ABOUT THIS PICTURE

NelliganClassroom

In January 2014, I taught a class on International Human Rights and Leadership to 8th graders at Heritage Academy in Ajumako, Ghana. At the beginning of the class, I asked the students to identify important qualities of leaders. Afterward, I asked them to vote on whether or not they believed the qualities listed on the board are something that leaders are born with, or something that leaders learn throughout the course of their life. Their initial votes are indicated in the first and third of the four columns. I then opened the class up for discussion, where students explained why they either voted “born” or “made”, and then had them re-vote, which is indicated in column two and four. By the end of the class, we discussed the specific qualities of the leaders they identified (to the far left of the board), and the ways through which leaders obtain these qualities (faintly written on the right-hand) side of the board. After realizing that leaders learn to have these particular qualities through various experiences, I wrote the following question on the board – “Who thinks they can be a Leader?” Students jumped out of their seat, their hands extended high in the air. Each of the students screamed “ME!”. The students were so excited and enthusiastic about this lesson that they wanted me to take a picture of them in front of their work. I will never forget these students or their enthusiasm that day. Upon leaving the classroom, I felt that I had accomplished my goal of inspiring the students to realize that they too can become leaders like the individuals they had identified.

– KT Nelligan, F&M Trip 2014.

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On Our Way Home

On Our Way Home

After a wonderful day around Accra, visiting the Botanical Gardens and the National Museum of Ghana, we all boarded our flight to come back to the United States. Here we come! See you all soon!

Tree of Life

Shoutout to our homies, last blog comin’ atcha,

Although we thought this trip would never come to an end, here we are. Today we finished our last day of teaching at Heritage Academy, and let us just say its bittersweet. Many of us wrapped up our lessons with final projects and presentations. Today had a familiar “last day of school” feeling: taking pictures with students, giving out addresses, and saying our goodbyes. At the end of the day we attended a school-wide assembly in which we sang the Ghanaian national anthem with all the students we had met over the week. Each of us shared a lesson we learned at Heritage, including the values of creativity, friendship, and role models, and gave our sincerest thanks to everyone at the school for giving us such an amazing experience.

Along with goodbyes came promises to students to keep in touch. We personally take these very seriously and are committed to writing to the kids, but we also worked hard to impress on the students the limits of our communication abilities. The pen pal system at Heritage can take about 4 months for a letter to be exchanged, leaving a student feeling forgotten or as if our relationship wasn’t genuine. We expressed our dedication to the kids, and discussed in our reflection the way that keeping in touch with these amazing students will be a constant reminder of our time here and also help us be mindful in our home lives.

Speaking of being mindful, your four current blog writers cannot forget to be thankful for the opportunity that F&M has provided to us to come on this trip through the Marshall Scholarship Program. The Marshall Scholarship creates a fund that can be used by students to perform community service or research projects. As recipients of this scholarship, throughout the trip we have been thinking critically of service and our role as volunteers, and we wanted to be sure we were using this award thoughtfully and as it was intended. As two weeks have now past, we can see in our experiences and reflections of stepping outside our comfort zone that we have truly grown as people and learned more than we can say. We acknowledge the apprehensions that go along with service trips, and in some ways we agree with the self-interested nature. However, due to this group’s awareness of this flaw, we try not to be passive participants and constantly question the appropriateness of the role we are playing. This mindfulness has contributed to an experience that undoubtedly made the most of our winter break.

When we first arrived at the guesthouse, our jet-lagged and relatively unacquainted group took a walk down the road and discovered what could only be described as the Tree of Life. We all stared in amazement and took an excruciatingly awkward first photo (choosing to pose as trees instead of actually touching each other). Today, we ceremoniously returned to this epic vertical hunk of wood, this time in our Heritage Academy dresses (and one shirt for Kyle) and students in tow. The picture from this afternoon lacks any awkwardness, and instead shows the true friends we have become over the course of the trip.

Thanks for seeing us through to the end,

Carey, Chloe, Erika, Jen, and everyone else

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Cloudy With A Chance of Yams

We hesitate to begin this blog post, as it forces us to reflect on the impending end of our trip. As you all have read in our previous blog posts, we are having so many great experiences; we have all witnessed changes in both ourselves and our students. This trip has impacted (and will continue to impact) who we become as we continue in college and beyond. Here are some highlights from today:

Today was our second to last day of teaching, and unfortunately most of us feel that it may have been just the beginning. In our reading groups, we look forward to seeing the kids sitting anxiously in anticipation of our arrival to the library to read the stories we have come to share with each other.  As we read our favorites with these children, we wonder if our enthusiasm and nostalgia for these books will instill the curiosity in our students to continue a novel (or series!) in our absence.

In our classes, we will finish our lesson plans with the presentation of final projects or recaps of the week, which will hopefully display the growth of our students, both academically and creatively. As we begin to say good-bye we collect little “love” notes where students express how grateful they are that we have become their friend. As opposed to the American view of friendship, often defined by Facebook, Twitter and texting, a Ghanaian ‘friend’ takes a much different form, carrying much more weight than many of us are used to. We hope to be able to maintain these relationships through the pen-pal program that has been established.

As we head back to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave (yes, we did sing this song to our 7th graders today when describing what a baseball game is like) Ghana has led us to question the definition of ‘poverty’ in America. While it is easy for us to pinpoint poverty in Ghana because it looks so different from poverty in the United States, we reflected on what the “image” of poverty actually is. We realized that it doesn’t always look like a child in tattered clothes in another country; it could also be a homeless child in our own city. We thought back on a Common Hour presentation where the School District of Lancaster Superintendent gave astounding statistics about the number of children in Lancaster who were homeless. Since we will only be in Ghana for a short time, perhaps our impact can be continued in our own neighborhoods. As participants of our discussions, we challenge the readers of this blog to question what poverty may look like to you, and what role you would like to play in thinking or acting on this issue.

To end our day, we bravely challenged a group of Heritage students to a game of soccer.  It was exciting to interact with our students outside of the classroom and to show off our competitive spirits.  With a final score of 10-5, we were proud to walk away with second place in this fierce game.  After a few shirt tugs, questionable calls and well-calculated comments to our opposition, we were all smiling at how quickly we all bonded over our mutual interest in camaraderie.

Tomorrow, we are excited to have a final day with the students we have come to love.  We are happy to report that this experience has NOT been a Series of Unfortunate Events (yes, our life is now defined in children’s story titles), but more so Cloudy with a Chance of Yams.

Goodnight Stars, Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Goat Jumping over the Moon….

K, K & Co.

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Mutual Respect

As our time winds down in Ghana, it feels like just now we are starting to get in the rhythm of things. The open-air classrooms at Heritage have no solid doors or windows, just frames, causing many children to wander in and out throughout the day. Today one of Erika’s students, who she didn’t even know left the room, suddenly popped in through the window and casually sat back down in his desk. Elee finally discovered the perfect solution to all of our combined frustration; a Les Mis style barricade in front of the entrance to the room.

The daunting feeling of teaching is behind us as our lessons have come together and we are organizing final topics and projects. Our students also seem to be acclimating to our teaching, even making connections between our individual classes. After a health lesson on relationships with Jennifer and Carey, Molly taught the same students about animal behavior. When asked what a zebra looks for in a mate a student responded “mutual respect.”

Although we knew from the beginning that our stay in Ghana would be short, we are truly starting to feel the emotions of creating connections with students and then picking up and leaving just days later. Although many of us plan to stay in touch, we also understand how difficult it is to maintain these connections through sporadic letters that can take months to travel back and forth. We are used to relying on technology to maintain long distance relationships, which is not an option for most students at Heritage.

We are not just forming new bonds in the classroom. Our guesthouse, Jimmy Com, has also provided a community for us. Whether it be Lilah and Katie teaching yoga to Emmanuel, Bright, and Michael (all Heritage students staying here to help), or having a ping-pong tournament with the staff, we are continually forming friendships here in Ghana. Even our little neighbors, who would scream “Obruni!” and run whenever they saw us walking by, are now hanging out with us on the back porch. It is these simple encounters that are going to make it that much harder to leave. Hope you are all fairing the cold weather in the US. Many thanks to all our commenters, please keep them coming! For those who have not commented….we know who you are.

Peace, Love, and Pineapples,

Carey, Samantha, Elee and the gang

P.S. Pictures will be posted upon return!

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Rise and Shine

Loyal followers (all 4 of you, shout out to Katie’s mom),

Day Four of teaching has come with some definite highlights. Whether it’s the children grasping complicated concepts of human rights, or having an in-depth discussion of deforestation, today has left the Obruni crew feeling accomplished. In addition to teaching, we began one of our after school projects of measuring the height, weight, and shoe size (yes, getting a 12-year-old fresh out of class to stop and measure their feet was as difficult as one might imagine). Those who weren’t helping with the kids continued to organize the library. So all in all, a great day of teaching was had at Heritage Academy. We ended the day with a cozy (read: sticky and humid) movie night where all 11 of us packed around a single laptop to watch “Rise and Shine.” This Villanova-made documentary profiles a Heritage student (that we had the pleasure to meet) and a student in the Philadelphia school district, illustrating the struggles faced by each as they try to complete their education. The movie creates a powerful and complex interpretation of the effects of poverty and race in education systems all over the world, and how these two students should be inspirations to each other and to us all.

We also had the opportunity this afternoon to have a long discussion with the headmaster of Heritage, Mr. DeGraft. His commitment to the students is incredible, and his passion for every single child is immediately apparent in the way he speaks about his position. He took 45 minutes out of his day to explain his concern for each student’s personal education and success, rather than the overall school’s position in national rankings (a focus that often lets less fortunate students fall through the cracks). We were particularly impressed with Mr. DeGraft’s ability to maximize the resources that he has been presented with. Heritage has been able to create a community that both appreciates the culture of Ghana while incorporating more innovative teaching methods, setting it apart from government schools (who still use caning as a method of discipline and are primarily lecture and repetition based).

Listening to Mr. DeGraft talk about education here inevitably led us to think about the education we will be returning to in less than a week at F&M (and UPenn for one loser). Our experience at Heritage has forced us to confront issues that are a lot bigger than ourselves or our academic careers. However, we realize that our experience here does not change the responsibilities that we have made for ourselves at home, and returning to those brings a constant anxiety that could only be found in America. Our group has truly come to value the time we have taken to slow down and reflect each night. Whether the topic was trivial or profound, we felt that discussing these matters with each other offered opportunity for self-growth and added a certain amount of clarity and meaning to each day. As a group, we see the importance of maintaining this type of reflection and bringing the practice back with us to our respective schools and lives. So the next time we are stressed, instead of reaching for Netflix and the Nutella bottle we will choose to be mindful instead. Or at least eat Nutella while writing in a journal.

All our love,

Chloe, Erika and the Gang

P.S. Everyone check out Kyle’s LinkedIn cause he totally SUCKED UP ALL OUR INTERNET updating it.

P.P.S. MOLLY BUDDINE VOCINO GOT INTO UPENN SOCIAL WORK GRAD SCHOOL TODAY (…adding another loser to the UPenn crowd)

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Sorry to our 8th grade teachers…we finally understand.

Mondays.  Oh Mondays.  Why must they come so soon?  After a relaxing and eventful weekend we felt a little apprehensive starting such a daunting, teaching-heavy week.  Whether it be lesson plan anxiety, mild bodily discomfort, or feeling a little homesick, it was clear we all had our worries about how this Monday would go and whether we would be successful in engaging with our students in meaningful ways.

Some challenges we continued to face today revolved around effectively managing our classrooms and dealing with troublesome students. Having drawn a lot from our own experiences in grade school, many of us are feeling like we are, at times, falling short of being able to command their full attention and gaining 100% of their respect. Breaking into the already predefined “classroom culture” here at Heritage has been a definite barrier, but one that we are slowly breaking down and becoming a part of. This has lead all of us to realize that teaching is a skill that is honed over time and is causing us to feel a great deal of respect for the teachers that have helped shape our lives in many apparent (and subtle) ways.

The day was filled with highs, however, as we continued to connect with our students in new and surprising ways. For example, after having a difficult start to the teaching process, one of the students in Katie’s Human Rights class came forward with a completely finished final project days before it was due. The students were instructed to create their own countries, including designing a flag, constitution, and structure, and it was so encouraging to see this student really embrace a challenging concept with such creativity.  Kyle also experienced a breakthrough today in his Creative Writing class when a quiet, yet confident student proudly read a short story of his own.  For us, who seek to teach material that will encourage students to explore their creativity, these moments of expression are self-affirming and inspiring.

After school today, several of us journeyed into town to explore the market. The rest of our group stayed behind at school to organize their ever-growing library. Growing up in America, reading was a natural part of our lives, and a way for us to learn and be influenced by our culture. Because of the lack of Ghanaian culture represented in the literature that they have access to, the students at Heritage are consuming American culture as they learn to read.  This seems to be leading to a certain disconnect with the books they read every single day. Despite these cultural differences, we are noticing more and more how similar children are all over the world. The hand-games and silly childhood habits that we all experienced growing up are present here in Ghana as well, and this makes the world feel just a little bit smaller.

Thanks again for keeping up with our trials and tribulations. We love you all and are eager to share our stories in more detail when we get back to the States!

Peace, Love, & Plantains,

Molly, Kyle & the Crew

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A Day of Contradiction

Hello Blog Followers!

Thank you again for reading these posts. With limited Internet and phone access, it is awesome to know you can hear about our adventures with just a click of the mouse!

We had a relaxing and thought provoking Sunday. We rose at 7am and left Jimmy Com Guest House by 8. After roughly 1.5 hours in the tro-tro, we arrived at the busy town of Elmina. This coastal fishing town is also home to the famous St. George’s Castle, a landmark recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This castle was built in 1482 by the Portuguese, who had initially settled in Ghana to spread religion. Shortly afterward, this castle became a trading post involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade. In 1637 the port was seized by the Dutch, who continued to export slaves to Haiti, Trinidad, and many of the Caribbean Islands. Finally, this castle was captured by the British in 1871, and the port remained under British rule until Ghana’s independence in 1957.

We had the opportunity to take a guided tour through this large, white castle. Our guide described the various rooms of the castle- some of which functioned as slave dungeons, others of which were for the governor(s). Dungeons were split between male and female quarters, and these individuals were often not given food or water for weeks at a time. All of these individuals were kept at St. George’s with the intent of being exported onto ships, yet many of them died in captivity. The small and dark rooms evoked images of suffering and anguish, which became very real to us. It’s crazy to think that we were standing on the same ground as many African slaves. It was a somber experience that made us reflect on the role of slavery in history, and also provided a glimpse into the beginning of a slave’s journey (when, being Americans, we had only previously viewed their end destination). This also prompted an in-depth conversation about modern day slavery. We discussed how ambiguous the current definition of slavery actually is, and how slavery takes many different forms. It’s interesting to look back remorsefully at history, yet we all agree that many people today seem to turn a blind eye to the presence of slavery purely because it is less defined.

After our solemn experience, we went to Coconut Grove Resort and spent a few hours on the beach. The weather was beautiful, and we all enjoyed being in the warm water and having a great lunch. Going to the beach was another way for us to assess our role as tourists. Regardless of the fact that we were at an extravagant resort, there was still extreme poverty surrounding it. This led us to question the positive and negative impacts of tourism on poverty. Ultimately, we found it ironic that a resort could concentrate its wealth to a few in an area of need.

We have exactly a week left here in Ghana. Tomorrow we will be teaching again, and after school we will help the nurse track the students’ growth by recording their height and weight. We are excited to see what the days ahead will bring, but we also look forward to continuing our conversation and efforts back at F&M!

Namaste,

Katie & Jen

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Life Skills From the 9 Obrunis

Although we initially had some difficulties with teaching, today we found that the process came more naturally. We spent our Saturday conducting a life skills workshop with the 12th graders at Heritage. We covered topics about relationships, career goals, and interview skills in order to help facilitate conversation about life after high school. We came into the workshop we a lot of apprehension. We weren’t sure how much we could offer the students since we are very unfamiliar with the business world and dating environment of Ghana (and in the US).

For the relationship workshop, we split the 12th graders up by gender with Elee and Jen leading the females and Kyle and Carey leading the males to make the students more open to conversation. We proved to be more competent than we thought, and all groups were very successful. We under estimated how eager the students would be to participate, and facilitate the conversations we wanted to have. In the healthy relationship workshop, both groups had open discussions about values and expectations in relationships. Through this we learned a lot about the dating culture in Ghana and did our best as young adults to act as mentors to the students and give them our thoughts on healthy relationships whether they be sexual or not.

In the business skills workshop, we conducted a Myers Brigg personality test, and then split up into small groups to discuss the meaning of the results. This workshop was very focused on pushing the students to identify and communicate their goals, and plan the path they need to take to achieve them.

We concluded the day with an etiquette lunch that was set up as a mock interview. We had students follow etiquette rules and pressed students with difficult interview questions. During open discussion, Katie and Chloe’s table explained how western culture overpowers Ghanaian influence in the business world of Ghana. This disturbed some of the students who felt like while they are open to bringing in western culture, countries like the United States do not bring in pieces of Ghanaian culture. Furthermore they voiced that when introducing US business culture they are sacrificing their own culture. For example one of the students noted that as a business man in Ghana it should be appropriate for him to wear his batik, he is expected to wear a suit.

The students reflected that Heritage is one of the few schools in Ghana that offers workshops such as this to better prepare students for the future. It also gave us a great opportunity to speak with students closer to our age and compare our goals and aspirations. While we think of college as a time to explore our choices before making critical life decisions, students in Ghana feel more pressure to have a career choice in mind before pursuing the financial and time commitment of university.

After the workshop Lilah and Rachel sent us all on a scavenger hunt in Ajumako. All of us enjoyed the experience of exploring the area on our own and creating connections with the local townspeople. The word “obruni” rang through the town as every child we passed waved and screamed. Within minutes we had a full entourage of little children.

We made it back in time to travel to a local woodcarving shop (Which many of you will be receiving presents from). We were in awe at the skills of these craftsmen who formed a chunk of wood into an intricate work of art within minutes.

Our day concluded with Elee befriending yet another Ghanaian child.

Tomorrow we are off to Elmina Castle to learn more about the slave trade in Ghana… check in later to hear more about our adventures ;)

Peace and Love,

Carey and Elee and the 7 other obrunis

P.S. comments never hurt nobody

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Oh The Places You’ll Go

Not a day too soon, the reflection sessions have taken a turn for the positive. Yesterday, some of us struggled to connect with a handful of our students, especially the older ones.  This prompted us to discuss our role here as a teacher and what we expect to gain from this experience.  Today we were able to connect better with our students, which in turn improved our moods immensely.  It is a wonderful feeling to be able to say our highs out numbered the lows; which was a high in itself.

In addition to connecting with the students, some of us were able to connect with the Heritage teachers and staff members. For example, some of us talked with the shy but loving school nurse, Joyce. She shared stories about her life including how she started a school with 5 students, which has grown to educate over 150. These interactions have prompted some thought provoking conversations along with more opportunities to learn about both the staff members and the country of Ghana.

A noteworthy conversation took place between Molly and a professor, Adison, and we found it to be eye opening.

Recalled by Molly:

“Normally at home when I tell people about majoring in Animal Behavior they immediately ask me how to solve problems with their dogs.  It was funny, because when I explained to Adison what my major was, the first thing he said was, “I have a dog, it bit me, how do I stop this?”

We all found this to be significant as well as slightly comical, as it shows us that around the world similar conversations are simultaneously taking place.

As mentioned in the previous blog post, we are not only responsible for teaching our own classes, but also reading sessions. These reading sessions consist of 2 to 3 Heritage students reading with 1 to 2 Obrofo (white people aka our group).  Some students are at a fairly advanced level while others are still struggling to sound out words and understand what they are reading.  While some of us find it exhausting, others find it exhilarating.  In reflection, we have discussed how we can cater to these students and facilitate reading comprehension for both types of students.  Hopefully we will be able to implement these strategies successfully on Monday.

A high for the day shared among some in the group, was the “aha” moment at one of our group reading sessions.  We were reading Star Belly Sneetches, an excellent Dr. Seuss book that we highly recommend, when we experienced the kids understanding the moral of the story.  Brief summary: one sneetch has a star, one does not.  They end up switching back and forth at the expense of their wallets only to realize they are not superior or inferior just because of their differing appearances.  When we asked what the kids learned from the story, one kid said, “I learned to love myself and my neighbor.”  Perfection.  Well-done Dr. Seuss.

Tomorrow we’ll be doing a life skills workshop with the 12th graders in which we’ll be discussing topics including HIV/AIDS and Life After College.

Till then…

Édo,*

Samantha, Jennifer and the Obrofo Gang

* Love in Fante (phoenetics: ordough)

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