that I was to attend, had a clean up day today, so Comfort elected to take us all to Methodist and pair us with teachers there…I have learned a new saying today, TIA, This Is Africa. You just have to go with the flow here.

We arrived at Methodist and I was placed in a classroom in the upper elementary school with children aged 10 to 18 + (some had to be at least 21). From what I now understand, there is human trafficking that goes on here (mostly in the Volta Region-west of here near Togo) and some of these children have found their way to the schools here—the government mandates a free education for all, so these children (now adults) come to receive the education they missed. I talked to Kathryn’s teacher, George, and he said that his friend is working on getting counseling services in the schools for these children/adults because they know of no other way of life than that of worker, and they have been through so much that does not just go away. It’s an awful situation.

The classroom I was in was stark to say the least. It had posters that had been made by the teacher in a line along the walls. Some were of the three food groups, forms of transportation, multiplication tables, the Ghanaian National Anthem, Capital cities and Regions, and forms of religion. The long desks (they seat from 2 to 4 students) were in three rows from front to back of the long room with a chalkboard at the front made of the carbon from batteries (I made the mistake of erasing the board and ended up with pitch black hands, which the students were quite concerned about). A table and cabinet at the back of the room (which was also where the door was located) held the teacher’s attendance book, a pile of English and Math paperback textbooks, and the students’ notebooks for each subject (their parents must provide these notebooks and if they can’t, the students had better have a good memory). These notebooks are checked, but grades are not kept…the big exam at the end of the year (coming up) determines if they are able to move to the next grade. The students wore yellow uniforms, some in various stages of disrepair and others brand new. The door to the room served as a light source as well as a way for the breeze to enter and two windows with slits in them aided light and air as well. The other light source was found in the ceiling- there was a small rectangle cut from the tin roof and covered with transparent material. There is no electricity and no bathroom in any part of the school. Goats and chickens wander around the grounds and in and out of the classrooms as well. During breaks (15 minutes each) students may visit the food and water cart if they have brought money, though most played the game Ampi (a clapping and jumping game or ran about the courtyard in the middle of the cement buildings that serve as the campus of the school. ) All of the classrooms open into this courtyard. They are right on the beach and get to look out of their courtyard to the beautiful ocean—yet another ironic circumstance. I did take some pictures and will be able to post them as soon as I get home.

Instruction was a bit of a shock as well. They have no supplies except small Math and English textbooks and the chalkboard. And the big shocker, that we were actually warned about, was that they cane their students. The teacher I was with had a long flexible wooden stick and used it as a pointer and struck the desk to get attention from the 65 students in the classroom (there are supposed to be 98, but some were absent). He also used it to strike students on the back of their necks, top of their heads, backs, and hands if they were sleeping, being disrespectful, or not paying attention. It was so hard to watch this take place and not be able to stand up and yell…”No, there is a better way!”- But it is the way they know how to maintain order and we are outsiders here, instead I kept my mouth shut and tried not to look shocked. (Not all the teachers mange their classrooms this way but many do). You can’t change the world in a day and you can’t change a culture’s way of maintaining class discipline in a couple of hours…but perhaps we can plant a seed for these teachers to see another way.

The reaction of the students when I walked in the room was that of interest, though they were obviously unsure of me. I do not think that some of them have ever seen a white person before, or at least never gotten an opportunity to get close to one. When I got there they were finishing up some problems in their math notebooks and waiting for the teacher to check them (that’s how they do things here—teach the lesson, have the students do problems on their own, check the work, and then move on when they are all done- we got through three subjects today). Many had finished and were milling about and came right up to me, before I knew it I was surrounded by at least 10 children rubbing my arms, feeing my hair, and touching my eyebrows- it was a bit disconcerting I must admit. I kept explaining to them that our skin feels the same, it is just a different color, and that my hair is still hair, it is just a different color and texture, but they still kept at it. I definitely looked different to them and they were trying to figure out how and why. One little girl broke my heart when she said “I want to look like you.” I told her that she was beautiful the way she was and that we are all different and unique and should cherish that. Finally they settled down after I promised them that I would be their friend and was going to stay for the rest of the school day. All the while they were trying to place chalk in my hand and begged me to teach them English—the children here are so eager to learn.

After a bit of a disruptive start, to say the least, the teacher began a lesson on Ghanaian culture and language and the focus was on the language, Fantse. I had absolutely no idea what was being taught, but I was excited to see him draw a graphic organizer on the board. He filled in the middle bubble with a Fantse sentence and then asked them for things to put in the outside bubbles. I think they were trying to finish the sentence in different ways, but again I felt a completely lost. After this he wrote the sentences in the board for them to copy and waited at his desk for them to bring their notebooks for him to check. Meanwhile a lady came in selling “Junior Scholar,” a newspaper that looked similar to our Scholastic News- it had a word search and school news as well as a cartoon. They were 20 peshees (not sure about the spelling, but it means cents). I was overwhelmed with the need to buy one for every student, but luckily Dr. Houff had confiscated my money before we left- ( I probably would have given it all away). After the lesson, the students took a break in the schoolyard and I got to step outside and breathe—it was pretty hot and dark in the classroom.

The teacher then asked me to teach the English lesson because he did not teach them English, (he used to have two student teachers that did but they were gone now and he was not good at English.) I was a bit nervous and anxious at this prospect because I had no idea their level or what they were learning, but thought “TIA” and agreed, and I quickly shuffled through their textbook. They were working on a reading lesson about Fanti and the Piti Pot and learning about context clues as well as adverbs and opposites. I figured I could throw something together until I realized that no matter how loud I yelled, I could not yell over the other classroom noise that kept creeping into the room. The rooms have huge holes cut at the top between the classrooms, to help with airflow I am sure, but it makes for a very loud class, especially with 60 to 80 other students in each class beside you. I yelled as I read the story and as I stopped at each section to check for comprehension, was a bit disappointed. They do not speak or understand English as well as I thought and their comprehension has much to be desired. They do not teach phonics here, and so they recite, recite, recite in order to memorize how things are spelled and what words are. Meaning is not always taught alongside and so, while they were reading along with me, the meaning of the passage escaped them.

It was frustrating and after reading the story, checking and helping with comprehension, and explaining the meaning of the words, I was more than happy to move onto the section on adverbs. They had already learned how to make an adverb out of a word so it was easy to go through the exercises and they all seemed to understand and recite the answers out loud. Whew, I thought, after such a rough start I was relieved…but I still had a lot of time to kill. So I flipped to a poem in the book and read it with them, then I decided to explain rhyming words to them and thought that we could create our own poem together. Though they were very engaged and focused on me throughout the lesson, this was the activity that got them hooked and got everyone excited. I simply had them choose a word, explained how to create a new rhyming word, and they were shouting out words all over the place. It was exciting to see something click in their eyes when they got it, but before we were able to create the poem, Comfort came back to pick us up and school was almost over for the day (She could not get a University bus to collect us, so she paid for a taxi and had her sons get us so we would not have to walk—God love that woman). As I left, my heart broke when they asked if I could bring them books tomorrow…all of the books we brought had already gone to the Resource Center. I told them about it and promised to be back tomorrow. I am still a bit anxious about tomorrow but I hope to see other subjects taught and get to know the students a bit more- I will have to fight the urge to gather them up and bring them home.

All of the members of our group had different experiences, which is a testament to the individuality of teachers and students. Many of us did witness caning, some more seriously than others. Some of us had children with special needs in the classroom and while the teachers seemed accepting and determined to teach them, not all of the students were as tolerant. People with special needs do not enjoy the same kinds of opportunities that those in the US receive, and while some students encourage them, others believe they do not belong in the school system, let alone in their own classroom. Some of us had teachers with babies on their backs, while others had extremely engaging teachers who came to the workshops and used everything they learned. Many of us noticed that the main mode of instruction was recitation…in every subject. There was more of a focus on repeating things over and over until it was right or memorized instead of correcting and explaining why it was not right. Teachers here have many students to teach and I am sure that is one of the reasons they teach the way they do, but I also think that they have not been shown that there are other ways to teach …I hope we brought some of that to the workshops and that those teachers who attended will spread the word. Agnes seems to be one who took it all to heart and Claire (our group member who was paired with her) said that her students were engaged and excited, which is encouraging.

Dinner tonight was finally a true Ghanaian foodfest…rice balls (very starchy and were like a dough ball made from rice) and Ground Nut Soup (tasted like a peanut like soup which you dipped the rice ball into). It was pretty good and I feel like I have finally eaten like a Ghanaian, though Evan said that they toned it down a bit for us, and left the chicken out for me…very thoughtful! As Prince, our chef, said when he served it, “Yum Yummy!” More to come…but another day….sorry for such a long post, but I have lots to say !

The classroom I was assigned to at Methodist Primary- they are copying a Fantse lesson from the board.

The classroom I was assigned to at Methodist Primary- they are copying a Fantse lesson from the board.

One woman can make a difference (Sun, 7/5)

Today Comfort took us to the reading resource room that she created for students at the university and younger students who attend the local schools. As she explained how it all got started I realized what one person can do with determination behind them. It all started with a library in her home that she allowed children to visit after church and read and borrow what they liked. She then wanted to bring the love of reading to more people and searched on campus for a location. She found an old room used for storage and persuaded the university to let her use it…she had the ceiling redone, termites vacated, and brought carpenters in to build bookshelves. She ordered a small children’s size table with 6 chairs from one carpenter and he took off with the money, yet she kept on. The Virginia Reading Association sent many professional development books as well as many children’s books in a container that was being sent for missionary work (there is no guarantee that postage will get here) and another time they sent things to a reverend’s house a distance from here. She had to persuade the university to provide a truck to pick up the things and found the laptop that was sent for her with the supplies was missing (who knows where it ended up). In the end she created a wonderful haven for children to come and read for hours at a time. Three attendance books are full of names of those who have come and a record of their length of stay is given…some stayed for 5 hours. She does not allow children to borrow the books because they often are not returned. When you think about it, it isn’t like the conditions of some of their homes allow for the treatment of a book to trump other necessities and activities, but she is trying to teach these children the proper way to care for books so that some may borrow them. It is a small room but she has made it comfortable and cozy for those who come there, she even paid someone out of her own pocket to stay there when she couldn’t in order to keep it open longer hours. She also saw a need to improve the small public library in Winneba and hooked up with a church group from Birmingham, Alabama. They raised money for a new library and broke ground two years ago. Progress has been slow, however, and the chief is not working as closely with the project as she would like, but she still has hope that it will be completed. Her faith is unwavering. Her determination and fortitude is an inspiration and I aim to follow her words…”If you are part of the world, you should affect the world.”

Her one wish is to organize the reading resource center a bit better and we have decided to help her in that quest. We are going to try to get it done this week. There are a lot of books but also a lot of us. Tomorrow is the first day in the schools and we are all a bit nervous…can’t wait to fill you in! And remember, as Comfort has along the reading resource room walls…Read for fun, Read for information, read for life!

PS- just a quick follow up to the post about the trip to Elmina…I forgot to mention that as we were traveling home, we had to back up and turn around because one of the bridges was blocked off…come to find out that President Obama is visiting Cape Coast but not traveling a bit farther to the town of Elmina. The people there feel that the castle there is more significant than Cape Coast castle and they felt the need to protest, so the taxi drivers blocked off the bridge that leads to Elmina as a form of protest. –Just thought it was interesting 

Comfort's hard-fought reading resource room

Comfort's hard-fought reading resource room

Check out the group blog…

Dr. Houff was able to upload some pictures of the trip and they will hopefully be placed on the group blog…you can link to it on the right side of the page.  We go to the schools tomorrow and I am sure I will have much to say and hope to post it soon, but again its not like just turning on the computer and posting-I have to get someone to walk up to the university and sit with me- but I will try soon!  Hope all is well!!!!

Sightseeing at Elmina and Kakum National Park (Sat., 7/4)

Manchi…good morning
Word of the day: “wawa” means “vigor”
Today the University arranged for us to visit Kakum National Park, home of part of the rain forest here, and Elmina Castle, an old castle that had once been used to hold slaves before transport. It was a little over an hours drive and we were able to see some of the African countryside and villages along the way. The drive was eye opening—we saw everything from thatched roof huts, to wooden shacks, to half built concrete homes (they build until the run out of money, then wait until they get more—there are many unfinished structures)to humongous residences set among the hills in order to get a better view of the ocean and coast. The discrepancy in wealth is obvious and among the beach resorts are children bathing themselves on the side of the road with a bucket or a dump stuck in the middle of a village, it is an absolutely amazing scene to witness. Among the many billboards for vodophone, Guinness foreign extra, and Toyota are small shacks that people are selling wares out of in order to make a living…from toilet paper to pineapples to furniture to tennis shoes to coffins (set out like produce). While there is definite poverty among the various villages, there is also an eerie resemblance to things we find in America. In the middle of Cape Coast there was a park with students from the nearby college playing soccer, but goats wandering about. Men were at work on the road with their yellow hats and signs, but working beside a huge billboard that mentions the need to get tested for HIV (something that might be found in the US, but has more significance here). It was Saturday and there were many places that people had gathered to listen to music and commune with each other, something you would often see at home, but women were carrying coolers on their heads. It just goes to show you that we are all quite similar; we just go about things in different ways.

Driving here is an adventure and those with a license must attend school to receive it. Beeping is a proactive action and they beep when they are around curves or passing others in order to warn them- there was lots of beeping going on today. The road to Cape Coast from Winneba is a lined and paved road, but only two lanes so sometimes passing became a bit harrowing, though I thought our driver did a great job of navigating our shuttle bus. Each village offers a welcome sign and there were quite a few tributes and welcomes to President Obama who will be traveling the same road on Friday (we have actually rearranged activities for next week because of the traffic and influx of people that will occur upon his arrival-you can’t even travel half way around the world and get away from it ). The people here are excited because this is the first African nation he has visited since taking office. One interesting sign I noticed said “13 curves up ahead”…and then I guess after the 13 curves were over, there was a sign that said “end of 13 curves.” “No overspeeding” was on another sign…not sure if that meant it was okay to speed but not too much, and there were red signs scattered through our route that listed the number of people killed in the areas where they were posted.

After our bumpy ride we arrived at Kakum National Park to explore a bit of the rainforest. This park has one of only four suspension bridges that allow you to walk above the canopy. I have pretty bad motion sickness and don’t do so well on the little suspension bridge at Busch Gardens, so I elected to wait and take the nature walk instead. Those who did go had fun, though a few made me realize I had made the right decision when they returned a bit paler than when they had begun. The nature walk was interesting, unfortunately no animals were seen- you have to go to a different part of the park for that- but I learned a lot about the vegetation and how they are working to preserve the rainforest. I’ll give a quick lesson on the medicinal value of some of the trees and then move on. I can’t remember the name of the first tree, but it was used for telephone poles and to make the mortar for a mortar and pestle (another tree in the forest makes up the rest of the set—and Doris, our tour guide, says that that is the only proper way to make Ghanaians favorite food, Fufu, am mixture of plantains and cassava.) Fortunately for the rainforest, teak was imported from India and grown successfully, so that is the hardwood they use now for telephone poles (but I’m not sure about the mortar and pestle). The Ofrah is a tree that is used for parrot habitats, and the strangling Fig tree is a parasite tree that kills the host tree it attacks. Supposedly it has great medicinal value though- if you swim and get a parasite that bores into your skin called a guinea worm, the sap from this tree will make it want to leave your body (lovely-no swimming for me). Esonoafe, or ebony tree, is where ebony wood comes from, but the leaves can be used to stop bleeding. And the Mahogony tree is used for wood as well, but (R Rated—do not read to children) can help a “man when he is with a women,” as Doris put it- a rival to Hugh Hefner’s favorite medicine. When we were leaving the park to board our bus, there was a group of young people dancing and drumming in the picnic area. We checked it out and Ben (Comfort’s son) said they were just hanging out and killing time. We also met a woman from Massachusetts who was working in Ho (not sure if it is spelled correctly, but it is one of the poorer areas of Ghana) with an organization called Disaster Volunteers of Ghana. A man living in the area wanted to make a difference so created this organization to bring people from all over the world to volunteer, build, and teach in the poorer areas of Ghana (something to think about in the future?).Wow, it looked to me like a great way to kill time -I wanted to join them but we had to hit the road for the Cape Coast and Elmina.

Elmina is a monument and museum now and it has a long and sad history. The Portuguese built it in 1482 to serve as St. George’s castle and as a trading post. I did not realize this, but the Portuguese were the first to begin human trade and they began using humans as trade in the latter part of the 16th century. The Dutch then took over and continued using the castle for slave trade and then when slavery was abolished, the British took it over and used it to train African soldiers in WW2 to fight for them in Burma and India. Later the castle was used for police training. Slaves came to be at the castle in one of three ways: either because a rival tribe captured and took them there, chiefs took their own people, or the white man came into their villages and snatched them away. We toured the courtyard and men’s and women’s dungeons, as well as the room of no return. They kept 400 females and 600 males at Elmina, chained to walls of the dungeon where they relieved themselves, ate, and slept. As we walked through the rooms you could feel the sorrow and suffering that took place, and I had to keep myself from balling hysterically. I have only felt such sadness a few times in my life-I probably should not have touched the walls, so much suffering took place against them. Our tour guide, Emmanuel, was a fast talker but he slowed down when he explained how the governor, (who had a very large residence on the 3rd floor) would stand at the balcony of the courtyard while the women were paraded through it and choose which one he would like to visit him that night, they would hose her down, and deliver her to him through a trap door that led to his bedroom. Other soldiers and governor aides took part in using the women kept here for their own pleasure as well. I can not imagine life here, and the women and men who were brought here stayed for 4 to 6 months before they traveled through the room of no return which led them to the boats that would take them to the Americas and places in Europe. There were wreaths laid in this room fro those who died, because many did die before they even boarded the boat and were simply tossed to sea. If a slave fought back, he or she was sent to a small cell and given no food or drink and left to die. The inhumanity is unbelievable to me, especially when we were shown where the Dutch built their church over top of the male dungeon. Could they hear their cries when they worshiped? I hope that my words convey a picture to you of what life was like as a slave on this side of the ocean before they came to America, because I have gained a deeper understanding for this awful part of history. It fractured families and tribes and I can’t even imagine the cruelty and inhumanity that these people ha d to endure. The irony did not escape me as we were traveling back to Winneba along the coastal road, that across the ocean my country was celebrating its Independence Day while I had just toured a place that took away independence from an entire culture of people. I am sorry to leave this post on such a sad note but it is a fact of history and after today I feel it in a way I never have before.

I do hope that everyone is doing well and celebrated the 4th in a fun way! Miss you!

A plaque at Elmina acknowledging the past and looking toward the future.

A plaque at Elmina acknowledging the past and looking toward the future.