Ghana Team Journal

Thank you to a wonderful volunteer team!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

You have accomplished so much, in the footsteps of earlier volunteer teams, continuing the legacy of service in Ghana working on the U.N. Millennium Development Goals:

  • 274 hours of classroom instruction in math, social science and English provided to 125 primary school students
  • 50 children immunized
  • 100 hours of childcare provided
  • prenatal care to 24 expectant mothers
  • 110 residents provided malaria treatment
  • 7 mosquito nets distributed

You are all greatly appreciated for your generous contributions! Please come back one day!
-Global Volunteers Country Manager Benjamin Tamatey

Third Week in Senchi Ferry

Reflections and Photos by Kathleen Ismail
My heart is like the sea today….swells of in and out. In, the excitement of returning home to loved ones; out, the sadness of a tide drifting away from other loved ones.

Yes, I have loved many more these last three weeks. I have loved my Obronies, the remarkable intelligent, giving, patient and open Americans who joined me on the odyssey of sharing, serving and learning in this chosen community of Senchi Ferry. We have become siblings in our family of Ghana. And just outside our St James home are the community members, whom we too have grown to love and understand as we have worked side by side during oppressively hot days to achieve the common goals that they have set for their children. It is all about health and learning…..they want their children to learn. They don’t talk about cars and fancy houses. They talk about growing a mind and serving in a fulfilling job that allows one to help family and community. And this community is a community of harmony. There are poor and less poor. There are Christians and Muslims. They live in peace and harmony. The only difference is in their dress and not in their beliefs and values. To them, God is one God to be worshipped and glorified in your manner of choice. And this, this wisdom coming from the small, unknown, unmapped village of Senchi Ferry. How Washington and Palestine and Israel could learn from these wise few.

Our day was rich, our days have all been rich. We began with a visit with the Queen Mother, the Chiefs, our Host, the teachers and construction crew. It was to be a small ceremony of thanks and parting, acknowledging each other’s contribution to each other and our joined contribution to the village of Senchi. Our Team had collected our humble gifts and presented them to the Chiefs, as required by the Global Volunteers “no individual gifts” policy. In turn, the Chiefs handed a box to each school Principal and to the head of the Clinic. The items are to be shared by all.

Knowing that the community had informed Global Volunteers of the need for team uniforms for the volleyball and soccer teams, I donated these uniforms to the Chiefs on behalf of Global Volunteers. These are gifts to the schools to be used by the players for the duration of their performance on the team.

Frances, one of the coaches, invited us to join him as he handed out the uniforms to the boys. They were thrilled. In their important game next week, they will be a team pulled together in spirit, teamwork, effort and yellow jerseys and pants to shine on their game! I am so happy.

At the closing of this morning’s ceremony with the village leaders, I was generously given a traditional outfit by Joyce, my co-teacher. She and the Queen Mother hustled me into the Queen’s chambers, where I discarded my western dress in favor of this hand made, gift of love and appreciation. I stood proud in my new outfit when cheers and clapping rang in my ears as I approached the steps to display my fine attire to the crowd.

I walked proudly through the community back to the school for a last day with “my kids”. There is no such thing as a proper good-bye and I informed the children it was not “good-bye” but “see you later”.

As always lunch was wonderful as we all gulped down our last repasts prepared by our two distinguished cooks, Monica and Millicent. Then it was off to the community for our last stroll and our last day of reading with the children. They, being a little older, know what today meant. No more of these Obronies, whom they have come to love. We all pushed back tears and did our best to have one good long and final read. As we walked our familiar path back home to the St James, the familiar band of “regulars” hung on our arms and talked about when we will be back. No one asked for anything but good memories. It was touching.

That evening the heavens opened up and it poured so hard we lost our electricity and feared losing our roof or being swept into the gutters and out to sea. It was an extraordinary downpour the likes I have never seen.

But I know why. These are the tears of heaven. We are all crying in joy for the gift of new friendships yet crying in pain as we part for distant shores. In truth, there is no sadness; so let us call this rain “the tears of joy” for when love is real and love is strong, it follows you always in that special place, your heart.

Quote of the Day:
"If your plan is for a year, plant rice. If your plan is for a decade, plant trees. If your plan is for a lifetime, educate children." 

By Confucius

The Work Continues

Back at the construction site, more progress. All the bricks and mortar are in place in the first section. I am told that on Monday we will start poring sand to level the ground. Cant’ wait!!

Lucy and I arrive at the school to a scene of eager faces, who race to greet us as they do everyday…..they hug and paw and entangle themselves into our more that welcoming arms.

Ben was kind enough to photocopy a number of projects for me so I am well prepared for the day. I remain deeply proud of my band of little learners as they enthusiastically engage in our morning of activities. I feel like an extremely proud parent of my 22 young ones when they shout out the correct answers with confidence and glee. How quickly the day goes by and we discover over lunch that Katie has had a packed morning too with a scramble of non-stop activities at the clinic this morning. She reluctantly pulled herself away and arrived home just in time for lunch.

After a quick rest, we strolled our familiar path through town to the library, where our students have gathered in anticipation of another afternoon of reading. But….hold on, girls….we have a surprise for you!

While Nana and Deb gather the boys under the shade of the trees for another tasty book, Katie and I played “hooky” with the gaggle of girls. It was our beckoning that drew them from their beloved books as we engaged them (and ourselves) in an afternoon game remembered from my childhood. It was a game of folded paper with numbers and counting with a unique message under the number of your choice. Yes, this was a learning experience for them and we all had a glorious time-sharing a game passed from girl to girl, from generation to generation and now from continent to continent.

At 3:00pm we make our journey back to tutor our kids. They are waiting for us and this time someone has the keys to open the library. Katie and Sam decided to draw tattoos on all of the kid’s arms and it’s a big success.

We are back at the ranch now at 5:30pm. The Big Party starts at 7:00pm with everyone from the Queen Mother to several Chiefs, great food and lots of wild dancing had by all. The Global Volunteers team had to say a few words about their experiences during the past two weeks and we all talked about the love of the projects and the people from the village. I could feel the love from all until Ruben asked me to dance!

As we strolled back to our peaceful little corner of Senchi, a cold drink and a shower, I couldn’t help but think that we only have a brief three days left. How did it all go by so fast? Through the gift of camera and an armload of pictures, I know I will remember this heart full, warm and beloved community. I shall sit by my fire in Vermont pouring over little faces and dooryards and grins of the elders with the wisdom streaks across their faces and know I was there.

On this day, the 25th Anniversary of the beginning of Global Volunteers I am reminded of this coming together of two worlds and this love developed between multiple people from multiple generations and say with confidence and conviction…

Quote of the Day:
“Literacy is the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her fulfill potential.” Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General September 8, 1997 International Literacy Day.

Wednesday Journal
Sam continued on to her school but the rest of us poked our heads into the junior high class to observe their religious prayers and song. They sang a beautiful hymn led by the instructor and you could see that many of the students took this time very seriously and spoke to God in their own way.

After a few minutes, I decided I’d better get moving to the clinic. I found an empty waiting room. The head nurses were having a meeting so I went to the back room to wait for the day to begin, which never really happened. I think I saw 2 patients come in all morning. So instead of dishing out meds, I engaged the 2 guys, probably in their 20s, who keep the books in a discussion about religion and politics. One of them was especially interested in my opinions on President Obama and his promises and expectations the Iraq War, religion in school and so on. It was refreshing to hear such a young person be so aware and concerned about other countries and cultures other than his own. He enjoyed comparing Ghana to the US.

After lunch we head back to the schoolyard for tutoring. I’m reading a book about bugs with my girls and we get to a story about a certain beetle that some kids will catch, tie a string around and fly it around like a kite. I start to laugh and say how silly that sounds until all of my girls are excitedly telling e how they do this! The cultural differences never cease to amaze and entertain me.

After tutoring, we go on a walk through New Akrade, the other village Global Volunteers works in. There are many children out and about, playing with soccer balls and their own homemade spin wheels. On the way back to the guesthouse, Benjamin takes us on a small detour to show us where he lives when he is not busy tending to all our wants, needs and questions. His pride in having an apartment he can call his own is apparent and we are all delighted to get a glimpse into his life outside of being our gracious team leader.
-Katie Schumacher

Quote of the Day:
“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”
By J K Rowling.

Second Week in Senchi Ferry

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Journal

Our team was particularly tired this morning following an emotionally packed weekend viewing the former slave “castle” in Elmina. Like the Holocaust, it is unimaginable that such cruelty and human suffering could have occurred and yet the African spirit is strong and thriving.

On a lighter note, we ate our breakfast of hardboiled egg and toast and all agreed that peeling a just cooked egg was simply too daunting a task give our fatigue.

As we departed the guesthouse, we were greeted with a cooler temperature and strong breezes. We began our official day with Nana Myarko Asare at the Educational Administrative office – meeting the assistant superintendent, Mr. Kotoke, and the district superintendent Mii Cleland. Mr. Cleland oversees 62 primary schools, 31 junior high schools, 63 kgs and 5 senior highs. They all graciously thanked us for all our hard work…then we were off to our various projects.

Deb and Jack, as always worked tirelessly at the site of the future “Deb McNally Library”. Amazingly, Deb has kept pace with the community volunteers.

Kathleen, Sam and I are adapting to the chaos of teaching kg. Kathleen and Sam are naturals at the job – creatively engaging the children – while I (who can’t carry a tune or even draw) am trying my best to keep up.

I have found, as we all have, that the Ghanaian children are filled with enthusiasm and zest for leering. The children love to touch and be touched. How better to express our hope and dreams for the next generation. Katie brilliantly gave Kathleen, Sam and me bubbles to blow during recess. As the wind was particularly strong, the bubbles effortlessly floated into the air as the children chased them with glee.

Kathleen (also brilliantly) gave Katie a stash of reading glasses to take to her clinic. The staff joyously selected several of the more decorative ones – proclaiming…”I can see; I can see!”

Bonnie’s English class was cancelled so, in her endearing and inquisitive way, she engaged a Ghanaian Colleague, Francis, in a fascinating discussion encompassing culture, religion and psychotherapy.

Benjamin – in his quiet and unassuming manner – proceeds each day to fulfill our every need including gathering additional school supplies and even locating a compact disc player to share with the children.

Today was “market day” and Monica treated us to quite a feast at lunchtime – it’s simply incredible how hungry we all are after our busy mornings.

Tutoring in a quiet setting is especially gratifying as the children literally devour each and every book with amazing proficiency.

After tutoring, the ever adventurous Bonnie and Kathleen – along with children as their guides went on a tour of the village. They thoroughly enjoyed each and every aspect – even the roasting of the rats!

Deb, Jack, Katie and Sam headed to the Volta Dam in all its splendor. The day ended with another of Monica’s marvelous meals elated conversations about everyones’ day and a multitude of questions for Benjamin – which he enthusiastically answered.
-Lucy Mohler

Quote of the Day:
“If we are to achieve a richer culture, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potential and weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each human gift will find a place.” Margaret Mead (paraphrased)

The Slave Castles of Ghana

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reflections and photo by Kathleen Ismail, Ghana volunteer

I awoke to the tinkling of the phone as Nana Jack beckoned me down for our 6:30am agreed to walk upon the beach. The air was cool as we tiptoed along the water’s edge and it chased our toes climbing high onto the sand only to recede again in it’s rhythm of life. Soon we came upon a small peanut of a baby turtle who was engaged in its life-threatening crawl across the sand to the safety of the ocean. We watched as it struggled to the water’s edge only to be thrown back upon the shore by the stiff arm of an unfriendly wave. Again and again it tried unsuccessfully. Nana and I looked at each other with eyes in agreement that he would rescue this marching reptile and gently place it within the surf. Success, he was off on his way!

As we continued down the beach, we encountered a fishing ship, much like the turtle, attempting to engage the bold and resisting sea. Launching this wooden monster into the broiling surf again beckoned to Nana Jack as he dashed forward to offer his shoulder. He leaned into the boat and it slipped into the ocean as the crew clamored aboard and cheered their thanks.

All along the beach, we observed the morning rituals as the town began to awaken to its new day. Back at the hotel, we eagerly greeted our teammates and enjoyed a delightful breakfast at “our table” beside the ocean. (How quickly we’d staked our claim!). After breakfast, we headed to St Georges Castle, a very benign name for an unspeakable place. The exterior of the building was a somber sight. I hesitated going in and knew that I was not alone. Our guide, Richard, did a thorough job leading us from chamber to chamber and explaining the grizzly and gruesome events that took place behind these arrogant walls. How does one man shackle 150 men and place them in a room with a capacity for only 30. How does one man close the door and submit another man to unbearable heat and no ventilation with temperatures into the hundreds. How does one man refuse to feed or offer water to another man whose hunger and thirst has dried him to meager bones. How does one man shackle another man and drag him to a ship, stripping him of family, tradition homeland and his very soul only to be a beast of burden for another man miles away in an unfamiliar continent. Tears were upon our cheeks for we could still smell the stench of their sufferings in the thick, compassionless walls.

In our company were several black guests. All I kept saying over and over again in my heart was, “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.” We moved into a room with a high ceiling and overhanging balcony only to learn that it was from this balcony that the master of this imposing monster of a dungeon chose his nightly maiden for bedding each night. There hidden to the left were the stairs she would climb….alone and frightened to join this cruel stranger for a night of rape. Bloodied and cast aside, she would descend at daybreak. I thought I could take no more. As we continue to move through the rooms we came upon that balcony but I could not look over. Nana Jack stretched out his hand and beckoned me to the rail’s edge. As I reluctantly peered over, there, below me, among a small gathering of guests was a beautiful black man wearing an Obama T shirt with “Change Has Come” written on the back. It was then I realized how far we have come and, with the grace of God and under new leadership, we can continue to heal the wounds.

After a few purchases at the gift shop, we wondered off into the town. It was dense, hot and teeming with unfamiliar sounds and unfresh smells. Nana Jack, Deb, Katie and Sam selected a cool spot under the shade of the Brick House restaurant while Bonnie and I wove our way through the crowd and among the fishing boats resting along the water’s edge. A kind boy befriended us and gave us an inside look of this tightly woven community. We moved in and out of men repairing nets, children playing and mothers attending to their daily chores of washing, cleaning and cooking. Slowly but surely, Bonnie and I found our way back to our teammates and we all enjoyed a satisfying lunch together. However, one is rarely alone in Ghana for there are always the eyes of the curious children, who are fascinated by the “Obrone” and his unusual habits. Little heads with platters of food balanced atop gazed at our every movement. While most of them looked no older than 10, each had his responsibility for selling his daily wares and returning home with the meager earnings. These were young merchants with wares to be sold and a days work to be done.

After lunch, we headed back to our hotel, a place of calm and beauty. Each of us took his own path for the afternoon. At the hotel gift shop, Bonnie and I ran into a charming group of black Americans from NYC here in Ghana for a family wedding. Back were slapped and hardy handshakes all around when we discovered our NY bond. I asked one gentle giant if he were from Ghana and he replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know where I am from.” I was quickly drawn back to the experience of the morning when shackled men were dragged from their homeland and torn from their history and heritage. It was another sobering moment for me in a day of many. We parted company and headed for the beach. Nana, Deb, Bonnie and I herded together and began a slow crawl down the beach, as the bright orange ball of a sun slipped quietly behind the clouds.

This place called Ghana has truly captured my heart. Its history is unmatched. Its God is forgiving. He has placed his gentle hand on the shoulders of those who live here and love us and treat us with such honor. I love Ghana and intend to soak up all its wonder and hold it hot in my soul. Goodnight, Ghana, my special place.

Quote of the Day:
“In Everlasting Memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetuate such injustice against humanity. We the living vow to uphold this.” Plack on the wall of the St. George’s Castle, Elmina, Ghana.