Tag Archives: heritage

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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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.


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

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Final Musings

The end of our journey is here, dear readers, and from the bottom of our hearts we thank you for following The Heritage Blog so closely and for being such a big part of this experience.

You have all been in our hearts and in our minds every step of the way: from boarding the airplane at JFK to our final adventure back to Accra. We would not be here if it wasn’t for your love and support.

We have had many adventures that descriptions alone can’t accurately paint the full picture, so dear readers, join me as we delve in the realm of abstraction.

Our first night here at Jimmy com. we experienced a bit of culture shock when we noticed a live chicken tied up and stuck into a black plastic bag, with its feat and head out of it. This lead me to write:

Black Bag Chicken

Black garbage bag chicken
squawks and stops,
struggling to breathe
the soupy air. The crickets
keep it company.
A desperate push deeper
into the brush—an anguished
cry. The pink sky, sympathetic
to the sound of a baby’s cry
in the distance. Flutter and silence.
Does it know?
Can it comprehend the inevitable?
Feet tired, slowly suffocating.
The breeze breathes life
into the quiet night.
flutter and silence.
A lonely cricket shatters
the emptiness. The sky darkens
and the leaves rustle.

When we ventured to the North, and visited the Kintampo waterfalls, I could only describe it as:

Cascading quicksilver covers all
washes clean the ages of time
sand slipping through loose fingers
tears of faith
calling from below
hopeless wishes
waiting for the sea of change
smiling through it all
still leaves sink to the bottom
but trust hangs in the branches
the roots dig deeper
the camera catches what ceases to exist
and the changing tides disappear
and are never the same
continuous birth

And again as:

The screaming water and rippling voices
fall from the sun into darkness
bare feet brave the white waters
swim in natures chalice
diamond smiles and emerald
gasoline cans—spangled rocks of prayer
the divinity of nature

The haunting drive up to Elmina Castle:

Diamonds on the sky blue water
no line on the horizon where the heavens meet the sea
drifting on a memory of silent
waves splashing into far away lands.
Palm trees explode into the sky
fire green arms explaining divinity
for nobody who cares to listen. The Castle
on the hill sold Gods like dogs to men
who didn’t care to know the difference.

On the serene Coconut Grove beach:

Waves lick the sand
crashing down upon
the crushing vastness
foaming at the mouth
wild and untame
erasing the past
cutting into the future
each crest and fall
what is is no more
what will be
slowly revealing itself
how far is the horizon?
how many licks does it take
to break the stoic rocks
until they are nothing more than
grains of sand?
a child’s castle
imagine the vast kingdom
what power does a king have
compared to time
always ticking always licking
the unforeseen inevitable
a king with a cracked crown
from years of artificial power
diving right; God’s will
how could you be so wrong?
if you looked into the face
of God would you know?
time’s insatiable ticking
into the abyss beyond the breakers
what will remain except the crashing durge
the funeral procession of the waves crashing
time and time again.

On a Kakum bridge:

Inverted energies and
cataclysmic fantasies
of falling up into the blue sky
The eagles mundane picture frame
looking through the infant eyes
of a sun bear
With feet on solid ground
the sublimity of divinity is realized
the echoes of crackling leaves under feet
crickets calling to nobody in particular
just making the music of Kakum.

On my final morning walk this morning; I met a man named Earnest:

Final hours lost in fog
an Earnest smile from
a stranger and a friend
the fog lifts and leaves love
the ties that binds are stronger
than our differences
the unity man lost behind closed
minds and tangled up
in razor wire

I hope this helped you, dear readers, to understand some of the incomprehensible aspects of the journey.

Peace and Love,

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Play That Funky Music Obruni

Having completed our teaching at Heritage, we had one last, full day to ourselves before flying home. Early this morning, Sydney and Jake accompanied Oduro to a gym in Ajumako, a fifteen minute walk from the guest house. And by “gym” we mean a wooden bench press with a mattress for a cushion and four cement weights in the corner of some abnormally jacked guy’s house.

We left around mid-morning with our young friend Kobe, a student at Heritage and a helper at the guest house, on an excursion to Kakum National Park, where we walked across rope bridges through the rainforest canopy. In the parking lot, we were surprised to meet a group of students from Elizabethtown College, which is no more than thirty minutes from F&M. It really is a small world! It was a brief hike up to the entrance for the rope bridges, which hang forty meters above the rainforest floor, providing wide vistas of the surrounding area. Although our reactions to the swinging, creaking rope bridges ranged from terror to amazement (all the while, planning elaborate escapes in the backs of our minds if the bridges gave out), we all survived and enjoyed this amazing adventure. Except Lilah, who tragically fell to her death attempting to do yoga on the bridge. Just kidding (but not about the yoga part)! As Anita put it, “I wasn’t sure whether the bridges were creaking because they were supposed to, or because it’s Ghana.”

Everyone agreed that today was a lot of fun, but one common low in our daily reflection was that the van ride to and from Kakum was hot, sweaty, and cramped. But, it was totally worth it. It was late afternoon when we returned to the guest house, and everyone reluctantly began to pack for the trip home (another low). Our cook, Theresah, prepared our favorite Ghanaian meal for our final dinner at the house: red red (a thick bean stew with plantains), rice, pineapple, and popcorn. With perfect timing, Mike finally finished the bottle of Tabasco he’d been using the entire trip. We already miss the wonderful pineapple!

Although we’re all excited for American food and to see friends and family, we are also sad to leave the country and school we’re just beginning to know. Both Ghana and Heritage Academy will stay with us forever. We hope we’ve been able to have a small impact on the students at Heritage and on the readers of our blog, and that the group of students who come next year enjoy their experience as much as we have. To anyone reading this blog and considering this trip (or a similar one), we’d encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and lend a helping hand, knowing it’s a unique experience you’ll never forget.

Stay tuned for one final, special blog entry from us tomorrow morning…

Obrunis out,
Sydney, Mike and Teresa

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Bittersweet Goodbyes

Today was really bittersweet as it was our last day at Heritage. It was probably our most extreme day of highs and lows. Each of us had a touching moment that reminded us of the work we had done with our students, but it also pained us to say goodbye to the kids we had built such strong relationships with, even in only 8 days.

Our last day in the classroom was very different from our previous seven. We all wanted to have fun with our students today, so some of us chose to play games while others had the students take a turn teaching the teachers. Today was as much about sharing culture and experiences as it was about continuing to share our educational interests. Sydney had a great time playing partner tag with her first class, Jennie had us all laughing when she told us about her game of “Red Light, Green Light,” and Jake and Teresa were impressed by the students’ choices of challenging words while they played Hangman. On the other hand, Sydney’s second class demanded to be taught, and they were able to grasp the Fibonacci sequence and the concept of infinity in one 50-minute class.

In our last reading periods, we noticed how far our students had come after reading one-on-one with us for the past week. We were shocked by their growth, and we’re optimistic that their improvement will continue. Anne had consistently used the same technique to help her students self-correct errors while reading aloud, and she was happy to notice today that her kids were helping each other using the same method. Teresa, who has been working with a student named Isaac for the last week, noticed significant improvement in his reading skills, making her feel like she has really made an impact at Heritage.

Despite these amazing highs, we all experienced some of our lowest lows. It was in the back of our minds throughout the day that this was our last day here. At the end of every other class, we had said “See you tomorrow!” but today, several of us had to catch ourselves and simply say “Good-bye.” One of Jennie’s students asked her throughout the day, “Are you leaving yet?” She was able to reassure him for most of the day that she would still be there for a few more hours, but eventually, the time came when she had to say yes.

At the end of the day, the school surprised us by holding a small assembly in our honor. We had an official chance to say thank you and good-bye to all of the students and teachers who had welcomed us to their school. We all had a chance to speak individually, but Mike blew all of us away with his eloquent and heartfelt speech thanking the kids and encouraging them to continue working hard in school (Lilah cried). DeGraft, the school’s headmaster, presented us all with traditionally wood-carved stools. They represented the strength of the relationship between Heritage and F&M, a relationship we all hope continues.

Looking back on our 8 days with our classes and reading groups, we all feel like we grew along with our students. We hope to continue the relationships we’ve made, both personally through written letters, and institutionally through future trips and support of the academy. We are excited to have two more days to explore Ghana, but we all recognize that the main purpose of our trip has come to a close. However, we know we will continue to learn and grow from these experiences with our students long after we return home.

Anne, Greg, and Alexis

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