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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.

~ by cferber on .


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