Sunday, September 21, 2014

Day 7: Linear Man Meets Ghana

As my students can attest to, I pride myself on being organized.  So throughout this trip I've been trying to lay out every day's schedule well ahead of time, and my good brother Brando has done his best to accommodate the plan.  But the days have seldom gone as expected.

Take yesterday, for example.  The original plan was to meet with the leaders of the three schools in the area that we work with on Saturday night or some time on Sunday, then visit the schools on Monday and Tuesday morning.  But Monday is a holiday (though it is not listed as such on any of the lists of holidays I had consulted before planning the trip), and two of the people I had hoped to speak to before Monday were  not available, and so forth.  So when Sunday dawned, our dance card was looking pretty sparse.  After three weeks of trying to fit too much into too little we had time on our hands--which, given our general state of exhaustion, was perhaps not a bad thing.  Resting is seldom part of my plan.

Anyway, part of the dynamic here is that Ghanaians have been promised so many things by visitors from the West--and so many problems can come up to interrupt a trip--that they don't take our stated plans very seriously.  Until, that is, one actually shows up.  So Sunday was punctuated by a series of visits from friends of friends, meals that we had neither asked for nor expected, and offers of help.

The one big event of the day--which I had not anticipated when planning the trip--was a visit with the Chief, but that kept getting moved back 15, 30, 60, 90 minutes as everyone assembled to greet us.  The meeting itself was conducted in Twi, so most all of it went over my head, but there was no mistaking the fact that the Chief and Elders were delighted by our visit and stated purpose, which Brando confirmed, and by the time the meeting was over doors that had before been slightly ajar were now opening quickly and Monday was going to be a full day, indeed. 

But there was more to Sunday.  The day ended with an extremely emotional and inspiring meeting with a man who has devoted his life to redeeming the pains of his own childhood.  I had no idea of and no plan for that.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Day 6

Today was a long drive from Tamale to Sampa, on the border of the Ivory Coast.  Soon after arriving we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Gilbert Brew, Headmaster of a remarkable school, Nipaba Brew Primary, that we'll be visiting on Monday, and his hospitality was outstanding.

Passing by dozens and dozens of schools as we have driven across much of Ghana has prompted Brando and I to think and talk a lot about what sort of Ghana schools Yo Ghana! gets involved with.  Here's a list:

1) A liaison or intermediary.  All of the schools we work with have at least one person who is comfortable in both the western and African worlds.  Mr. Dominic Fordwour, for example, was taught at one of Ghana's teaching colleges, was a head teacher at several schools and a supervisor of an educational district before moving to Oregon, and he has a very detailed knowledge of many Ghanaian schools.

2) Serve many children from (economically) poor families.  There is a very close relationship between income and educational access in Ghana as elsewhere, so we love working with schools that are trying to do something about that, even when it hurts their bottom line.

3) The schools are not waiting for someone like us to come along and solve their problems.  They are doing a lot with a little, so that Yo Ghana! can become a sort of junior partner in their efforts.
St. Kizito Basic School in Kpandai, shown above, hits all three points hard.  Dominic referred us to the school as one with outstanding leadership.  Shown above are the kindergarten buildings which house over 300 students.  Classroom size approaches 100, and some of the teachers are volunteers.  Yet the people who oversee the school  are relentless problem solvers, even knowing that the problems are most likely going to outnumber the solutions by a healthy margin.  A cynic would look at the situation and turn away.  A romantic would try to solve everything at once and soon burn out, or perhaps focus on one narrow problem among many.  The compassionate realists who are so common in Ghanaian schools do what they can on multiple and shifting fronts, an approach that takes a special sort of courage, and we are more than pleased to do our small part in encouraging and supplementing their efforts while offering them the opportunity to teach and learn from their counterparts in the U.S. through letter writing.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Day 5: Brando Magic

One of the best parts of this trip has been watching my friend, Mr. Brando Akoto, in action.  Brando is one of the kindest and most generous and perceptive persons I have ever met, and one of the most passionate, too.  He managed to make a living as a merchant in West Africa, an occupation that requires a great deal of mental dexterity, and then he worked for many years doing grass-roots development in Ghana before moving to the U.S.  The first time we met, we sat and talked for a couple of hours about education and development, and I immediately knew that he would be perfect on Yo Ghana's board.

When speaking with students, Brando shows them affection while commanding their attention and demanding their best.  He challenges them to work hard and dream big, laughs with them, inspires them, tells them that their schools and their communities are strong places, that the quality of their lives is measured not by their material possessions but by their character and their determination.  He insists that they respect themselves and carry themselves with dignity
even as they care for others.

The above photograph is from the Evangelical Church of Ghana school in Tamale, a place where very focused learning takes place, an institution with high standards and low tuition rates.  Then, in the afternoon, we travelled north of town to Savelugu Senior High School, where we also found an outstanding staff--and an audience of several hundred attentive students.  There is in these meetings a tone of formality and earnestness that is most refreshing after so many years of being immersed in the world-weary and ironic ethos of American culture.  These students and the adults who lead them are truly, as they like to say in Ghana, "serious."  And so is our friend Brando--though he has a very ready laugh.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day 4--Don't Show My Wife this Photo

This morning Brando and I toured St. Kizimo Basic School in Bandai.  It's quite a remarkable school, as it is woefully under-supported but has an excellent reputation and is turning away students at the beginning of every school year.  For example, there are three teachers for about 350 kindergarten students who are in four classes.  But the schools is the top district performer in its exams, and students walk up to ten miles a day, passing many other schools, to attend it. To the right is Brando Akoto inspiring the Form 3 students.
Then it  was off to Tamale, which turned out to be a harrowing four-hour ride, with plenty of mi
niature lakes to negotiate (see below), along with the potholes.

Ghana's horrible road system is a major drag on its economy and life  Goods in isolated regions (where the standard of living is relatively low) routinely cost twice as much as they do in Accra, as the great majority of goods have to be hauled across roads like this one.   Getting to school or work is often time consuming.  NGOs commonly flock to the Accra Area  because travel in the North is so difficult.  A massive loss of time is inflicted  by the inefficient road system.

Anyway, we arrived safe and sound in Tamale, where we'll meet with Mr. Chris and his fine staff, who head up the Evangelical Church of Ghana School there.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This morning we had the pleasure of meeting the students and teachers at John Doswijck, including the letter writers who are paired with St. Andrew Nativity School in NE Portland.  Madame Caroline is the teacher who works with them.  The students were very, very attentive and respectful, and I complimented them highly on the quality of their letters.  Meanwhile Brando was working with Mr. Daniel, the new ICT (technology) teacher to ensure that the letters could flow smoothly.

Then our driver, Mr. Tony, negotiated a very challenging road to Kpandai, where we have been hosted by Fathers Mawusi and Baafi, who have treated us very well, indeed.  Tomorrow we will visit the Junior Secondary School that the Parish helps to run. Father Mawusi also oversees the other schools in the district and spoke movingly of classrooms with nearly 100 students and pupils sitting and taking notes on the floor.  It's both very hard and very inspiring to hear these things. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ghana Road Trip Days 1-2

Mr. Tony, our very capable driver, has been negotiating some very muddy and potholed roads with great skill and care.  The first day we left Accra for Dambai, where a friend (Mr. Issahaku) of a friend (Dominic) is the Principal of the Training School.  We had very good meetings with him, his staff and the town's Chief, as well as the leading teachers of their Demonstration School.  Dambai College of Education is devoted to preparing young women and men to teach in Ghana's basic-school system (up to grade 9).  Yo Ghana! is linking them to two classes of students in PSU's Graduate School of Education, so we hope that this partnership multiplies into many more, as the teachers go out into their schools with first-hand experience of the transformative exchanges that we facilitate.  Mr. Issahaku's hospitality was matchless, so we left town fat and well rested.  The Demonstration School is also very impressive in its own right, has any more students applying that it can handle, and will also be partnering with a school in the U.S.

Then it was a short ferry ride across part of Lake Volta and on to Kete-Krachi, located on a scenic spot overlooking Lake Volta, and John Doeswijck Junior High School, which our own Dr. Kofi Agorsah (Yo Ghana's Vice President) attended some years ago.  Mr. Martin, who has spent many, many hours facilitating this exchange, greeted us warmly and took us to see Headmaster John and other school leaders as well as a few students, then led us to a filling dinner of banku with goat soup.  Tomorrow morning we will visit with the staff and students some more.  Here is Brando at the end of the day at our technology center at the very nice guest house that the school has provided us with.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Angels Academy

This past week fellow Yo Ghana! board member Mr. Brando Akoto and I had the pleasure of visiting several Ghanaian schools within a three-hour drive of Accra.  One of the high points was certainly Angels Academy.  The school came highly recommended by Susan Addy, who had lived across from the school with her husband, the legendary musician Obo Addy.  Yo Ghana! is always looking for schools that: have outstanding leadership; have done a lot with a little, serve many children from low-income homes.  Angels Academy fits right in.

We had the great honor of meeting Mr. Ernest Opoku-Ansah, who founded the school more than two decades ago when he decided to start educating five local children for free.  He only started charging tuition once he retired, and under the leadership of his very capable daughter, Madam Regina Opoku-Ansah, a large percentage of children attend on scholarship.  We enjoyed listening to and talking with this remarkable pair, as well as the school's fine teachers, and we look forward to many more visits to and thousands of letters from this very special place.