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Posts Tagged ‘jhs’
I’m sitting here on my last night before college, reflecting on my time in Ghana. What did I do? What did I accomplish? I feel like I learned and gained so much – what did I give back?
I just sent off a package to everyone in Ada, so I suppose there are the physical things. But did I bestow on any of the kids an excitement for learning? Are any of the teachers going to stop caning, and is that even the right thing to do? Are any of the students going to take to heart my advice to study hard and apply to university, maybe in America, maybe even Haverford? If they wanted to, would they even be able to? Are any of them going to stop throwing their trash on the ground; start recycling their water sachets? Are they going to continue the warm-up I taught them for the play? Is acting going to be a useful skill in their lives? Are any of them going to get past Ada? Will I make a difference?
The time went by so fast. It was filled with eating banku and okra stew, going for runs along the beach, doing washing, heading to market with Euphemia, laughing with Alfred about “my monkey in the US,” walking back from the internet café with Kofi, listening to the radio with Gladys, taking pictures with my students, talking with them about American and Ghanaian culture, watching football matches and African TV, greeting “hihowareyou finethankshowareyou.”
And what about what I did in Accra? Meeting with artists and getting to know the city – it was so great for me, but what was I doing for others, for the organization? I think the most useful thing I did was set up some excellent contacts for the JAC. I hope we make use of them. It will be easy for them to slip away if we don’t keep them up.
I left for Ghana having very little idea of what I would be doing. I made up some things on my CPGC application based on the JAC website and the few emails Kelvin sent me, such as making a documentary, writing a newsletter, and organizing exhibitions. I did not do any of those things. We did not have the materials or resources for those things. But I did end up meeting a whole bunch of people who changed my life. I think, if only in a small way, I changed theirs.
At the CPGC retreat in the spring, they had us write an entry in the journals they’d just provided about how we were feeling about our upcoming internships. At the time, I was just stressed about the Bi-Co News and all the papers I had to write. “Ghana feels a million miles away,” I said. “Maybe in two months I’ll be reading this, and Haverford’s Quaker Meeting House and its wooden benches will feel like the couldn’t be farther.”
I did indeed read over it in Ghana, on my last bumpy tro-tro ride to Ada. I had written in the spring, “It’s weird that now Kelvin is just someone I’ve been exchanging emails with, and in a couple months, he’ll be a real person I’m working with.”
As my eyes skimmed the words on the page, Kelvin was sitting right next to me. And now, I’m reading it here at home, about to leave for school again. Both Ghana and the CPGC retreat feel like a million years ago – or maybe just yesterday.
At the time, my journal was fresh, a shiny new black. Now it sits on the dining room table, wrinkled and falling apart. It has traveled to Ghana and back. Its gray pages are falling out. My tiny scribbles cover the green-lined pages; my students’ drawings claim a few.
It’s strange to me that my eight weeks are represented inside this journal. Where is my trip contained? Inside this little black book? In the photos on my computer and now on Facebook? On this very blog? In the notes on my computer that never made it to the blog? In my head? In the heads of all the friends I made and the people I interacted with? If I had to go and track down what I did, where would it be?
What has come out of my time and work? In the end, was it for them, or for me? That was my main question when I wrote my journal entry at the CPGC retreat: who am I really going to help, and who am I doing this for?
Maybe I thought I was going to Ghana to find answers or solutions. Instead, it has filled me with more questions. My task now, after I ponder, is to keep up my work.
Thursday, July 2
On Monday we finally had the Environmentalism Day I’ve been working on for the past couple weeks. It was supposed to be Friday, but it got pushed to Monday because of a sports day issued last minute by the Department of Education, which then got postponed due to lack of funding. But we kept our day on Monday anyway.
I’m really happy we did it. I’m proud of the kids and thankful to Ebinezer, Kelvin, and all the other teachers and sponsors who helped make it happen. Still, I have some lingering regrets, which I’ll get to soon.
I came up with the idea for the day when I was going for a run on the beach. It was covered in trash. I was leaping over sachets and old flip flops, and I felt like I was in one of those video games where you have to avoid the alligators or hot lava. This is really sad, I thought.
I remembered a man I’d met at a recording session with the JAC the week before, who’d just been working in Ada Foah with endangered turtles. He said that there was not much environmental awareness in the area, and that people struggling to get food each day could hardly afford to care. It occurred to me, hey, I’m at a school, working with kids. I can do something about this.
I thought back to the diversity and activism days we’d had at my small Brooklyn high school, Berkeley Carroll (BC). I wanted to have a day like that here focused on the environment, along with a beach clean-up. I figured I could start off the day by talking about global warming and environmentalism; we could do a line-walk activity like the Walk of Privilege we used to have at BC (the whole school lines up and we read off statements like, “Step forward if you reuse your plastic bags and bottles,” or, “Step backward if you don’t have access to running water in your home”); we could train a group of students to lead discussions; and we could have a beach clean-up competition with sponsors and prizes.
Ebinezer and I got Brightest Restaurant to provide lunch to the winning team. Kelvin helped us get Club Rubstone (pronounced Robstone – also the place where we’re putting on the play) to throw a little party give sodas (“minerals”) and biscuits to the winning teams. We contacted the Department of Sanitation, and with only a week’s notice (we did this thing spoontaneously), it was too late for them to provide latex gloves. They would like to participate in the future, though, and they agreed to help us dispose of the trash afterwards, so that we wouldn’t have to burn it in a pit the way we usually do. (It’s seriously disgusting, you can’t walk through the town without smelling burning trash. Barbeques are never going to be the same to me. There is no adequate waste disposal here, so the people have no choice.
Ebinezer and I went by Radio Ada, the local station, and asked them to announce the day on the radio. Mr. Isaac, the nice man there, thought our project sounded great and invited me to come back and talk on the radio. That’s what I did this morning, which was pretty cool, though I didn’t get to hear the interview they put on tonight because I’m in Accra.
Ebinezer and Kelvin were all excited about Environmentalism Day and said they would continue it every year after I’m gone. I was thrilled. And then, I was disappointed, a little.
I led a couple of prep sessions with my Environmentalism Day leaders. I gave them a 101 on the environment (which they sorely needed), challenged their ideas (“okay, but why do you think that”), had them challenge me (some of them didn’t actually think global warming was bad at first. They said, “Hey, we like the sun.”), came up with discussion questions (“How can we deal with waste better and conserve more?”), and practiced icebreaker games (does anyone out there know the game, “I like people who like”?). It was intense, and we left the sessions feeling invigorated. I told them, “I’m counting on you to inspire your classmates.” They nodded.
On the day of, the kids had a blast with the beach clean-up. They got really into the competition and loved the prizes. They were collecting trash on the way over, and we had to stop them so that we could finally get to the beach.
The environmentalism part, though, I’m not so sure they got. Listening in on some of the discussions, I could tell they didn’t always know what they were talking about. They would say things like, “We have to stop throwing our trash on the street because it is heating the earth.” They had all these concepts and information being thrown at them, and I guess it got jumbled. They were earnest and they meant it, but they didn’t really get it.
One of the discussion questions was, “Make a list of the top 5 problems in the world. Is global warming on that list?” Practically every group had global warming as number one, even though that morning during the line-walk, hardly anyone stepped forward for, “if you could have given a definition of global warming before today.”
“Really?” I said to the group. “You all think that global warming is the number one problem? Yesterday you didn’t know what it was.” They stared at me. “Why? Why do you think global warming is so important?”
Finally, one of the boys spoke up, “Because we need to take care of our Earth so that we can keep on living.”
(Interestingly, most of the groups’ other top world problems were natural disasters like volcanoes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. I guess things like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, America’s occupation of Iraq, the modern slave trade, incarceration rates, and even poverty don’t make it into conversation much here.)
At the end of the day at Rubstone, we had an open circle where people could come forward and share thoughts, reflections, or something they’d learned, à la Berkeley Carroll diversity day. No one stepped forward. Kelvin asked the group leaders to say something, and they all spoke about how proud they were of their groups for the clean-up competition. None of them said a word about the environment, until Christian, the last leader, whose group had gotten first place. He just added, “and for helping global warming!” The kids cheered.
I don’t expect them to suddenly be environmental activists, and I know it’s going to take more than a day for environmentalism to sink in. I’m glad I helped to get the conversation started, and I’m glad they’re going to do it again next year. I hope a few of them go home and get their families to start recycling water sachets (there’s a company that will pay you for them!). I hope they try to reuse plastic bags and bottle more, and not toss their trash on the street. Maybe some people will take in what I said on the radio. Maybe a government official will hear my plea for better waste disposal in the area. Still, I felt a little sad as I picked up discarded biscuit wrappers of the floor of Rubstone, just hours after we’d cleaned the beach and talked about better waste practices.
I do think the day had an impact on some of them, though. For the others, I say, next time, and the time after that.
Friday, June 26 continued
About 20 minutes later, Mr. Caesar walked back in holding two students, one boy and one girl.
“See, we were just talking about students misbehaving, and look what happens when I leave the classroom to get some chalk,” he said, opening his palm to show two white sticks. “I come back and they are all fighting. Look what he did to her eye.”
The girl had two drops of blood in the corner of her eye. The boy was hanging his head.
“I told you I would try other ways, but this is unacceptable,” Mr. Caesar said.
“What happened?” I asked the students, getting out of my chair and sliding around the desk. “Wait, first, what are your names?” Let’s call them J and B. “You hurt her?” I said to J, crouching down so that I was at his eye-level.
He shook his head.
I turned to the girl, B. She said he’d been mad at her for talking but she wasn’t, and then he hit her with his pen. I asked J, and he said he didn’t think she had been talking, he’d just turned around and hit her with his pen by accident.
“Well, I don’t know what happened,” I said, “but either way, you were misbehaving, J, and you hurt her, and that’s one of the worst things you can do. You should never hurt your classmates. Can you please apologize to B? Are you sorry for what you did?”
J nodded and mumbled something.
“I can’t hear you, what did you say?
He spoke a little louder and said what I gather was “sorry” in Dangme, the local dialect.
“Can you look in B’s eyes, and say it in English too?”
J glanced up and mumbled, “Sorry.”
The teachers were fidgeting at their desks. They itched for their canes. “Kneel over there!” one of them said.
“Give me this, please?” I said shrilly. “J, I’m trying to get you not caned. Please look at B and apologize like you mean it.”
This time he did: “I’m sorry, B.”
“B, do you accept his apology?”
She nodded. “I forgive you.”
“Thank you. Now J, what you did was serious. I don’t want them to cane you, but it can’t go without punishment. I need you to write me a letter explaining why you’re sorry and it won’t happen again. I don’t want excuses, I want to see that you understand and are truly sorry. If the letter is good, I will ask the other teachers to consider not caning you. Okay?”
“Bring it to me at your next break.”
Mr. Caesar brought the students back to class, and I sat at my desk with a sigh of relief.
One small victory? Let’s hope that letter’s good.
Monday, June 13
I saw children being caned today.
Often the teacher will walk around with a cane but not really use it, just have it as a threatening reminder. They’ve even asked me if I want one – not to use, they assured me, just to hold and keep them in line with. I of course refused.
Today partway through the French class I was sitting in on, two other teachers walked in. The French teacher asked the children to get up and stand in a line.
He lifted up his cane, a peeled wooden stick, and held it up above the first boy in line. He brought it down with a thwack, and the cane, already breaking, split in two.
“Oh my God, stop it!” I stood up and cried, my hands over my mouth. “He didn’t even do anything!”
The teachers and students laughed, and I ran over to try to grab the cane from the teacher. By then he’d picked up a fresh one off the top of the cabinet. He held it out to the next student in line, who obligingly stepped forward and turned her backside to the teacher. He brought down the cane three times, as the first boy proceeded to the next two teachers.
I’d been standing in shock this whole time, when the teacher grinned and asked, “Would you like a taste?”
“No,” I said shakily, and sat back down. I watched with my hands over my mouth, sometimes crying out, sometimes biting back a smile because the situation was so surreal I could only laugh. The whole class went through three rounds of caning, the younger ones jumping up, the girls yelping, and the older boys taking it silently.
The teachers weren’t hitting hard, but still, it seems awful to me. They were caning the entire class, which had done nothing wrong, simply to “keep them disciplined,” the French teacher said. The students did not seem to mind too much. They considered it normal and thought my horror was amusing. It was my first time seeing it, but apparently it happens almost every day.
In the U.S., we are taught from day one never to hit a child or hurt someone physically. Here, hitting is part of the education. They say they need it to keep the students disciplined, that otherwise they won’t do their work or respect their teachers.
Who am I to disapprove of their customs? Am I imposing Western standards or viewpoints? Isn’t it hypocritical of me to be righteous about a few light thwacks when I do nothing about the huge amounts of child labor I help to sustain as an American consumer? Is my liberal, “love-every-child-and-teach-them-with-kindness” attitude naïve? Can it be effective here?
These are the questions I am wrestling with as I adjust to the attitudes and ways of Ghana. I find that I am learning much about my ways at home by living and teaching away from home. I don’t think my attitude toward hitting children will change by the end of my time here, but I wonder how my viewpoints might shift or adjust.