Snaps from Ghana

With Emmanuel at K-Junction holding our Pear and Passion Fruit Alvaro drinks.
Dinner: pineapple, mango, popcorn, hard-boiled eggs, and Jollof rice.
Kakum National Forest canopy walkway.
Kwesi adding water to our cinderblocks.
Harrison teaching exponents to JHS2A, 8th graders.
St. George's Castle at Elmina.










Alaska, Red, and the Heritage Bus.
Teaching music and dance with JHS2A.










Making cinderblocks.
Weighing our options, which were rather heavy.
Playing "I want..." with kids at Ochiso Heritage Academy.


Ghana Day 16: We made it! Daniel

We’re back! We have arrived home safely with everyone intact.

On Monday, the day after I posted my previous entry, we drove to Heritage for the last time. Most of us were decked out in our new Ghanaian fabric. I wore my shorts and a t-shirt I had gotten at Kakum National Park. We arrived and began the painful process of saying goodbye. There were many exchanges of letters and gifts. I doled out some candy. We all took “snaps” of the kids we taught and had gotten to know. Before we knew it, we had a formal assembly to say goodbye, and then we took our group picture and said goodbye for the last time.
We drove back to JIMMYCOM, took pictures with Alaska, Heritage’s pro driver. He was very gracious, and worked for a lot of extra time on the weekends to shuttle us to all of the places we visited. On the weekdays, he works longer hours than just about anyone at Heritage, since he had to pick up and drop off all of the students before and after school.
We packed the last residual clothing into our suitcases, packed them into the bus, and set out for Accra. We were staying in a hotel, which according to Kwesi was “within spitting distance” from the airport. The place was amazing: it had air-conditioning, running water, and even mirrors and soap. We all felt very out-of-place.
We ate a massive chinese food dinner that night as a celebration of the work we had done and as an appreciation for our group and the time we spent together. We all tried to avoid seafood dishes, because Ghanaians have odd ways of preparing seafood.
This morning, we had a 6:00AM wake-up call, a twelve-hour flight, and a four hour drive from JFK to Westtown. It felt great to be home, but we were all freezing when we got back. Most of us had acclimatized to the 95-degree and humid weather of Ghana, and now we were thrust back into the frozen tundra of North America. Teachers Melissa and Linda were there to greet us, as well as Emmanuel and Isaac. We exchanged news and stories of our journey, and tried out some of the Fante we had picked up.

Fortunately, I left Ghana with few regrets. I wish that I had bought more when we had the opportunity, because it is uncertain whether I will ever be able to go back. I want about three more shirts and three more pairs of pants and shorts, as well as wooden statues and other crafts.
We did not get any grass cutter. We heard from a bunch of Heritage students that it is amazing, but we only ever saw them for sale when we were driving to Ajumako when we arrived and as we were driving to Accra on the last day. People sell them on the sides of large roads, but we couldn’t ever stop. We will all be dreaming wonderful Malarone-induced dreams of grass cutter steaks.
Also, as Bella and Kevin would agree, I wish that we had managed to bring back some Passion Fruit Alvaro. Mere words can describe neither the taste nor the essence of this drink. One of the first things I did when I got here was to look it up on the Internet, but I can’t seem to find a way to get it shipped here.

If anyone has any questions about where we went and what we did, anyone on the trip would be more than happy to recount our adventures. We would all recommend this trip to future seniors without hesitation. Teaching at Heritage was a powerful experience, one I hope never to forget.

Good luck to Seniors next year,

Ghana Day 14: “Medase” and Goodbye – Daniel

It is our final full day at the guesthouse. We leave for Accra tomorrow at about 1:00PM (8:00AM Westtown time). Everyone is in the middle of packing their suitcases for the trip, since we will be staying in a hotel in Accra overnight tomorrow to wake up early (around 6:00AM). If we waited the extra night, we would actually end up having to leave here at 2:00AM to make it on time, and no one wants to do that.
It is a sad time for us. We get to go to Heritage tomorrow for about two hours to say goodbye to the kids, and most have told us they will show up even though it is a holiday for most of the other schools around (sounds like Westtown…). We all wish we could stay for at least another week, even two if possible. We hear fewer calls of “Obronyi” and more and more of our names. The kids all know us now, and we have gotten to know them.
We finally have internet here at the guesthouse, although it relies on access through phones. There is still no running water, but we are all saddened by the fact that tonight’s bucket showers are the last we will take here.
I realize that I have gotten very far behind, so here is as quick summary of the past week as I can give:
Last Saturday we went to Kakum National Forest. Kwesi assured us that the drive was around 30 minutes, 45 minutes at most. The drive actually took two hours, so we joked that it was actually 30 minutes in Kwesi time. There are two time systems in Ghana. Ghana time (between 10 and 15 minutes behind actual time) and Kwesi time.
Kakum has seven bridges made of rope, each about 200 feet off the forest floor. We then went to Elmina, where we visited the slave outpost St. George Castle. This is both the oldest (around 500 years) and the largest (it held up to 1000 slaves) in Western Africa. It first belonged to the Portuguese, was taken over by the Dutch, and eventually bought by the British. After visiting the castle, we drove to Cape Coast to do some shopping and price-scouting before driving back home.
Last Sunday, when I wrote the previous post, we went to Mr. DeGraft’s church in the morning. There was a great deal of singing and dancing before Mr. DeGraft began his sermon, which held a very powerful message even when heard through an interpreter. Later on Sunday we intended to go to a semi-pro football match in which Osman, one of the teachers at Ochiso Heritage Academy, was playing, but got delayed at the Internet Cafe. We got to the game just as it ended, with Osman’s team winning the game.
Monday through Friday were once again focused on teaching. Harrison and I taught J2A conversion between Fractions, decimals, and percentages, and we even began intro-algebra by the end of the week. With J1A, we struggled a bit more, but we ended up making sure that they could multiply two three-digit numbers without too much difficulty. One of my most rewarding moments of teaching these kids was when a student came to me after class and thanked me for helping him learn the methods. We do our best, but we aren’t really teachers. When a student thanks us for what we have done, it gives us at least a moment of certainty that we have made a difference.
Reading groups can be difficult sometimes. The range of skill varies a great deal, even among a single class. We try our best to keep the group moving forward, but in the end, T. Michael would meet with some of the students who were having the greatest difficulty so that we could continue with the others. A few students stand out, in that they go beyond what is asked of them. One girl in my reading group was especially good at translating english words into Fante in order to help others out.
On Monday afternoon, we turned over the cinderblocks from the first week, and then moved into the library. We reorganized the library completely, and it certainly looks better now. There are some books that are far above the reading level or interest of students here, and even above some back in the US.
On Tuesday afternoon, the last class period was an hour and a half long. We end when one of the prefects sounds a drum, but no one did. T. Michael usually finds a prefect if the timing gets too far off, but he was busy all day helping with one of us who was feeling sick. By the time the period ended, we had about half an hour back at the house to rest before heading back to Heritage to make cinderblocks. By the time we got there, it began raining and we couldn’t make them. It was a rather frustrating afternoon, but we walked into Ajumako after the rain stopped. The town of Ajumako isn’t huge, and there is a shortcut that goes though the University of Ajumako campus and lets us avoid “Death Corner.” We enjoy walking in Ajumako because there is a high likelihood that a Heritage student will recognize us on the street and take us around to show us more of the town. Each time (this happened three times) a student led us to his or her home to introduce us to his or her family.
Tuesday night, we went to the University to watch the Chelsea-ManU football match. Chelsea is a hugely popular team here because Michael Essien is from Ghana. Chelsea won, prompting a rather loud celebration afterwards. We also had some other Americans from the Philly area visit. They work with an organization called “Hope for Future Generations.” They are here doing something similar to what we are: teaching in schools, but also teaching health awareness and empowerment to younger women.
On Wednesday, we made more cinderblocks. The workers who had helped us before with the mixing of sand, water, and cement, were not there, so we had to guess. The first batch didn’t turn out great, but we figured out what we were doing for the second batch.
Thursday afternoon, we visited the woodshop in a town whose name sounded like “cocoa bean.” Last year, Katie and Laura apprenticed at this place and learned to make unity figures. We were then supposed to go to a Heritage football match, but it was cancelled because the public teachers went on strike. They still are today, as far as we know. Instead, Heritage held a scrimmage against a town team from Ajumako, which Harrison, Will, and I got to play in. Heritage won, even though the other team was both older and bigger.
On Friday we began the sad process of our last classes with the students. We each took pictures of our reading groups and classes. Harrison and I played trashketball with J2A, and they picked the team names Blessing, Exponent, Queen Harrison, and Princess Daniel. We laughed a great deal about it.Clara, who graduated from Westtown two years ago and also came to Ghana on her Senior Project, visited us. She was working with another organization and was staying in Cape Coast.
Friday night, everyone went for a walk in Ajumako. We met Georgina (a Heritage student) and she took us to meet her mother. On our way back to the main road, the power went out, and all we could see were the stars. It was an incredible sight, something that we could never see at home from all of the lights in West Chester and Philadelphia.
Yesterday, we went to Cape Coast to shop, and then went to Coconut Grove Resort. It was incredibly strange having running water and swimming in a pool, but we had a great time.
Today, we had a late start and went to go watch March-pass, or 6 March. It is Ghana’s Independence celebration, and all of the schools usually have students march in the various towns. This year however, with the teachers’ strike, very few schools participated.
We finally got our clothes back from the tailors, and they are both hilarious and awesome. Patrick got a matching shirt/pants set of Ghanaian fabric, and it is quite an amazing outfit.
It is hard to put the rest into words. So many things have happened that it is impossible to remember them all. The days seem to blur. One moment we are teaching classes, the next we are playing football or volleyball with the students or walking through town at night. There are so many pictures that we would love to share, but they will have to wait until we get back.

This may be my last message here, so “medase,” thank you to all of our friends in Ghana. We hope to see you again, whether here in Ghana or elsewhere in the world.

Ghana Day 7

Greetings from Ghana! We are once again siting in the Internet cafe in Saltpond, which is the next major town after Mankessim. It is about 45 minutes away from JIMMYCOM, the guesthouse at which we are staying. We have had pretty reliable electricity, except for today when they turned it off due to a thunderstorm. We have a refrigerator, but no air conditioning. We are supposed to have running water, but it relies on a cistern that needs to be filled every other day at the rate that we use it (since showers are in high demand), and we can’t seem to find someone to fill it.
I have several other things which I have written, but Internet access is difficult to come by here, so I will post it as soon as I can. A summary of our trip so far:
There are ten of us here: five girls and five boys. We have Julie, Meredith, Bella, Malinda, Justine, Will, Patrick, Kevin, Harrison, and myself. We have taught four days of classes so far: Tuesday through Friday. Harrison and I are teaching fractions, decimals, and percentages, as well as conversion between the three. Meredith and Julie are teaching Music and Dance, Patrick and Will are teaching vocabulary, Malinda and Justine are teaching human anatomy, and Bella is teaching reading comprehension. We all also help out with providing extra english and reading practice for the kids.
The kids at Heritage are great, but sometimes we get a little overwhelmed when they all crowd us. The school covers kindergarten through the equivalent of eighth grade. We teach JHS1 and JHS2 (Junior High School 1 and 2, or 6th and 7th grades). These two grades are split into A and B sections, with the A being considered the more advanced of the two.
In the afternoons, we have alternated (so far it was between boys and girls) with the forming of cinderblocks, which will be used in construction of mini-main hall, the new building that will become a high school and eventually become a boarding school at Heritage.
Whichever group was not making cinderblocks instead went to Mankessim, where we visited a cloth shop to buy material for clothing. It is patterned using dyes and wax to prevent the cloth from taking the dye.
On Thursday, a tailor came to take our measurements in order to sew the cloth and have the clothing made by the time we leave. He also came back on Friday to check to make sure he had our orders correct.
On our first visit to this cafe, Julie, Will, Patrick, and I walked to the beach. We had several local kids following us. While we were there, a man asked to talk to Julie, and she dragged me over with her. I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the conversation, but it turns out that Julie received the first marriage proposal of our trip, and I became the first honorary husband.
On Friday, we drove to Ochiso Heritage Academy, formerly Faith International. We took a short tour before meeting the kids. Some of us ended up playing a rather chaotic football (soccer) game with them.
Hope to see more from me soon,

First Day

Ghana is an amazing juxtaposition of bright colors and bare wood. We arrived in Ghana at around 8:00AM (3:00AM for those of you in the US), and most of us are operating on minimal sleep. But the energy here has a way of waking you up. We drove from Accra to Mankessim, where we will be staying for the duration of the trip. After dropping our gear off, we drove to Heritage, where we were welcomed by the cheers and waves of the kindergarden students. We took  a quick tour through the school and “mini main hall,” which had just been completed at the end of this past summer. There was a vibrancy to the school that one could both feel and see. Several of the younger students approached us and shyly let us take pictures with them.

More to come…


Just a bit longer…

Clothes: check.

Toothbrush: check.

Teaching supplies: check.

Books to read: check.

Malaria Medicine: check.

And you get the point. All that must be done now is go to sleep and contain the excitement for tomorrow. I am imagining the 90 degree weather and the wave of heat that will hit us when we step out of the airport in Accra. I am imaging the complete lack of snow. I am imagining the lack of hamburgers and french fries and pizza. What a scary thought…

My biggest worry at the moment is whether my camera batteries will last. I hear the electricity is spotty, and so my battery charger might get fried. Its a small sacrifice though. I’d rather have pictures later than a battery charger.

I can almost see Ghana. And just think: it only takes a day of traveling to get there.

See you in Ghana.

Inheriting Heritage

Hi, I’m Daniel, a Westtown senior from Media, PA. This is my fourteenth and final year at Westtown, so I am hoping to make it my best. I will be traveling to Ghana to teach at Heritage Academy, the school that T. Kwesi  and T. Melissa helped to start.

I have heard a lot about Heritage Academy over the years. When I was in sixth grade, we exchanged pen-pal letters with some of the students in Ghana. Also, my brother Francis went on this trip for his senior project, and he brought back lots of pictures and stories about his experience. I will be bringing a camera, so I might be able to send back pictures, but that depends on the internet in one of the towns near the school, and I have heard it is a little finicky.

This will not be my first time out of the country. I’ve been to Europe several times in the past (England, Italy, Norway, Greece) but never to Africa. I have a lot of preconceptions about where we will be going, so I look forward to being surprised and having those expectations shattered.

During the week, our group (we have 10 students, I believe) will teach at Heritage. I plan to teach Math. So far, the math I will be teaching involves fractions, decimals, and percentages. I will be sharing this responsibility with another student, so hopefully this brief stint as a teacher will involve more fun and less panic about standing in front of an expecting crowd of Ghanaian students. We will be teaching two or three sections a day, so I suppose that by the end of our stay, I will at least have figured out what does and does not work when teaching several sections of a class. The classes are fairly large, but I haven’t heard an exact number yet. As far as I know, it will be around 30 students in a class.

We will be staying in a guest house some distance away from the school, which sounds like it could be interesting. It will be odd going from a North American winter with 30-degree weather an snow to Ghana where it will probably be around 90 degrees every day. I anticipate a very difficult transition in the first few days of our stay in Ghana.

Now, I have to focus on packing all of my gear and deciding exactly what I will be teaching. That, and counting down the days before we leave. Good luck, Ghana 2011!