Tag Archives: degraft

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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A Double Dose of Pineapple Express

Today marked our third day of teaching and the end of our first week. Many of us have begun to build close personal relationships with the students at Heritage. Jennie and Jake were both asked to be pen pals with students in their classes. Kate, during a discussion about gender roles in her psychology class, did push-ups on the floor of the classroom with some of her girls. During our nightly reflection on daily highs and lows, many of us expressed disappointment that some of the students we had worked with during previous reading periods were absent today. We’re really getting close to our students, and we miss them when they’re not there.

Lots of activities went well in our classes today, and it was great to see how excited the students were, even on the last day of the week. In an exercise to review body vocabulary in French, the students in Anne’s French class loved sticking labeled Post-It notes on each other’s faces, arms, and legs. Alexis’s and Greg’s students enjoyed drawing pictures of animals from the rainforest during a lesson about the diversity of the rainforest ecosystem and the importance of protecting it. Anita also saw this passion for learning when she sat in on a math class. When their teacher stepped out of the room, the students asked her to teach them for a few minutes, rather than taking advantage of some down time. Even in their free periods, we saw students looking up new words in dictionaries and studying encyclopedias to continue lessons by themselves.

In our nightly reflection, we learned a lot about the vision for Heritage Academy’s future when Lilah told us about a conversation she had today with DeGraft, the school’s headmaster. Heritage is one of the few schools in Ghana with grades Pre-K to 11, and will also have 12th grade starting next year. The school’s leaders aim to make Heritage a prestigious public school for all grades, and they are well on their way to doing so after being ranked 1st in the country for 9th grade national exams several times, including this past year. In the future, they are hoping to expand the school to include boarders from other parts of Ghana. We’ve heard over and over about how many students receive scholarships to attend Heritage. From all we have learned, it is clear that Heritage is continually moving towards its goal of providing a comprehensive education for students all over Ghana, regardless of their ability to pay.

After school, we visited a woodshop in a small village 15 minutes away. There, we got to see the woodworkers bent over carvings at all stages of the process, from an unformed log to a completed, polished unity knot. Several of us purchased unity knots, which are carved from a single piece of wood into three entwined figures. While the figures look separate, they can actually never be parted. These artisans walked barefoot across the wood-chip covered floor as they exhibited various masks and figurines they had crafted. We loved purchasing souvenirs directly from the people who had crafted them and seeing the process of woodcarving in many different stages.

When we returned home, we were so excited to see that our daily portion of pineapple had increased from one plate to two. The pineapple here is so amazing, especially compared to the pineapple we eat in the U.S., which is obviously not local like it is here. We may never be able to eat pineapple at home again.

Looking forward to more adventures in the weekend ahead,
Alexis and Teresa

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