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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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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