Back from Ghana – Kevin

Well, we made it back safely to the U.S. yesterday, and it’s safe to say that all of us were incredibly sad to leave Ghana and Heritage Academy. The kids were all so wonderful, and there were some tears from a few of our group members and a few Heritage students at our farewell on Monday.

The last week of teaching for me was, in general, great. Most of the children finished up their books, and those that are finished have a permanent place in the Heritage Academy library. Given the fact that practically none of these children have ever taken an art class before, many of them can draw extremely well. The only thing I found surprising, and a little annoying, was that the children couldn’t figure out how to share the materials I had gotten for them (colored pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, etc…). I would have expected this from much younger children, but certainly not from 13-14 year olds. Seeing as that was really the only problem that I had to deal with in my class, I’d say the entire teaching experience was definitely positive. I am especially proud of my J1B class (7th grade), who are (because of test scores) classified as the more remedial of the two J1 classes, because their work ethic is significantly higher than any other group of students I have met. Not only did all of the students in J1B finish their work by Friday afternoon, but they managed to do it all in fewer class periods. Some of the students in that class even finished their books the night that I assigned them. Although I think that I’ve known this for a while, it was great to see an example, showing that test scores don’t always reflect intelligence and that a hard work ethic is probably one of the most important tools to have in life.

I took pictures of all the books that the children made so that I could remember what they looked like, and I will post some of them on this blog soon, so that you all can read and enjoy them as well.

In addition to teaching, we have also been working hard to make the cinderblocks that will eventually be used to build the secondary school (high school). We made a total of 315 blocks in our short 2 week visit, and according to T. Kwesi the secondary school will be up and running this September, just in time for the new school year.

Again, we were all heartbroken that we had to leave after such a short time, but I can guarantee that many, if not all, are planning on going back as soon as possible.

-Kevin

Obronyis

A bunch of stuff has happened since the last time I posted anything, so let me fill you in. We met the only other white people in the area, taught a few more classes at Heritage, visited Kwesi’s other school: Ochiso, got to know the town of Ajumako a little better, visited Kakum National Park, and Almino Slave Castle.

The other Obronyis (Fanti for foreigner, but more often used to describe white people) in the region turned out to be Germans, who are teaching for a year in Ghana to fulfill their mandatory service. It’s been nice having the opportunity to practice my German, which is unfortunately really rusty, even though they always answer anything I ask in English. I guess I should just be glad that I have the chance to speak German at all in Africa. Bella, Malinda and I also speak German to one another sometimes, so that we can convince persistent street vendors that we don’t know any English. One of the German’s offered to join Harrison, Danny and I on one of our morning run, and let me just say, that was definitely a mistake. Harrison chose that day to sleep in and Danny (because he’s a sprinter) left the run a quarter of the way through. This left me alone with Toben, who is significantly faster than I am, and I felt bad each time I told him that “Ich kann nicht so schnell gehen, aber du kannst so schnell wie du willst gehen, weil ich den Weg nach Hause kenne”.

Classes at Heritage have been going better in general, although I’m starting to feel a lot of sympathy for anyone who has to deal with large groups of young children on a daily basis. I definitely feel as if the children in the reading groups are learning new vocabulary, but I’m still not convinced that they can fully comprehend the stories. In each of my groups there is one kid who struggles significantly more than the others and I know that he would greatly benefit from some one-on-one time, and the other kids would also benefit because it would mean they would be able to move onto more complicated books. In general, I’ve found that I can get the kids much more involved and interested in reading if I can relate the vocabulary and the stories to things they can see around them, to things they know, and especially if I ask them to translate the words into Fanti. If they explain the Fanti word to me, then I can tell if they know the proper definition of the English word, and I get to learn a word in the process. I started this strategy on Friday, so the only word I know so far is Aho (pronounced Ahoo), which means bubble. My story and book making class is also going well and according to plan. The kids have created stories that have morals, plots, and well-developed descriptions of the characters and settings. They have also made some really amazing drawings to accompany their stories, which is especially impressive because none of these kids have had an art class of any kind in their life. I took time this weekend to correct the grammar and spelling in their stories and then on Monday I will have the kids start transferring their stories into the final books.

After lunch on Friday we visited Kwesi’s second school, called Ochiso Heritage Academy. It’s located in the bush, about 45 minutes to an hour away from the other Heritage Academy, and it serves a completely different community. One would expect the kids in the bush to be even more excited to see white people, because they’re even more isolated than Ajumako, but oddly enough they didn’t seem as interested in us as the kids at Heritage did. We said hi to everyone, then the boys played soccer with some of the kids, while the girls got mobbed by the other kids. Playing soccer with 30-40 little kids is obviously fun, but the 95 degree weather was not so much fun.

On both Friday and Saturday night a few of us walked into Ajumako (one of the local towns) to see what there was to do, and to do a little exploring. Friday night wasn’t so exciting, but on Saturday, we ran into some kids from Heritage who gave us an impromptu tour of the village. They took us around to their houses and we met their parents, all of whom were incredibly nice. It was really shocking to see where one of the boys lived. He is taller than everyone else at Heritage because his parents have enough money to provide him with a sufficient amount of food, yet his brothers sleep outside on the concrete porch with only a thin blanket underneath them, and he sleeps on a small bed frame. His bed doesn’t have a mattress, only an old square of carpet and a few pillowcases instead of a pillow. It’s difficult to believe that this is where one of the wealthier kids lives.

On Saturday morning, we all visited Kakum National Park, which is located about 2 hours away from Heritage Academy. The park is home to animals such as forest elephants, antelope, leopards, monkeys, and various insects. Unfortunately, the park was once used for logging, and was only recently turned into a wildlife sanctuary. Because of this, the animals are very skittish and almost impossible to find. We didn’t see any animals today, but the forest itself was breathtaking and different from anything I’ve seen before. After visiting the Kakum, we traveled to Almino slave castle. It was built by the Portuguese about 500 years ago, but was later taken over by the Dutch, then the English, and finally the Ghanaians. It was definitely an eye-opening experience, and is as important to remember and visit as the Nazi interment camps in Germany and Poland.

On Sunday we’re planning on attending the headmaster of Heritage Academy’s church in the morning, and seeing a local soccer game in the afternoon. Monday through Friday will be more teaching days, and then we visit Cape Coast next weekend.

Hopefully, I’ll get a few more posts up before I return home.
Kevin

P.S. Those of you who are expecting postcards: They will come, but since they take 11 days – 6 weeks to get where they’re supposed to go, you probably won’t get them until after I get back.

“Bucket Showers” and “It’s only a wee-wee”

Before people get too offended or shocked by the latter half of this title, let me explain. “It’s only a wee-wee” is the title of a song in a Quaker-song book that was compiled by a Westtown Teacher. Not only did we find it hilarious, but we also thought it was appropriate for our experience to date, given the fact that the small Ghanaian children are completely fascinated by urination (both theirs and other people’s). Moving on to a different topic. “Bucket showers” refers to the types of showers that we have to take now, because the water in our compound has stopped working. While it’s certainly a different experience, it’s not all that bad and no seems to mind too much.

Over all, the trip has been going wonderfully so far. The kids at Heritage are amazing, and for different reasons. The younger kids are drawn to you as if by some sort of magnetic force, and won’t let go of you until you forcefully break their grip. They are so adorable of course that you never want to make them leave. Someone once told them that white people smell different, so naturally all of them spend a lot of time smelling us. The older kids (the ones that we teach) always want us to play soccer with them (fortunately, I have been saved from embarrassing myself too much in front of the children).

My classes have been going well so far, but there have of course been some snags. Explaining to the children what exactly they are supposed to be doing has been somewhat difficult, probably because they’re English skills are below what I expected them to be, and because they have never undertaken a project like this before. Many of them have written stories that I assume are traditional tribal fables, which is a really good thing because it allows them to write about things that are important to them and that they enjoy.

One group of kids had trouble understanding the concept behind story writing, because much of the writing they do for school is strictly factual. They produced very detailed descriptions of themselves and of Heritage Academy, but everything they wrote lacked a plot. When I told them to write stories like the ones in the books that they read in their reading groups, they wrote one of the stories out  word for word, by memory. Not only does this prove that Heritage needs more books, so that the kids can actually learn English and not memorization, but it proved to me that I needed to find another way of explaining the assignment. I asked them “what would you do if you could do anything” and they replied that they liked to draw. I suggested that they come up with a story involving someone who draws/paints, and they came up with an idea for a story called “the magic brush”. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m really confident that it will be great.

Each day I have been working with the children in order to help them develop their stories. I’ve been teaching them about plot, descriptive words/phrases, conflict and resolution, setting, and character development. For the next couple of classes, I hope to take the students outside so that they can work together in quiet. Hopefully they will be able to learn a lot by reading each other’s stories and critiquing them.

That’s all the time I have for today, but I’ll be sure to talk to you all later! Kevin

Ghana Day 1!

Hello Everyone!

It’s our first day here in Ghana and I just wanted to let everyone know that we all made it safe and sound. The 10 hour plane ride was certainly worth it! We visited the school today, and none of us can wait to start teaching there tomorrow. The kids are amazing and so excited to see us, and we’re probably even more overwhelmed by them. Everyone’s really tired still, but there’s definitely a lot of energy and I can tell already that it’s going to be an amazing trip. Sorry this post is so short, but I’ll be sure to add another one soon.

Talk to you later,

Kevin

Countdown To Ghana!

Hey! I’m Kevin and in less than two weeks I’ll be stepping off the plane in Accra, Ghana. I and 10 other Westtown students will be spending a little over two weeks teaching classes at Heritage Academy, helping to build additional classrooms for the school, and visiting local villages and various historic sites.

I jumped at this opportunity earlier this year when we were first presented with the challenge of choosing a Senior Project, and my excitement has only grown since then. I think the thing that appealed the most to me about this opportunity was the chance to teach children who don’t take for granted the importance of a good education. I’ve had a chance to teach a German class or two here at Westtown, and have enjoyed each one, but it’s one thing to teach 18 kids at Westtown who just want to get to lunch, and another to teach a group of children who view school as a privilege. With this in mind, I set myself the task of coming up with a lesson plan that would be informative, challenging, and yet more interesting than an average, run-of-the-mill class.

One day an idea just came to me, and I hope it’ll work out well. I thought it might be cool if the kids worked in small groups of 3-4 to make basic story books. At first, I thought it might be too simplistic and childish for Middle Schoolers, but T. Kwesi convinced me otherwise, and I’m going ahead with my idea. I figured it’d be a good way for them to learn about things like paragraph structure, plot lines, sensory details, character descriptions and the like. Allowing them to fill the pages with illustrations would also give them a creative outlet, and since kids don’t have art classes at Heritage Academy, I thought this might make the class a little different and hopefully more interesting.

All in all, I just can’t wait to go. In fact, I’m ready to step on the plane right now. It’s going to be great to go somewhere completely different from anywhere that I’ve gone before, and to try something new and meaningful.

Talk to you all later,

Kevin