Why do we go to those places?
In August 2017, I embarked on a two week community service program with a colleague’s initiative called Teach, Mentor and Transform (TMAT) which is based in the United States.
It all began on one night in the warmth of the month of July when my eyes caught a very inspiring post on Christabel Osei-Du, a friend’s Facebook wall that focused on teaching, mentoring and transforming the lives of children from deprived areas in Ghana. It was almost an involuntary pulse that struck me to message this friend of mine concerning the program. After a thirty minute private chat with her, a detailed information sent an impulse to the four chambers of my heart. I loved the initial the idea of volunteering, but a second thought prompted me about who will be going with me. I did not want to be selfish with this opportunity. I knew if I go alone, I will be joking with my life so I talked to some friends of mine who were also free during the summer break. They affirmed their intentions of joining and in the end, one followed me to this community service.
Two weeks prior to the main program at Ponwaakrom on 31st August, the mentors, including myself, were taken through a hard task of preparing a proposal for the topics to be treated during the program. It was not easy for both mentors and the organizers. Each one of us planned to make his role a success. We put all efforts together to make something great and empowering for the children in Ponwaakrom.
All the mentors settled in Sunyani at a local town called Fiapre near University of Energy and Natural Resources on the evening before 31st August, 2017. We did lodge in one of the student hostels during the two-week program.
The first week began with so much anxiety, uncertainties and full of expectations. Not only me,but also my colleague mentors experienced such because we had been told that Ponwaakrom is a typical African village where there is no electricity, good drinking water, good road and hospitals. I could imagine some of the places that formed the content of some TV documentaries about villages in Africa; structures like mud houses, small rooms and lots of bushes. I also wonder about their living condition, the kind of school they were attending and the way and manner these children receive formal education. There was other information such as the children in the village are not good at speaking and writing the English language. This made me decide on teaching them reading and writing skills. My proposal aimed at vocabulary, grammar, sentence formation and storytelling to gear these precious children to learn and speak the English Language well.
Our journey to the village was carried out in the mornings since we stayed in the city which is about 50km from the village. The whole journey was uncomfortable and rough because the road was bumpy and dusty. We liked it when it rained a little because the rain suppressed the dust. God being so good, a caring taxi driver came to our need after the first two days of the program. He had a taxi with an air conditioner so that took a bit of the stress we went through. On our first encounter with this village which is situated somewhere deep in the savanna forest with few mud houses and plenty of maize farms and other foodstuffs, I met the headmaster of the public school and some teachers of the school. They welcomed us so warmly and took us on a visit to the chief. I have never visited a chief in my entire 20 years of life, though I have seen several chiefs at durbars and funerals. This time was a great opportunity to immerse myself in the traditions of the Ghanaian chieftaincy. The chief was a very nice and simple person, but his linguist was the nicest. Both were eloquent and the professionalism of the hosting process was evident in our encounter. The handshakes, the sitting and the few chats proved that we were truly welcomed for a greater impact in the community.
Not much was done on the first day because our arrival was a bit late due to transport issues, but we did manage to settle and introduced ourselves to the children who had been waiting since morning for us. I could see that we looked so new to them and they were expecting more from us than we were doing. We had a few chats with them and departed for the next day.
Throughout the ten wonderful days which we had with them, each day had a new thing on its own. The children loved it and were excited about everything that was shared. Our relationship was built through icebreakers, storytelling, word search and a bit of drawing. Since I was handling the reading and writing skills class, I took them through how to use a dictionary and how to choose a story to read. It shocked me to know that the school had no library and textbooks; I only had three dictionaries from the headmaster upon request which I believed were used for a school with more than 100 pupils.
Our classroom was fun; seatings were arranged in a different order every day to eliminate familiarity and tension that emanate from the ordinary school days. The atmosphere was free for everyone to share what he or she thinks. Although it was really hard for some to speak the English very well, I did encourage them to tell me what they want to say in Twi and I will translate that into English for them. Trust me, in the second week of the program, the common everyday phrases that were all said in Twi were now pronounced in English. I loved their spirit of learning and bonding with new people.
The challenge was giving examples of things that were in my proposal, the village has no electricity, hence they do no watch television, so most of my examples were hard to picture because I believe most of them have not seen most of items before. I did not blame them for their ignorance, but I tried as much as possible to use things in their surroundings and the few pictures I had in my proposal to the very best of my knowledge.
Some of the pupils were so amazing to work them with; hands were always in the air to ask and answer questions. They had a bit of norming and storming in group work and discussions. They were so many emotions and I had to control how each person reacts to the other.
Lunch was also served to give energy for the second half of the day’s activities. The food was good and the children together with the mentors and the organizers enjoyed with relish. We ate together in one class, washed our hands together and played together. We had recess after the lunch and a one-on-one chat with the pupils to get to know them better and how we can impact in the right way. Most of them told me that they walk for 12km to get to school, fetch water and firewood before and after school, visit the farm to help their parents. From the sight of plenty sores on their legs especially the boys, one can tell what these children go through in their lives. The village lacks all the social amenities except the public school. Even with the school, only the Junior high school building and primary four to six classes are in good shape. The other classes were in a total mess, especially the kindergarten class, full of mud and wooden sticks with rough floors, a log of wood and big wooden plank serving as a blackboard. A few were singled-parented while the rest lived in an extended family home of not more than four hats. Their parents were farmers and petty traders who they work all year round to cater for their children. While the parents were more enthused about the farming occupation, the children never had an interest in farming. They believe it is full of hard work and pain. I found this through questioning their future career. One-fourth of the pupils wants to be workers in the military and security, then I asked them why. From their perspective, they have been seeing soldiers and policemen come around to the village to curb illegal mining “Galamsey” operation at the outskirt of the village.
They further told me that they have family relatives that indulge in the act, but have quit because the military has been very stringent on them these days. From the many stories that the children shared, they really liked our teaching materials and would learn more if they have access to them. Blessing Boahen, a primary 5 pupil, who shared a passion for reading and promises to be a president in future shared how hardly his parents get him books to read and also write in. I was really moved by his story so I talked to the organizers about the needs of the students such as books. My efforts in relaying this information resorted to a creation of a library project of GHC 1000.00 for the school as an initial seed. I also promised to do fundraising for more books to be bought for these precious children who are underprivileged as compared to pupils studying in the city.
I felt very sad when the program was ending. It was like taking the sweetest part of a candy out of my mouth at a heightened moment. But I was proud of my great pupils winning a scholarship of $150.00. The smiles on the faces of the parents who came around truly meant that they were passionate about education. I would be very glad if they take their ward’s education seriously as it will go a long way to end early parenthood and teenage pregnancy in the village.