Final Days

We have now been home for a couple days and other than getting used to the time zone, I have found myself missing many aspects of the life-changing trip. I miss my wonderful students, even if some of them did constantly talk over me in class. I miss our reading groups where I could see so many of the students’ determination to learn. I also miss spending hours working in the library in which I categorized and labeled hundreds of books. Even though there are so many aspects of this trip that I miss, there are definitely some parts of the trip that I won’t miss such as the random power outages, sometimes for the whole night. I also won’t miss the constant staring for being an “obroni”, or foreigner, everywhere I go.

There are many great lessons I learned while on this trip, but one of the most useful lesson/values I learned would probably be the importance of being flexible and going with the flow. I was very determined before the trip that I was going to teach my class the basics of ballet at my warm-ups at the beginning of the trip, but I had to scratch that idea after the first day because I realized that it wasn’t what the students enjoyed. They need to move around more to focus. So I decided, with the help of some friends on the trip, to teach my class different warm-ups that we do with Westtown’s dance program. We started off our second week of the trip with a lot of rain. This meant that we had to relocate my class to a smaller space. As a result of this, many of my warm-ups had to be scraped due to lack of space, so I had to think quickly to figure out what we could do and what music would go well with the warm-ups to keep the students interested. One of the last days of the trip, we went to pick up pieces from the woodcarvers in a nearby town. When we were a couple minutes away, our trusty red van that we had been riding the who trip broke down halfway up a hill. Our van driver slowly backed down the hill to the side of the road and parked there. We quickly got together and started walking the rest of the way to the woodcarvers because we still needed to get our wood. When we walked back to the van, a man approached us and started to explain how he and a few other men were growing different food plants including coconuts to help feed those who needed food. He then offered us coconuts from his trees, which we accepted after making sure that they were safe to eat and not infused with unpurified water (they do that with watermelon in the area). We then were picked up by taxis that T. Kwesi sent for us. This kind of event would normally make me stressed and uncomfortable because I am not the type of person who is able to go with the flow very easily, I usually like everything planned out and to go with the plan. However, this trip helped me understand that there are many things, such as red vans, that don’t go as planned and that you need to often think on the spot.

We finished up our trip in Accra where we went shopping in an craft market as well as going to W.E.B. Dubois’ house. We then relaxed at our hotel for the rest of the evening preparing ourselves for a very long flight home. Thankfully, there were no screaming kids on the flight home unlike our flight to Ghana.

This trip has allowed me to grow as a person and create lasting memories that I will be able to share with so many people in the future. I hope to return to Ghana at some point in the near future (study abroad in college maybe?) to continue the work that I started in the two brief weeks.

Dropping Like Flies

Yesterday, we went to Mankessim’s market. People were bustling around us and staring at us because of our obvious difference in looks that they are used to. Many of us bought fabric so that we could have one of T. Melissa’s friends make us dresses, shirts, or aprons.

Today was our third day teaching, and everything seems to be falling into place. Students are consistently coming to our class and wandering off a little less than before (quite an accomplishment we think). Yesterday, I finally got the correct class, the wrong students came the first class. My class yesterday caught onto my choreography really well and quickly, and I believe they enjoyed it because today they came to class and started dancing the moves I taught right away.

On a less happy note, many of us are getting sick in one way or another. Dehydration has been a problem because we are not used to the temperature or humidity here in Ghana. Also, many of us, including myself, are having to deal with some really itchy heat rash. As Hannah likes to say, she has chicken skin on her legs. Unfortunately, the other blogger on this trip, Brooke, is one of our friends who is sick.

Westtown, I Don’t Think we’re in Pennsylvania Anymore

(From March 9th because of internet issues)

People always tell you right before you leave for another country that you’re going to experience major culture shock. It’s difficult to prepare yourself for what you see in a country like Ghana. People are everywhere, walking on the side of the roads that are covered with trash. Goats are everywhere, and yes I mean everywhere. Unlike in the States where cars move out of the way for people, people walking on the side of the road are expected to jump out of the way for cars because they drive all over the roads, on whatever side they can to avoid holes or just where ever they want.

For the first day, after the ten and a half hour long plane ride with a screaming toddler just two seats away from me, we took a bus two more hours to the guest house we are staying in for the next two weeks. We met some people from the village we are in and struggled to keep our eyes open so that we could adjust to the time difference.

The next day, Monday, we had to adjust our schedule because it was Ghana’s Independence Day, so there was no school. Instead of teaching, we went to Coconut Grove Resort and relaxed at the pool and the beach all afternoon.

Today was our first day at Heritage Academy. Throughout the day we taught classes that we planned weeks ago and led reading groups to help the seventh and eighth graders with their reading skills. My class, a dance class, was definitely a big learning experience. The teachers had warned us that the students don’t pay attention too well sometimes, but I was not expecting it to be at the degree it went to. I definitely had struggles with getting the students to commit to the activities and not to be self-conscious about dancing in front of each other, and students looking out from different classrooms. It has helped me learn about how important it is for teachers to be able to adapt and change lesson plans depending on what interests the students and at what level they are.

Tomorrow, is another teaching day but in the afternoon we are going to a nearby town to visit the market.

Ghana: The Excitement Leading Up

Hello everyone! For the next couple of weeks I will be giving you the inside scoop on what is going at Heritage Academy in Ghana! With only a week and a half before we fly to Accra, the nine students and three teachers are getting final packing lists together as we pack for two exciting weeks. We are all teaching classes, in pairs or alone, and this past week has been full of writing lesson plans and meeting with teachers from Westtown who teach our subjects. In addition to preparing for our classes, we have been packing up shoes that Lower School collected, which  will then be donated to people throughout the village of Essiam. There are suitcases upon suitcases full with shoes that were donated, so many that we are struggling to find room for all of them!

Please check back often to find out what we are doing in Ghana!

Reflection – I am home!

The weather is cold here and the showers are hot!

It has been harder than I thought re-adjusting to home and remembering to do things like throw my toilet paper in the toilet and drink tap water. Reflecting on Ghana I realize what an amazing experience it was and how much I have grown from those twenty days. I realized that public speaking is only as scary as you make it and that I can teach and lead a class. I learned about a new culture and made friends that seemed so different at first. I learned how to dance Azonto, eat fish with bones in the dark, play drums, break up middle school disputes, navigate markets, laugh with strangers, sweep with palm fronds, make cinder blocks, pound fufu, enjoy cold showers, wear Ghanaian fabrics,  express local customs, think on my feet in class, and barter with market woman who don’t speak my language. The culture of Ghana is so different yet I found so many parallels with home. What I loved about Ghana was the sense of community and joy the villages held. They had chiefs and elders and everyone was responsible for their friends and neighbors. I felt safe and accepted walking through the towns to shop, hangout at the local dance spot, watch soccer, and visit where my kids lived. I have gained new found respect for the amount of effort it takes to live in third world countries and a slight disgust for how unfairly we live with our fancy electronics, kitchens, washing machines, cars, excess food, and clean water. Teaching the kids and seeing how driven they are while experiencing how they live has made me want to help give them the opportunities I have been given. I wish I could sponsor them all, but, I have chosen to sponsor Bernard, one of the many students I fell in love with. I grew closer to my Westtown friends who accompanied me to Ghana and became close with teachers I had never talked to before. In Ghana I learned what it was like and how to handle standing out in the crowd, I experienced the power of religion and a different code of ethics, and I became confident in my ability to handle myself in a new place. I have got the travel bug and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.

Day One and a Half

March 2, 2014

The first day of our Senior Project began with Qdoba, at least for a few of us. We thought of it like our last hurrah. Our last American meal. After our last supper (or lunch), we drove to Westtown where we proceeded to pack our bags, say our goodbyes, and board a school bus. Of course, the bus had some technical difficulties, so we switched buses, along with our thirty some suitcases. We spent four hours on our way to JFK International Airport, managing to see some of the city on our way. As there typically is on a Saturday afternoon, traffic kept us on the road for a little longer than anticipated, so we rushed through the airport to catch our 9:00 flight.

Check in and security were a breeze. Other than the fact that my walking boot (I had surgery on my foot a few months ago) had to be tested for explosive material residue. We walked what seemed like miles until finally getting to our gate. Of course by this time it was around 7:30 and we were supposed to board at 8:00. The rush to get food was incredible. Luckily most of us managed to snag a burger and milkshake at Shake Shack.

My ticket was scanned, and I was off. All I wanted was to be settled into my seat with nothing but the ocean separating me from Ghana. I had an aslie seat but still my legs couldn’t find anywhere to go. I enjoyed a movie before falling asleep with my heaad on the traytable (this left my classmates in awe). Sleeping on a plane is never easy, and our ten hour flight had quite a bit of turbulence, so my eyes constantly opened and closed. After a few naps and movies, the screen finally showed that there were only 30 minutes of flight time left. I asked for a coffee and glued my eyes to the completely unexciting scene outside of the window. In what seemed like seconds later, we were on the ground in Africa.

I was hit by a wall of heat as I left the comfort of the air conditioned plane. We walked across the scathing hot blacktop of the runway to the airport. You could smell the heat. It was everywhere. We waited in line after line and finally reached the front. Right as I walked over to my customs desk, a man touched my arm and asked, “Americans?” I nodded and he smiled and walked away. I guess we stick out like sore thumbs.

After collecting all of our bags we headed to the van that would take us from Accra to the Jimmycom guesthouse: our home for the next 18 days. Men surrounded us as soon as we stepped out of the airport, wanting to help us with our bags. We were warned by the group leaders to say no, as they demanded ten dollars continously if they lent a hand. After losing them we stopped for lunch at the beginning of the ride at a very nice hotel. I savored every slice of pizza before we hopped in the van again. The ride was unbearable in every way. No leg space, 17 people crammed into a space hardly meant for 14, and heat. So. Much. Heat. It took us around two hours. Thankfully, we were introduced to the culture as we rode. We saw many people carrying baskets full of merchandise on their heads, pushing it through peoples windows trying to make a few bucks.

When we arrived at the Jimmycom guest house, we were pleased to see our beds. We got settled, took showers and ate dinner. It was delicious. We hung out for a while, but after a short group meeting we were pooped. It was bed time. I fell asleep to the sounds of goats and the rustling of the wind in the trees. We were finally here.

Packing for Ghana!

Packing for Ghana!

Hi, I’m Laura, and in about 70 hours I will be boarding a plane to Accra, Ghana. I’ve always loved the idea of sharing something about myself with others so that they can benefit from my experience (however small that may be), and so that’s why I leaped at the opportunity to go teach at Heritage Academy. I’ll be teaching math – surface areas and volumes mostly – ending in a final project in which  the students measure our classroom to figure out how much of what materials we would need to build a house or building.
I’ve never taught anything before, so I’m definitely nervous about putting myself in front of a class of twenty young students, but I’ll do my best.

For this blog, I’ll be doing a photo journal, with a picture for each post. So here goes.
What I’m taking to Ghana: a camera with an empty memory card, one and a half suitcases full of donations, a few pounds of sunscreen and bug spray, and a few changes of clothes.
I can’t wait!

Friendship Bracelets!

Friendship Bracelets!

I can’t wait to get out of this snow and leave for Ghana on Friday. I am finishing up my poetry and creative writing lesson plans with Jordan. While packing, Laura found a friendship bracelet making kit and since we both learned to make them at summer camp we are going to bring string and teach our students at Heritage Academy!


Home Again

April 5, 2013

Last day of teaching at Heritage
Last day of teaching at Heritage

It’s several days into spring term and I’m steadily adjusting to life back at Westtown. Everything feels so surreal – graduation is just around the corner and then my classmates and I are off to college. But in this whirlwind of activity, there remain things I have taken from my experience in Ghana that will never go away.

  • The amenities we take for granted are luxuries and we should always be thankful. Air conditioning, hot showers, flushing toilets, reliable electricity – these seem like miracles.
  • Middle schoolers in any culture are extremely difficult to control. But even if you feel like giving up, remember that they are good kids at heart and really do want to learn.
  • Get anti-malaria pills from a trustworthy source.
  • Stick ten teenagers in a guest house during a power outage and a hacky sack becomes a godsend.
  • Nothing goes according to plan – but it’ll turn out alright in the end.
  • It’s never too late in the year to meet people and really appreciate them. (And share lame jokes and tell embarrassing stories.)
  • Teacher Kwesi was right, I’m not Bill Gates. And while I certainly don’t think I changed the world, maybe a lesson stuck with one student or a comment I made helped another student connect the dots. Our group was thrust onto a new continent and into a new way of life. I didn’t just leave my comfort zone on this trip; I was catapulted into my “oh-my-god-new-experiences-but-let’s-try-not-to-panic” zone. That’s more than enough for me to feel like my time in Ghana was worth it.

It’s Ghana be a Good Time!

Feb. 27, 2013

Well hi!

My name is Rachel and I am one of the ten students going to Ghana for Senior Projects. In Ghana we will be teaching at Heritage Academy, a school founded in 2004 by Westtown School’s Teacher Kwesi, as well as doing community service and touring cultural and historical sites. Since this progressive school’s founding, enrollment has grown tremendously and every year Westtown students hold classes there, in subjects ranging from science to history to music and theater and everything in between.

I will be co-teaching an English/creative writing course with my friend Taryn, as this plays off both of our academic strengths. Truth be told I’m terrified. Not only will I be thrust into a completely foreign culture, I will also be expected to stand in front of a classroom full of kids who seek to get something out of what I might have to offer them. Continue reading “It’s Ghana be a Good Time!”