First Day of School!

Today was our first day of teaching at Heritage.  Our daily schedule consists of a mixture of teaching our individual subjects and holding small reading groups.  The classes we teach range from 7th graders to 11th graders, while the reading groups include students of all ages.

Our initial reactions to the atmosphere at Heritage were positive.  There is a clear sense of community within the structure of the school.  The staff members not only have relationships with the children but also communicate openly with other staff.  For example, DeGraft, the school’s headmaster, can be seen socializing with the kitchen staff, as well as taking care of all the details that contribute to helping Heritage run smoothly.  One of the teachers sat with us (Molly and Chloe) during a free period and discussed different aspect of the business world in Ghana, as well as the culture of homosexuality in this country. His curiosity about our perspectives on education and his clear love of learning made the conversation really open and culturally enlightening.

The students have a lot of responsibilities in the maintenance of campus procedures and aesthetics. For example, students have various tasks ranging from coming early to school to sweep the floors of the classrooms, to alerting the teachers when each period is over.  The highest achieving students act as prefects of the school and help the teachers to keep the classroom in line. It is clear that for both the staff and students, Heritage is a place that is enjoyed and appreciated.

After working hard on preparing our lesson plans and bouncing ideas off each other, we were excited to implement our lesson plans in a real classroom setting.  Our first day experiences ranged significantly, including both highs and lows.  One factor that contributed to the differing experiences was age.  As a whole, our group felt that the older classes were much harder to engage.  During reflection we brainstormed ways to connect with these students and created ways to more effectively manage the classroom and convey our course material.  Generally, the younger students were more enthusiastic and receptive of our material.  These interactions helped sustain us through a long day of trial and error.  We also realized that while the majority of these kids do speak English quite well, it is still very much their second language. We all found that speaking extraordinarily slow and in the simplest language we could think of was important in conveying our lessons.

Regardless of the students’ appreciation of the class content on this first day, all of the students expressed kindness and genuine intrigue into us as people, and we found ourselves answering questions about our lives at home and building connections almost right away with the kids. It was a lot of fun to start to get to know the students, and we look forward to spending even more time interacting with and learning from them.

We are finding that it is hard to balance our prior expectations with the reality of the constraints of this trip. Accepting our limited role here and the way that it affects how the students perceive us has been a challenge. An important understanding we are working through is that the immediate effects of our work may not be apparent in a tangible way. We are all coming to terms with the fact that this experience may play a greater role in shaping our own personal identities and ideas about service than the lives of the students at Heritage due to our limited time here. During our discussion, we realized just how important it is that we don’t let this minimize the significance of our journey in Ghana. Each of us is in the process of realizing what this experience will mean to us, and it is something we will continue to reflect on.

We are eager to return to the classroom tomorrow, and hopefully we will be able to address our own challenges and continue to foster a positive learning experience for the students. Thanks for keeping up with our adventures, and we hope you are enjoying the snow!

Love and miss you all,

Chloe & Molly

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From Humble Beginnings…

Dearest Internet-using Obrunis (among others),

In this day of all days….we are exhausted. We have traveled all over Ghana in just a few short days and honestly this blog post comes at a time that we would really rather sleep. But we–Kyle, Erika, and Katie–your intrepid bloggers, are here to tell of our experience thus far. It has been interesting to say the least.

Let us rewind to the beginning. Over the past 5 days, we have been in a vehicle for a total of about 2. Water bottles were passed like flasks around the back of the van by those of age (#collegelife), and are the new hottest commodity. We feel like Chia pets. It is quite possible that the only person keeping us alive on the Ghanaian Audubon highways is our amazing driver, Kobe. He tackles the Ghanaian mountains (speed bumps) like a true champ. Finally, the massive amounts of rice………have taken its toll on the bowels of some.

But on a serious note, these past few days have been some of the most interesting of our lives. We arrived in Ghana thoroughly exhausted on December 28th and since then have been all over the country. We traveled up to Northern Ghana to stay at Hand-in-Hand Orphanage, a safe haven for intellectually disabled children. Initially, we all had different expectations and reservations about what our experience would be. On behalf of the group, the three of us can say we were extremely impressed by the community there and wished we could have spent more time making deeper relationships with the kids and adults. Also in the North, we had the opportunity to visit and learn about the Ashanti tribe at the Manhyia Palace and Museum. In addition, we visited a monkey sanctuary and learned the importance of monkeys to the neighboring villages. We realized the monkeys were also super friendly when they ate bananas out of our hands. Not only were the monkey’s mad chill, but the huge trees, so different than the ones in the US, were off the chain (not that they were cut down, but that they were really neat).

Upon our return to Ajumako on New Years Eve, we were able to attend service at the Headmaster of Heritage’s church. To be blunt, it was unlike anything we have ever experienced. Many of us have been to church in different countries, celebrating different types of religion, yet this particular service was like none we have experienced before. The people of Ghana are very religious, and church was full of passion, emotion and intense dancing. As the awkward foreigners sitting to the left of the podium, we embraced the service by joining in any way we could. A pastor helped translate the 3-hour event, and we all left the service feeling that we would bring in the New Year with a new mind, heart and body.

[Emotional Discretion is Advised] So, now is the time to get down to the mushy gushy part of this blog post. Parents reading this- no worries, we don’t miss you THAT much… Friends- we may not come back to F&M, sorry in advance. But here are some of the themes that we have discussed in the reflection group we have at the end of the day:

Each and every one of us has questioned our role as a tourist. We have all expressed the desire to create connections that go beyond a hand-shake or a purchase, but we find it difficult to connect with the individuals we come across in our short travels. For example, upon our arrival at Hand-in-Hand, all of the children greeted us with open arms and smiles. We all had a deep desire to cultivate individualized relationships with these people, as opposed to being just observers and leaving after such a short period. Furthermore, we felt that it was unfair to the children to attempt to make these short-term relationships, and then just leave. Ultimately, our time at Hand-in-Hand was fantastic, but our desires to be more than just a passing group was conflicting.

We felt similar unease in Bonwire, the town famous for weaving Kente cloth. This town was so rich in culture and history, yet it was so difficult to build meaning around such a short encounter. We didn’t like the feeling of just being ‘consumers’, especially when we are all dedicated to learning more in depth about this fascinating place.

Now that we are back at our home base, we are excited to make deeper connections with the students and teachers at Heritage Academy. Earlier today, when we had a lunch with some of the teachers at Heritage, and tomorrow is our first day of teaching. It’s a glass case of emotions- some of us are nervous, some excited, and each and every one of us does not know what to expect.

K………………..Night.

– Kyle (Ky; Larry), Erika (Er-bear) and Katie (Kath; Pineapple Express)

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Off We Go!

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Here are 4 out of the 11 travelers, and they are ready to go! After a quick security experience in JFK we’re all aboard the flight headed out to Ghana in a few minutes. Everyone is really excited (and a bit exhausted) but by the time we wake up from this overnight flight, we’ll be across the world!

Write you on the other side,
The Ghana Group

How do I prepare for a life-changing journey?

My name is Molly Vocino, and I am a senior at Franklin & Marshall College. I, along with 8 of my new friends and 2 awesome trip coordinators will be traveling to the Heritage Academy next week and I could not be more excited. I am also a bit nervous, because while I know certain hopes for this trip will likely be met, certain expectations about what we will experience will likely be left at the gate.

I plan to pack as little as I can so that I can bring back with me as much as possible. I think we all mean that both literally and metaphorically. We all have expectations for what our trip will be like, but I think I speak for everyone in the group when I say we are leaving a lot of space open in our hearts for the unexpected, the wild, and the wonderful that will come along with this visit to Heritage Academy.

For the past month or so, we have all been working hard on preparing our lesson plans for the courses we plan to teach to the students at Heritage. Here are some of the subject matters we will be exploring with the students: Animal Behavior, Creative Writing, Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Human Rights, Art, Environmental Science, and Public Health/Nutrition.

We all met shortly before winter break (in the midst of a small blizzard) to run through logistics, learn about Ghanaian politics and history, enjoy some delicious homemade Ghanaian food (made by our Ghanaian friends at F&M), learn some simple phrases in Fante, and learn some Azonto dance (I think we all need to do a little more work on that!). What I found particularly helpful was our discussion of our own expectations, as well as those of the people we were telling about our trip, namely our friends and family. Figuring out how to respond to opinions that our journey is not enough to really make any kind of impact, or questions of why we even want to go to this place, was an important reflection process for me, and one that I continue to think about as I plan and pack.

We all decided to embark on this journey for our own personal reasons, but we are united in our hopes that we will impact the lives of the students at Heritage, if only just for the short amount of time we are there. We hope that this trip will also affect our own lives and our own thinking about what it means to be a student, a person, and a member of society. I, for one, am excited for the food, the dancing, and the friendships that I know will form between myself and the other members of the group, and with the students of Heritage and the people I will meet in Ghana.

More blog posts to come – see you in Ghana!

Off to Ghana on December 27th, 2013

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2014 Franklin & Marshall College’s Ghana Alternative Winter Break Trip

Our Franklin & Marshall College group (with one student from University of Pennsylvania!) is excited to be traveling to Ghana this winter to teach at the Heritage Academy. Our group leaves on December 27th and will return on January 13th, 2014. Stay tuned on the blog for daily updates about our teaching, travel and experiences. For more information about the trip, visit the Ware Institute’s website!

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A Little Ca$h Goes A Long Way!

Hi everybody!

So last week I talked about what types of things you can do to help out at Heritage Academy, even if you are a broke college student or you simply have no cash to spare. We’d love your help in spreading the word and getting shoe donations, backpacks and stuff. However, for those who can donate money, a little cash goes a long way at Heritage Academy and there are many ways for you to get involved.

First, a money donation is easy and useful. You can donate any amount on our website www.schoerkefoundation.org or you can send a check to Schoerke Foundation, P. O. Box 214, Westtown, PA 19395. Seriously, EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS.

We also have sponsorships and endowed scholarships that match up specific donors to students who need the help. I have been sponsoring a little girl named Fauzia for about a year now. She is in the 6th grade. She lives with her mother, grandmother, great grandmother and two sisters in a small house. Fauzia’s father died a few years ago so the only one bringing in money for the family is her mother who sells second hand clothing in the village market. Fauzia and I are a lot alike. Surrounded by good friends, but timid around new people. That is why I was drawn to her, we clicked instantly. One afternoon I walked into Fauzia’s village to tell her and her family that I decided to sponsor her until she graduates. The family responded with a gratitude that I had never expected. For $100 a year, you can sponsor a student like Fauzia. That cost will cover school fees, her books, and lunch fees. I decided that paying for Fauzia’s fees was something important and meaningful that I could do. We have hundreds of students that could use a sponsorship like the one that I have set up for Fauzia, and you could allow that student an education that he or she wants so badly.

An Endowed Scholarship is similar to a sponsorship. But your donation is invested with the school’s endowment and only the interest is used to support your student. When the student graduates, the scholarship is given to a new student. Finally, keep an eye out for our dollar campaign that will launch in June. We will be posting facts, pictures, and videos on facebook about Heritage Academy in order to raise as much money as possible to support scholarship for girls in particular. Again, any amount helps.

We would also like to that everyone for their continued support up to this point. We have reached a lot of kids in Ghana and we couldn’t have done it without support from the people around us.

For more information, hit it us up on facebook or email and we will answer any questions you have!

Peace,

Jordan

I’m broke but I want to do something!

Have you ever thought “hmm I would really love to do something to help with those awesome kids at Heritage Academy.” Have you ever thought, “I’m broke but I would like to help those awesome kids at Heritage Academy”

I am here to tell you that you DO NOT need to be rolling in cash to help out.

Here’s a little info about me. I’m Jordan. I am a 20 year old girl and I just finished my first year at Muhlenberg College. I went on my first trip to Ghana a little over a year ago and I have been back two times since. I am also a totally broke college kid. But Heritage Academy has become my whole life and YOU can also help without breaking the bank.

The biggest and possibly best way that you can help us out is by spreading the word about us. Follow our facebook pages (The Schoerke Foundation and Friends of Heritage Academy) and share some of the things that we post. The more people that know about Heritage Academy, the better.

Another thing we love is getting donations. We give all of the students backpacks and shoes as often as we can, but with the growing number of feet at Heritage Academy, it is hard for us to keep up. If you have a backpack, old sneakers, sandals, or anything that goes on the feet, we want it. During my trip over the summer, I measured every single foot at Heritage and we need big size 12 manly feet down to tiny little baby feet. We love it all and we can definitely use it.

Obviously, money is important in keeping Heritage alive, but we appreciate any help we get. Spread the word! Tell your friends, neightbors, and family about us. Are you a student? Tell your school about us! We love building connections with other schools.

Most of all, if you have ANY questions about what we do, contact us. We love what we do and we want to share it with the world.

Have a fantastic day and don’t forget to spread the word. ALSO check out our website www.schoerkefoundation.org

Peace,

Jordan

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Shoes and Wood Carvers

After our fifth day of teaching, it’s hard to believe we’re more than halfway through our trip. All of us seem to be finally settling into the routine of our school day. Our teaching has become more confident and our bond with the kids has grown immensely. As the trip’s end is in sight, we’re making more of an effort each day to savor every moment with our students.

Once the school day ended, we made our way back home to do some service. After dumping out several bags of mismatched shoes, it was our job to find its matching pair and tie the shoelaces together. About halfway through the process, we took a break and took a car ride to a local woodcarving shop. Lots of us were fascinated by the items and purchased a few of the premade sculptures. Some were bolder and brought their own drawings for the carvers to make them custom pieces. We quickly drove back home to complete the service project we started earlier in the afternoon. Once all the shoes were paired up, we stuffed them in bags in preparation for tomorrow when we will give them out to children at Heritage Academy. After a delicious meal and check-in, we all started to slowly wind down and reply to letters our students so graciously took the time to write to us.

Simon and Chris.

TUESDAY: The Long Bus Ride

Today Ali and I got the opportunity to take the bus to school with some of the students. The bus took us through three different towns where students all got on board. As we traveled from town to town, the bus slowly filled to the brim with students. There were kids squished to the sides of the bus, some were sitting two or three to one seat, and others stood in the aisles and pressed against the doors. Other than the cramped ride, it was interesting to seeing the different towns and schools that were in the area. We passed by a teaching university where students were all in their uniforms, getting ready for their day to begin.

After the bus ride, Ali and I came back to the house where we ate breakfast and finished getting ready before we were dropped back at school. When we got to school we taught our morning classes. Some of the students in the group got the opportunity to sit in on one of the high school classes, which was interesting. They were learning about the slave trade and the history of slavery.
After lunch, we took a trip to Heritage’s sister school, Ochiso, instead of teaching our afternoon classes. When we got there, we did a big introduction with all of the kids and we took lots of pictures. The children at this school were very excited to meet us and crowded around to learn our names and get our addresses. There were kids ranging from around 4 years old to 14 years.
When we got back to the house, we just hung out and slept. We also found out that one of the people in our group has malaria, but she went to the clinic and got some medicine. She is feeling a lot better now and she will be back teaching tomorrow. Today was a long day.

Lola and Ali

SUNDAY AT ELMINA

We woke up with an early start at 7:00 a.m. to get ready for a Sunday day out. The overall schedule today was that we went to the Slave Castle in Elmina, Coconut Groove Beach Resort, and shopping in Cape Coast. It sounded like a busy day, but overall it proved to be both very exciting and relaxing. We arrived at the Slave Castle after an hour long drive and as soon as we got out of our bus, merchants started to ask us our names and if we wanted to buy any of their merchandise. We made our way into the castle and began our tour. Inside the castle, there were many tourists which surprised us after hardly seeing any for the past week. The tour went through the different levels of the castle beginning in the women and men dungeons and cells and ending in the governor’s quarters. At the top of the castle, the view was spectacular. We were able to see the markets with interweaving streams of hundreds of people and fishing boats floating on the water. It was very interesting to learn some of Ghana’s history. After exploring the castle, we got into the bus and drove to coconut grove.
When we first arrived in the resort, the contrast to the world outside to the world inside was drastic. The resort was very wealthy and contained many tourists. We sat at the ocean front and had lunch. After we enjoyed our food, we sat on the beach, played volleyball, and swam in the pool. We had to leave sooner than we were expecting, and so after gathering our things, we got into the bus and drove to Cape Coast to buy gifts for our family and friends. The stores were rich in color, and there were many varieties of traditional Ghanaian crafts such as wood carvings, jewelry, and clothing. Everyone had a successful time with finding plenty of gifts to buy. After shopping, we got back into the bus and drove back home. We finished the day up with a nice groundnut soup and rice ball dinner. 
-Emma Merrick and Alice Macartney

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