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One Child at a Time by Janet Neumann, US Volunteer

DSC_0108Day one of reading camp for me was both familiar and yet, new.  In past years, as the bus with Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope volunteers drives up to a school, smiling children would come running.  I love seeing the children waving and calling out “Auntie Janet, Auntie Janet.”

This year my greeting was much quieter, which was to be expected since this is a brand-new camp in a different Region of Ghana, the Eastern Region. This region is quite long reaching from the Volta river area to the Central Region. It is very agricultural. I loved seeing lush green vegetation. Most of the families in this part of the region are farmers.

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Some children from the Botae village came to our camp in Twerebo last year so I was ecstatic to see three familiar faces. As we began getting situated, we could see many eager, smiling and happy children.  You could tell they were so excited about us being there and camp to start.

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The team began by assessing our space for the week; this school was unlike the schools we had been to before.  The camp we were in two years ago at Twerebo consisted of four, dusty walls, and NO roof.  This was a change! A school that was in good condition.  It was dingy looking but you could tell that this building was cared for.  How we treat things shows how we value them. This building was treated with love so education and learning was valued and respected here.  The teachers from the village that were there to teach with us were smiling and ready to lend a helping hand.

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As we started picking classrooms, I found a room that was perfect except it was filled with buckets, dust, roofing tins, “stuff”, that honestly would appear as trash to us in the U.S.  I asked some teachers for help and before I knew it, little children came rushing in and began taking out things piece by piece. The teachers helped navigate and the children did the moving, it appeared as an assembly line. Soon, all the extra “stuff” was gone, and in its place was a beautiful classroom, full of potential.

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Anything could become possible in this space. I thought to myself, it isn’t that I come here to do, I come to create possibilities.  As I saw these children so willing to learn and help, my heart was filled with joy, these little children understood.  They understood that school was important.

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This is my 5th year and I keep coming back because I know the time I spend here makes a difference.  Anything is possible with the right intentions. Understanding that education will open up avenues and whole new world, creates incredible possibilities.  I love that I get to share my love of learning with these children and simultaneously empower them, one child at a time.

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P.S.  This is our first year at Botae. We have 40 children, five US volunteers, one Ghanaian, and nine Ghanaian Teachers.

There is another camp at Twerebo being running by a team of nine Ghanaian teachers. They also have 40 children.

Our third camp will run at Akramaman next week. That camp will have 100 children, two U.S. volunteers, seven Ghanaian teen assistants, and eight Ghanaian teachers.

Please send us a comment about this post to encourage us.

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Simon Says . . . . . . by Debi Frock

Have you ever moved and had to endure that first day in a new school? Do you remember the butterflies jumping around in your stomach?

DSC_0001I am sure that is the feeling many of these teachers had on Friday as we facilitated the teacher training here in Ghana. Each year as we prepare for our reading camps we invite the Ghanaian teachers to a day long training session. Part of the day is spent going over the reading camp materials so everyone will be ready, but most of the day is spent in talking about teaching young children.

Becki Neumann, former teacher and teacher trainer, facilitated most of the day giving helpful suggestions on how to handle early learners, ways of encouraging reading, things a teacher should never do, and many other topics. The group was engaged though a little shy about opening up.

DSC_0009I have recently been trained as a Mind in the Making facilitator. Mind in the Making is a program by Ellen Galinsky designed to teach the seven essential life skills that children need to succeed in learning. Skill #1 is focus and self-control. The game Simon Says is used as a teaching tool. You need to stay focused to determine if Simon Says the command and you need self-control not to do something if Simon did not say it.

I learned that game as a child and you probably learned it too. Well, not one Ghanaian teacher had ever played Simon Says. What ever the command I gave, even if Simon did not say it, was obeyed. Then we would all laugh. It took many, many tries before most of the teachers caught on.

DSC_0034This is our ninth year of reading camps and teacher training. I expected this year’s training to be good, no actually, I expected it to be excellent. I often worry about being disappointed about expectations, especially when working in Ghana, but there was no disappointment in this day.

Reading Camps at Twerebo and Boteah start on Monday. The following week we will host camp at Akramaman for over 100 children.  Stay tuned for updates.

Happy Birthday, Auntie Becki. A little gift from Herbitina. Welcome Joanna Haslem from Sarsota, FL. Joanna will be helping at Boteah and Akramaman.

This says it all by Debi Frock

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Fourteen years ago I prayed that I could help to empower a few girls in small villages, like Akramaman, to go to school. At that time, only 40% of girls finished third grade. 2015 statistics show that 95% of girls finished 6th grade. What a difference. This shirt is now the Junior High School Uniform for girls in Ga West, the area of Akramaman.

As Mercia drove us to St. Paul’s Preschool for their Graduation ceremony on the incredibly bumpy, dusty road, I wondered if I would still be welcomed by the children. My visits are only once per year and now that I work in other villages, Akramaman children only see me three or four days each summer.

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As we drove through the village women and girls began to wave at our car and shout with affection “Naa Aku”, part of my name as a Queen Mother in this village. Holding back the tears, I smiled and waved to them, not quite like Queen Elizabeth’s slight side to side wave but rather a full arm out the window hand wave.

The school grounds were filled with children, all of whom came rushing towards the car. The teachers had to hold them back so we could drive into the compound. My smile increased as the intensity of the crowd escalated, all waiting for me to step from the car.

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Many of preschooler had never met me, but they were eager to touch my hand and offer a smile. My heart raced as I saw so many of the former students who had already graduated to the primary school. They are growing up so quickly and they are all in school.

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Christiana

Not only are they in school but they are, for the most part, healthy. Christiana is a twin and has always been the smaller of the two. She is bright eyed, meaning less malaria, and her English has improved 200%.

There are now over 550 children enrolled in the Akramaman school system going from nursery to middle school, which has three years. There is a new Headmaster and a new male Kindergarten teacher. The classrooms are filled with posters and artwork.

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This is a big deal. Recently there have been articles in the Ghana news about the ineffectiveness of preschools, but the system at Akramaman is thriving. Many other school system teachers were at the Graduation to see just what are they doing at this school to make it so successful.

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During the festivities, the little ones sang songs and the older ones recited poems and bible verses. There were two fabulous skits. The first one involved Mama Africa and the regions of Ghana. Each child represented one of the ten regions in costume and dance. The second skit was two reports at the Anglican Television Station reporting on the success of the school with a local reporter giving the audience a look at the festivities. Pretty innovative for a village preschool.

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Forty-five children put on their caps and gowns and walked across the platform to receive a certificate, new school bag, new uniform for primary school, and new socks and shoes. Most were smiling. One threw up and I cried, but all of them will go to school in the fall. 

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As I left, I thought about the last eleven years since we first handed over the keys to the school for public education. There have been many challenges in finding ways to “empower” the school, the teachers, and eventually the girls, but today, I can walk away knowing they are moving forward.

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And someday, she may even be The President of Ghana.

Online vs In Line Shopping

While talking with my husband the other night he questioned why I needed to be in Ghana two weeks before my team arrives to run the Reading Camp. Well, a lot has to do with online vs in line shopping. There is no online shopping here in Ghana, so everything is in line or the queue. With a list of things to do and purchase as long as my arm, traffic jams that make New York City look like a country road, and crowded, maze-like markets, it is a wonder that I only need two weeks.

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Today Mercia and I needed to purchase eight dozen t-shirts. We use 12 dozen for Reading Camp but thankfully Ascension Episcopal Church, Westminster, MD, sent four dozen with me. The t-shirt shop is deep in Makola Market in Accra. This is the market for locals, however, after 13 years of shopping there, everybody knows my name.

The queue at the shop consists of a long bench and two plastic chairs. I waited for 90 minutes, moving along the bench to the chairs to get closer to being served. Finally, it was my turn. I chose red, orange, yellow and lime green shirts for the children. Of course the ones I wanted were on the top shelf so the shopkeeper had to get a long ladder, climb to the top and throw them down. Once the eight dozen t-shirts were packed in a large plastic bag, I couldn’t even lift it. We employed Gladys, one of the market porters who couldn’t weigh 90 pounds soaking wet, to carry the load: 30 umbrellas, my eight dozen t-shits, two dozen t-shirts Mercia bought and I think a pot or two. The 30 umbrellas belong to a totally different story.

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I truly am in awe at what these girls can carry. Once those items were safely in our car, we turned our attention to fabric. One of the reasons I shop online at home is so I am not tempted to buy more than I need. Fabrics are both mine and Mercia’s weakness. How can I choose just one? Luckily for me I was buying for a friend and I needed to pick out four fabrics. Plus I needed one for the team, maybe one or two more? Imagine miles of fabrics.

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Okay, ten fabrics, a coconut, some pineapple, grilled plantains and small bag of ground nuts later, we had spent four hours shopping for fabric. Since it was now after 5 o’clock, our drive home would test our nerves, but for sure, we will be returning to the market tomorrow and many other days. If only amazon could deliver the 200 pounds of rice we need to buy directly to the villages.

Akramaman Reading Camp

IMG_2345By Mr. Seth Agyakwa

In Ghana, one problem we normally encounter in the public school is lateness to school. During reading camp, the same pupils and teachers, who normally report to school late, are always very punctual. Even though lessons start at 9:00 am, by 8:00 am all are present. This is not because of the “whites,” but because the organizers and sponsors of the programme have put in all their best.

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Pupils and teachers do not waste time at home for food because food is served during the reading camp. The food given is not like Ghanaian school feeding programme that pupils refuse to eat even though it is prepared by Ghanaians. With this programme, pupils can even go for more if they are not full.

IMG_6379Again, there are sufficient teaching and learning materials which facilitate teaching and learning. Supervision is very strong. Due to this, pupils who refuse to read in our normal schools are eager to read during camp because of the good atmosphere and materials used. Pupils are also encouraged and motivated to read. I can see it is a factor in pupils showing interest in reading.

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IMG_2336IMG_2332God bless you all for your support towards the reading camp. We pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. Amen

Seth is a teacher at St. Paul’s Junior Secondary School. He has been volunteering at our summer reading camp since 2011. He is married with three children. Last weekend the team attending his newborn’s “Outdooring”, the baby naming ceremony. It was fun to welcome baby Perez into the family. Seth’s hospitality to the team was heartfelt.

Thank you notes are on the way.

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Why Do I Come Here Year After Year?

I thought deeply about this question as I packed three suitcases with school supplies, water filters, children’s blankets and pillowcase dresses getting ready to leave the US. Then I packed three more suitcases for the team that is arriving next week and pondered some more. Why do I leave my family and all the comforts I take for granted every day, to travel 9,000 miles, at least 17 hours on a plane each way, to sit in the dark at night with no fan, then to be tossed about like a rag doll in a car or bus each day as we travel the torn up dirt roads of Ghana?

This is why.

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I have always wanted to help children and when I felt that tug on my heart in 2004, I knew that God was calling me to help these children. When I first came to Akramaman in 2005, it was truly a village. Many children wandered around aimlessly. Only a handful of children went to school, mostly boys. There was no electricity, no clinic, and for many no Hope.

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Akramaman 2006

Now it almost a city. Electricity flows through many homes. The clinic serves 15,000 plus people in surrounding villages. The school system has over 500 children enrolled, a new computer lab and they are building a high school.

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Just a few of the classes at the primary school

Today at St. Paul’s Preschool graduation, I listened to the Assemblyman, the Pastor of a local church, the head of public education for the region and the representative for the Anglican education system implore parents to take raising their children seriously and to support education whether it is St. Paul’s Nursery, Preschool, Primary or Junior High. They talked about holding teachers accountable and encouraging students. There is much more than a glimmer of Hope for these children.

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I watched 37 excited six year olds put on their cap and gown and march through the crowd of parents to receive their Kindergarten diploma. Most of the children I have known since they were born. God willing, one day I will watch them put on another cap and gown and receive their high school diploma.

Smile after smile warmed my heart and told me the answer to my why. It’s the same answer I give my grandchildren each year when they ask “Grandma, why are you leaving.” “Because someone has to go and Jesus asked me to help him take care of the children. If I don’t go, who will help them?” Some of us are called to go, others are called to stay at home and mind the home fires and others are called to support those of us who do go. Thank you to my family, friends and many, many donors who have made all of this possible through the years. I may be the one here in Ghana, but YOU ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE SUPPLIED THE HOPE

Sixty Water Mamas and So Many Babies

DSC_0385By Deborah Albert

So far, so good! The experience so far has been way beyond my expectations. I came as a newcomer to West Africa, and what better country to first visit. As expected, I was a bit nervous when I first arrived in Accra, and my biggest hope was that I didn’t get sick from any of the food or water. My focus, however, quickly shifted to the work I’d be doing as part of the GMHope Team.

After the initial team briefing at Aunty Mercia’s house, I felt very at ease and excited for what and who I’d meet at each village.

DSC_0066One highlight of the journey to the first village has to be the lovely and relaxing boat journey. Well, I was a bit reluctant to get in the boat as I have a fear of deep water and countless past experiences that testify to that! More the less, the calm and stillness of the nature around me filled me with peace and serenity.

DSC_0245After meeting, interacting with and teaching the mothers, I knew that all the planning, preparation, saving-up, fundraising and excitement of the trip was well worth it.

The mothers were very delighted that we came, as were the chiefs and assembly men. The sing-a-longs that broke out during the program were heart warming and allowed me to witness the sense of unity which glues many of these villages together.

DSC_0418DSC_0437Overall, I am having the time of my life but if there is something that I must say I’m not pleased about, it is the long bus journeys. None the less, these journeys are not a problem when I see the smile I bring to the mothers’ and babies’ faces

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Ellen Baffour-Arhin is center and Deborah to her right.

Deborah Albert is  a 19 year-old British -Nigerian Medical Physiology student at the University of Leicester. Her understanding of the socio-economic determinants of good health has made her very passionate about providing high-quality care where possible.

DSC_0275Deborah is the first team member that we have accepted from outside of the United States. Working with small children poses problems is we cannot get a solid background check on each team member. Most team members have been referred by previous members and clergy. Deborah’s youth pastor and college professors convinced me that Deborah would be a good fit for our Water Mamas program. They were right. Deborah is a strong, confident young woman and excellent trainer.

Many thanks to Water With Blessings for their program.

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