Thursday, June 23, 2016

June 23

Today we had the pleasure of visiting Savelegu Senior High School for the third time in less than two years.  The staff and students are unfailingly welcoming and kind to us; this is always one of the high points of our Ghana tours.  Mr. Nantogma introduced us to the school administration and then led a very useful and informative session with the school’s faculty.  We then met with the students who have been exchanging letters and who hope to exchange letters in the future.  These students write some of the most detailed and thoughtful letters in our exchange and always have incisive questions and observations.

Like many schools in the Northern Region, SAVESS is comprised mostly of Muslim students and staff, and Yo Ghana is delighted that letters from such students are providing American students with a much more accurate and flattering impression of Muslims and Africans than Americans are usually exposed to.  As if to underscore this point, a roadside merchant we had purchased some shirts from last year threw in a free shirt for Wendy after I had purchased two from him—even after Lucy had bargained down the price—because “we are friends.”  Northern Ghana is a special place.

June 22

At Kpandai we were pleased to meet again with Father Mawusi, who has been a personal inspiration
to me since Brando and I met him two years ago.  St. Kizito School is the most isolated one we work with, and most of the students come from families who struggle to make a living.  But with Father Mawusi’s leadership it regularly attains the top marks in its district and among the top marks in the entire Northern Region, despite crowded classrooms and a lack of computers.  And he is involved in much other work in the community and the surrounding area, as well.  We will miss seeing him in Kpandai but were delighted to meet Father Alfonso and to know that Mr. Francis will continue his fine work as Head Teacher.  Father Mawusi will be transferred to New York for several years, so we hope to see him in Portland and that he can speak at one of our gatherings there.

We enjoyed meeting the students of St. Kizito very much, and they immediately demonstrated their high level of discipline and dedication.  Given how difficult it is to get letters in and out of Kpandai, we brought the letters from their partner school, St. Andrews, at the end of the school day, and asked that they bring their answers the next morning so that we could take the letters with us.  The next morning each and every letter had been answered, some at great length.  Mr. Francis took us on a tour of Kpandai in the late afternoon, where we met several students at work in shops helping their parents—and studying while they went about their work.  We got to relax a bit at a local canteen where we enjoyed corn on the cob that Mr. Francis had purchased on the way and pito, a popular drink brewed on the spot that we all found highly distinctive.

Then it was off to Tamale, where thanks to Mr. Kwame’s driving skills and Elizabeth’s map skills, we 
arrived at in time to meet with the students of ECG School before they had to go home for the day.  One of the students had written a particularly eloquent homage to Brando Akoto last last year, so it was a pleasure to thank him for that and to tell him how much it meant to Brando’s family and friends back in the U.S.  We also got to meet and greet the several students at the school that Yo Ghana! helps to support through providing part of their fees.  The school chooses excellent students from families that have experienced misfortune.

As always, we were highly impressed by the curiosity of the students and the dedication of the staff.  Mr. Joseph showed us to the fine accommodations he had made for us, and then joined us for dinner, along with the Hurinas, missionaries from Hong Kong who have played a crucial role in building the school up for many years.  ECG is one of those schools that makes you want to do and give more, as it is full of people who do just that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

June 21

Monday around noon we left our friends in Dambai for a ferry crossing.  Another sign that Ghana's infrastructure is improving is that the wait for the ferry was very short and that it departed without waiting hours past the scheduled time.  The roads are also much improved.  This of course makes moving goods easier and the economy stronger.

The improved road brought us soon to Kete-Krachi, where Yo Ghana! board member Dr. Kofi Agorsah attended school for many years a half century ago.  Headmaster Mr. Hastings and Yo Ghana coordinators Mr. Daniel and Mr. Tande and the rest of the staff immediately welcomed us and made us feel at home at a pleasant and quiet guest house and showed us to what became our favorite restaurant in Ghana, a small outdoor canteen just outside the prison grounds with amazing food and a gentle breeze.  We also got a quick tour of the current and future computer laboratory at John Doeswijck Junior High School.  As you can see from the photographs, the current one is so cramped that the computers don't really fit in it,
and when the students are using the space it is very difficult for Headmaster Hastings to get his work done.

Dr. Agorsah had visited the school just a couple of months before and was very impressed that the school has raised so much money toward the new computer laboratory.  This of course is the Yo Ghana! model or practice, that we help schools with projects that they have started.  Mr. Divine of the school's PTA was kind enough to attend our meeting with the school staff Tuesday morning, and we thanked him for the strong work of the PTA in helping the school.  If schools count on outside NGOs for help, they may wait forever, or they may fall apart when the NGO leaves.  But if they start something themselves, they both attract more support from others and ensure that they can continue to be strong when the NGO leaves.

Under the leadership of Mr. Hastings the school is doing very well in its exams, and we were very impressed by the quality of the discussion we had with staff about how to improve the letter-writing program.  This is a very strong school with very engaged teachers. John Doeswijck has not only done an outstanding job of responding to all the letters they have received from the U.S.; they have also helped two other schools that lack a scanner/printer.  Mr. Daniel has invested many hours of his own time in making this possible.  Yo Ghana! relies on teachers who already have too much to do but are willing to do even more so that their students can learn from and teach their friends across the Atlantic.  We enjoyed meeting with the students very much, then headed north toward Kpandai and St. Kizito Basic School.

Monday, June 20, 2016

June 20

Sunday late afternoon we arrived in Dambai after Kwami Akoto made transportation arrangements for us and then had a very good meeting with Mr. Opong, who is the head teacher if Dambai Demonstration School, and his colleagues. Monday morning we had a fine meeting with a the staff who work with the letters and also the students.  It was a beautiful day and fine meeting.  We were struck by the willingness of the staff and students to persevere with the letter writing despite various challenges, including spotty internet service in the town.  Board member Elizabeth always seems especially at home at Dambai and made an especially good friend.

We were also heartened to see how much progress the school had made, with no outside help, at building a new block of classrooms for its junior high school.  Nearly two years ago Mr. Brando Akoto told the school leaders during out visit that although Yo Ghana! would not simply build them a new building, if they started it, we would help.  Last year the foundation was in place.  Now there is a fine cement floor, a strong roof, and the start of some walls, all because of the work of the school’s PTA, led by Mr. Stephen Benyanase.  Brando also pledged that we’d be partners and friends for decades to come.  It is so good to see the fruits of his vision ripen.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Yesterday was a big day.  We (Lucy, Wendy, and David) had a great time, as always, at Angel’s
Academy, where school founder Mr. Ernest Opoku-Ansah and head teachers Mr. Justice and Mr. Daniel showed us the new computer laboratory that the school built on its own initiative. Yo Ghana contributed a very, very small part to it, well under 5 percent of the cost.  We were very excited to learn that at the school’s graduation ceremony on August 6 the lab will be dedicated to Mr. Brando Akoto, who passed away late last year and was a great blessing to Yo Ghana! and everyone else he met.  We also got to meet many of the students briefly.  Mr. Ernest started this school many years ago in his living room, for poor students who could not afford to go to school otherwise. 

Then it was on to L & A Academy (see photo), where Mr. Kankam hosted us and brought us up to  date on how the Yo Ghana! partnership went this year.  Mr. Kankam is one of our most dedicated coordinators and consistently has more than 100 students writing, which is a massive amount of work.  He is the first  Ghana teacher I met, nearly five years ago, and it is always good to see him. L & A Academy is another school that started out as a free school for poorer students, on a slab of cement, and now has grown into a very impressive institution without forgetting its humble roots.

Then Mr. Frank got us safe and sound to the University of Education, Winneba, where board member Dr. Eric Ananga and his very able research assistant, Miss Berthy, sat down and we worked out the details of the conference to be held there July 1 and 2.  The conference hall is very impressive, a grand building in every way, and we are setting aside classrooms for the smaller sessions.  They have done a wonderful job working with the university to provide excellent facilities (sleeping, eating, and meetings), and we are all very, very excited about the “Sharing Our Stories” conference, the very first one Yo Ghana! will have in Ghana. Dr. Ananga is one of the busiest and most dedicated persons I know, and Yo Ghana! is blessed that he takes so much time for us.

Elizabeth arrived late last night, and it is great to have her energy and intelligence and positive outlook on hand.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

First Day in Ghana: Anani Memorial International School

After arriving late Thursday we made our way with our old friend, the taxi driver Mr. Frank, to Anani
Memorial International School.  I first visited this school in Nima five years ago, and it is a remarkable place. Scholars of development and a bit of observation tell us that slums in developing countries are full of hopeful, hard-working people who often succeed against great odds.  Anani School is one of the reasons that they do. It is one of Nima's strong institutions that provides a very strong education in both the fundamentals of education and the arts; its children are skilled dancers, for example. They have also, for the second year, been the leaders in letter exchanges, this year sending five sets.

Lots of fine dancing was on display for Wendy, Lucy, and I. The welcome was a bit overwhelming. Then we had the pleasure of presenting the school's Principal, Mr. Kofi Anane, with his Yo Ghana! star award, as he was one of six awardees this year. Mr. Anane started attending the school as a child; his father started the school to educate children from poor families after being cheated in a financial transaction. The school survives against great odds, somehow offering a first-class education to families who struggle to pay the fees.  The students embraced the award as their own, and shortly after the presentation poured onto the floor in a celebratory dance.

It was a special occasion for a wonderful and unique school and person.

Friday, June 10, 2016

"There Are Other Kids in the World" and Let's Hear it for Teachers!

It's that time of the year when Yo Ghana! disseminates and then receives back roughly 2,000 student questionnaires.  One of my favorites answers so far, responding to the prompt of what she or he had learned about Africa from exchanging letters wrote: "There are other kids in the world."

Our world faces daunting challenges and stunning inequalities.  Smart, good people who devote their lives to studying these issues often disagree profoundly with each other on what course of action we should take.  But certainly an essential first step--and one that Americans, in particular, often neglect--is the realization that there are, indeed, "other kids in the world."  Who knows what that realization will lead to?

This is also the time of year of graduations when, in my role as Yo Ghana! go-fer, I drop by some schools at the year's end here in the U.S.  Today I got to see a student who had graduated the night before thank a teacher who had played, it seemed, a critical role in keeping him in school and helping him to graduate.  Our teachers in both the Pacific Northwest and Ghana and, for that matter, across the world, are often privy to a lot of suffering that the rest of us get to ignore.  But they also experience the satisfaction of knowing that their stubborn devotion to a student can be the difference between success and failure.  One of the very parts of being part of Yo Ghana! is getting to hang out with teachers.  Thank you, teachers for inspiring not only your students, but the rest of us.

I'll soon be in Ghana, along with our co-founder Elizabeth Fosler-Jones and with my life partner, Wendy, and we'll be traveling and meeting with hundreds of members of the Yo Ghana! community there, so in about week I'll be blogging every day or two.