Sunday, July 29, 2012

That's a wrap!

What a blur! This summer has gone by so quickly! I can't believe that we will be leaving for America tomorrow. This past week has definitely been a fitting end to our 8.5 weeks in Ghana.

Before I get into all the details, though, I will start on a sad note. This week the beloved Ghanaian president, John Atta Mills, died of throat cancer. Though there has been a lot of mourning, it has been peaceful here. Citizens who have never even met the man are personally grieving his death--our friend Michael said that he couldn't bear to eat at all the day after the death. There has been a lot of radio coverage of the funeral and about the transfer of power to John Mahama. Molly and I observed everybody resuming normal activities the morning after the death, but when we started to run in the morning, a woman said, "The president died last night and you are running?!?"

Though the children finished with their exams last week, they still came to school Monday-Thursday this week. It was pretty much like the last day of school for American children dragged out for the entire week... The teachers let the kids play the entire day, and the kids loved it! Instead of having to drag out the sports equipment multiple times during the day, the children just played and played continuously. Molly and I enjoyed spending some unstructured time with the children. They taught us more songs, including the local version (the Volta region's version) of the Ghana national anthem. They also continued to help us learn basic Ewe, reviewing the numbers (1-10) and the days of the week with us. They taught us games such as Ompi and Aisha, which they ALWAYS play even though they are very tiring (they involve a lot of jumping). We also were able to teach some of them the song "You raise me up." We came up with actions for it, and these were a pretty big hit!

By the middle of the week, Molly and I were pretty exhausted. Our cross country training has been going well, but we continue to increase our mileage and as we don't have the nutrition that we are used to in America, it is taking its toll on us. Two-a-days are especially exhausting, as we run at 5:30 am and then again after teaching, playing, and coaching the children at 5:00 pm. Molly and I continue to have a following--people literally stop whatever they are doing and run with us for a few steps or an entire mile. Sometimes we feel how Forest Gump must have felt on his long run. We have even added extra agilities into our training program, dodging men who approach us with open arms saying, "Hello! My wife!" and women who approach us with concerns about our health saying, "You are tired. Go home and rest."

Anyway, since we were so tired, instead of playing games with the kids all day we started to individually tutor students in reading and computer literacy. The children loved this. We found that we were able to teach them quite a bit one-on-one. We were surprised to discover--through reading the Magic School Bus--that many of the children had never heard of dinosaurs. Many books have been donated to McColin's, but the children can only read them when they are at school because they do not yet have a library loan system worked out. (Mama Suzie hopes to develop this when they move to their new site.) The children have to read on the floor of a cramped hallway. (This is why we are trying to raise money for a new library with our Indiegogo video.)

We also continued to film for our Indiegogo video. On Wednesday, all the Ghana ACT volunteers got together to brainstorm and plan out our video. Molly and I already had a lot of footage, but we needed a plan of how it would all fit together. Then we went to the new site of McColin's to do some more filming.

Throughout the week, Mama Suzie and the children planned for the long-anticipated last day of school/graduation ceremony. The children even collected stones to make an aisle for the 6th graders to walk down on their graduation day. Apparently, this was the first primary school graduation ceremony in Ho, so it was a big deal. Many administrators from the area attended. The children performed skits and dances. The atmosphere was so celebratory and exhilarating. The children kept referring to it as "our day." The 6th graders were excited about their accomplishments, but recognized that this is only one step on their way to achieving their goals. Every single one of them plans to go to junior high school, senior high school, and university. They all have lofty career goals. Some want to be bank managers and others want to be doctors. Mama Suzie has really encouraged them to dream big!

Molly and I made certificates for the graduates, and they were elated to receive their laminated keepsake. After they received their certificates, Mama Suzie surprised Molly and I with certificates of our own. The community was very appreciative of our efforts. Mama Suzie explained that we had taught every subject to many different grades the past eight weeks and that we had also started an afterschool sports program. She said that we contributed to the fund to buy a bus for McColin's (which was brought to the school and blessed during the graduation ceremony) and built basketball hoops for McColin's--which leads to the really exciting news...

The new site of McColin's will be one of the only places in this area with A BASKETBALL COURT! Mama Suzie decided that their new site has enough space for a court! So Molly and I have been consulting with the builders. Early next week they will be clearing and leveling the ground. Then they will pour cement for the court based on the dimensions that we have provided them with.

If the children are going to have a court, they need to have a coach to continue to teach them the basics of basketball... That was a problem up until yesterday. Only one teacher at McColin's knows how to play basketball, and he was going to leave the school after this term. However, he has decided to stay at McColin's, partly because he LOVES basketball and is really excited to coach. Molly and I have made him a basketball manual, with ideas for possible drills, offenses, etc. McColin's will be the only school in Ho that has a basketball program. Mama Suzie is very excited that the children will be able to learn a sport besides soccer. And the children, especially the girls who are often excluded from soccer games, are excited for the opportunity to play for an hour every day after school. (The girls and boys will be on an alternating schedule.)

This weekend we went to Hohoe for the wedding of Saraphine (a teacher) and Kingston. There was so much singing and dancing! It was held outside the church and it was kind of similiar to an American wedding, but much more informal and relaxed. Also, Ghanaians do not engage in public displays of affection, so there was a hug rather than a kiss. The family welcomed us and the mother of the bride even came over to us during the ceremony to see if we were hungry. She even invited us to come to their house so that she could cook us rice during the ceremony! Anyway, the wedding (including all the singing and dancing before the rites), was at least four hours. The brass band that played really added to the celebratory atmosphere--the bass drummer was phenominally good and fun to watch!

Speaking of drumming, Yao, one of our Ghanaian friends, brought over his drums. Molly and I have learned some of the drumming techniques. One of us plays a simple bass beat, and then the other improvises on top of the bass beat. I love it!

Anyway, on our last full day in Ghana, we are taking in all the sites one last time. We have been sitting on our porch a lot--we are really going to miss the woman and her baby at the store across the street, the friendly faces of our neighbors, the Ghanaians bustling by carrying their goods to sell at the market on top of their heads, and the company of the neighborhood children--especially Anthony, who is a sweet middle schooler who gave me a special happy birthday card on my birthday!

Although we realize that we will miss many aspects of our life here, we are definitely ready to be back in the U.S. We have developed such an appreciation of the U.S. since we have been here. The length of our stay here has definitely made that feeling even stronger!

Thanks to everyone for reading our blog throughout the summer. We hope you have enjoyed it--though we know some of our blogs (including this one) are probably unnecessarily long and detailed. We will probably write at least one or two more blog entries once we get home with some final reflections on our experience in Ghana.

The bus that Ghana ACT donated to McColin's because the site of their new schools is too far for the children to walk

Ibrahim, one of the 6th grade graduates, with his certificate

Molly and I with the teachers at McColin's. (Michael, the basketball coach, is behind us.)

Mama Suzie gave Molly and I certificates for our volunteerism

Saraphine and Kingston's wedding


Friday, July 27, 2012

Ghanaian Grub

Hello! I realized that it is our last few days here and we have not yet talked much about specific Ghanaian dishes that we have had regularly since we have been here. This is partly because we haven't taken many (if any) pictures of the food. As we have a Ghanaian woman, Linda, who is a student at the local nursing school, cook for us each weeknight, there is really no excuse for why we haven't taken pictures of our food. Anyway, we will have to resort to using other people's pictures from the internet to show you the food that we have each week.

In Ghana there are a few staple dishes that everyone has regularly. These are fufu, banku, and kenke. They all feature a dough ball in some kind of stew. You must take a piece of the dough ball and dip it into the stew using your RIGHT HAND--this is very important as it is offensive in Ghanaian culture to use your left hand for anything other than going to the bathroom. Then you put it in your mouth and swallow--you aren't supposed to chew (though I always violate this rule).

The fufu dough ball is made from cassava, which is like a white yam. This dough ball, like all the others, is very filling and it expands in your stomach. I can never eat all of one. The texture is kind of like bread dough. It can also be served with light soup, which is a spicy tomato soup. The spices that are in almost every Ghanaian dish are garlic, ginger, onion, and LOTS of pepe, a kind of pepper.

Fufu with goat meat in palm nut soup,r:33,s:0,i:173

Me pounding fufu with our cook Linda

The banku dough ball is made from mashed plantains. It is similiar to the fufu dough ball, except slightly more sour. Molly and I like this dish better than fufu. The texture is different--it is more like clay.

Banku and "okro" (okra) stew

Kenkey is made using corn. It is usually wrapped in a corn husk, so you must unwrap it first. You take a piece of it, dip it in the spicy red sauce, and tear off part of the fish and eat it all together.

Kenkey dough ball wrapped in corn husk

Kenkey, sauce, and fish

A rice ball is often served with groundnut (peanut) soup. At first Molly and I loved this dish, but as it was the last dish we ate before we got food poisoning, we are now kind of repulsed by it even though we don't know for sure that we got food poisoning from it. Anyway, most of these dishes are usually served with chicken. ALL PARTS of the chicken are served, including the eggs from the inside of female chickens. Ghanaians even eat the bones for calcium since there is no milk here.

Rice ball in ground nut stew with chicken

Red red with fried plaintains or bananas is another commonly-served meal in Ghana. It is basically beans in a red sauce. This meal is not very spicy, so it can be a nice change of pace. The fried plantains are very sweet. I prefer this dish with bananas rather than fried plantains.

Red Red with fried plantains

Mpoto Mpoto is a yam dish. I cannot find any pictures of it... It has a consistency kind of like mashed potatoes, except it is orange, rich, and spicy!

Fried yams are the Ghanaian version of french fries--except here it is the main meal. It is dipped in a spicy red sauce. We usually share an omlette on the side for protein. In Ghana the starch is viewed as more important than the protein. Chicken and other meats are more expensive, so Ghanaians fill up on startches before consuming a little protein at the end of the meal.

Fried Yams (one of the other volunteers took this picture)

Jollof is a spicy rice, commonly served with chicken and a little salad on the side. The lettuce is usually smothered in mayo.

Jollof Rice and Chicken

And last but not least, cosi. Cosi is fried bean dough, and it is usually served inside of bread like a sandwich. This is a breakfast food.

Cosi Sandwich (This picture was also taken by another volunteer)

Though we have enjoyed experiencing all aspects of the Ghanaian culture, including the food, we are ready to return to America to EAT RED MEAT! We are excited to eat pretty much anything that does not involve carbs as we are pretty burnt out on carb consumption.

I know this hasn't been a real update on what we have been doing the past week... We will be posting one more time before we leave on Monday, so stay tuned!


Monday, July 23, 2012

McColin's Handymen

Wow....I cannot believe we've come to our last week here in Ho! Annelise and I are both excited at the prospect of returning home to our families, but we are also very sad that we will be leaving behind the awesome McColin's students that we have come to know so well, as well as the beautiful landscape and warm community that that we are fortunate enough to have been a part of the last two months.

Here's a recap of last week:
The students had final exams this week, so our normal rountine of teaching from 8 to 3 was a little altered, but this allowed us some great opportunities to help out in other ways. Last weekend the Ghana ACT volunteers decided that before everyone departed at the end of the month, we would make a video to raise money for the new site/facilitiies of McColin's School (at this point McColin's is renting its current location, and could potentially be kicked of the site at any time).  The funds have already been raised for the bare essentials of the project, and work has already been done to clear land and build the main classrooms, but Mama Susie (the school's headmistress/founder---an awesome lady!) has shared with us the school's dream of having a computer lab with enough computers for thirty students, a real library, kitchen/cafeteria, and a playground.

We plan to launch our project using the website, which is an online platform to raise awareness for worthy causes of all kinds, be it community development projects, artistic endeavors, or even medical bills. People create short films explaining the cause and then post them and share them through facebook, email etc. So this week and last week Annelise and I are taking video of the students and teachers, filming them in their daily routines and interviewing them about their hopes for their new school. We really hope we can pull together an awesome final video--especially because our friend Mike (who volunteered here with the Volta Aid Foundation) has offered to help us with editing and he is incredibly talented.

There have been quite a few other odd jobs and projects at McColin's to keep us busy, in addition to the video. We sat down with our teacher friend Michael ( the script writer) and went over his plays with him and gave all of the feedback and advice we could about mastering English grammar and strengthening his writing--he seemed really enthusiastic--I really hope he is able to pursue his work further at the studios in Accra. We also worked with Judith, the computer science teacher, for a few days going through the ins and outs of Microsoft Office. In addition to that we've spent a lot of time just playing with the kids, singing songs, exchanging dance moves and shooting hoops. The kids love the basketball hoops, and its been great being able to actually start doing some half court scrimmages--their enthusiam for the afterschool sports program has definitely spiked now that they are getting to play real games of 4x4 and 5x5! It's awesome to see.

On Thursday I turned 22, and it was a great birthday, even though it was so far from home. After a nice morning run, Annelise surprised me with banana pancakes, which were delicious, and all my students mobbed me and sang a FIVE-VERSE rendition of "Happy Birthday to You"--so precious! On the weekend we went back to Aburi, the gorgeous mountain town with a secluded waterfall. We decided to try to run to the falls instead of bike and it was a good adventure--though we may or may not have gotten turned around once or twice.. in the middle of the African bush...but anyway :)..we're gearing up to finish strong with a great last week here..trying to treasure every moment...and even with hot showers and chocolate chip cookie dough beckoning in the distance, we're doing our best to appreciate all that life in Ghana has to offer.

Some pics from McColin's:

Teaching the kids about the Internet... We hope that we will be able to raise money so that McColin's will be able to have wireless internet--It will be easier for them to learn the uses of the internet when they actually use it!

 This pic alone says more than enough about their need for a new computer lab... When they have their computer science class in this tiny room, most of the kids in the class sit out in the hallway and try to entertain themselves. These are the only two working computers they have right now!

 Closing prayer...the preschoolers were NOT impressed that we were snapping pics instead of bowing our heads

The rambunctious Adchato--the smile..the ears..we can't get enough! 

Two of the three basketball hoops that we made... We already hung the third at the current site so the kids could start playing, but these two will be hung at the new school. Mama Suzie said they are clearing some of the land so that they can have a court!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago our camera got wet on one of our weekend excursions, and it stopped working due to water damage. We tried to get it repaired in our village, but apparently we would have to travel to Accra to get it fixed. We won't be in Accra until we fly out in about a week and a half, so a nice man from our village is loaning us his camera for the remainder of our time here. Here is a conglamoration of pictures for the past couple of weeks:

Building the basketball hoops.

We have a new appreciation for power tools. It took SO LONG to use a (dull) saw and a nail and hammer to build these hoops. But it was a fun process!

The neighborhood kids even helped us with the sawing and hammering.

Our hard work paid off! The kids loved the first hoop we put up. One of the other volunteers brought real basketball hoop rims from America, so we are using them for the other two hoops that we will give to McColin's before we leave.

Teaching the proper shooting form

Ibrahim and some of his basketball buddies. They were practicing their skills during lunch break.

Practicing layups

Molly playing soccer during lunch break. The internet connection here is slow, so the picture didn't load very well.

Adzeo and his friend during break.

Akezah during break

Learning how to roll the wheel down the road with a stick. It's harder than it looks!

Yes, we actually do teach! We have not been able to post many pictures of us teaching, but since we both teach all day, it is difficult for us to take pictures of each other.

One of the teachers, Michael, and his mentee, Evelyn

Teaching P4 (4th grade)

Clifford, a drummer/basketball player

Laudina, a thinker

A HUGE ant hill--there are so many of these here!

Our trip back to Wli Waterfall--we tried to get close to the waterfall, but it is just so powerful!

Pictures don't do it justice. It is so beautiful!

The funeral anniversary procession for Linda's mother

We have many more pictures, but that is all we have time to post for now... More to come!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Lessons

Even though we have been here for six weeks, we continue to have new experiences and extreme adventures! This past week was filled with more teaching and coaching, culminating in a quiz competition on Thursday with McColin's Primary School competing against three other primary schools from the area. As girls seem to take education more seriously here, only two of the twelve competitors were boys. McColin's has won this competition in past terms, but this term the competition was fierce and they finished third. They had a fun time anyway, as the children from all the schools clapped for each other, danced together, and prayed together.

This week in school I taught everything from long division to French (since I don't know any French, this lesson was interesting to say the least!) Also, I have been teaching the children about computers lately. McColin's has three ancient computers that sometimes work and sometimes don't. Because the computers aren't dependable, I have started to simply lecture about different aspects of computers, such as the many uses of the Internet. Their minds were blown when I told them that many people shop or go to school via the Internet. The teachers even enjoy sitting in on these lessons to learn more about the Internet. Also, this past week I taught the 4th graders about the solar system. All the volunteers at our Ghana ACT volunteer house share our books throughout the summer, and I had just finished reading A Briefer History of Time, which had so much astounding information about space that I was able to incorporate into the lesson. I have been having a lot of fun teaching, and I usually leave time during the day for the children to ask questions about America. One of the very astute girls in 6th grade asked if Americans appreciate all that they have. I continuously learn new things from the children. They have taught Molly and I songs, such as Mawu Kenesa, which is a worship song that talks about how vast and powerful God's love is. They also have demonstrated their dedication and work ethic--one of the 8-year-olds told me that he wakes up at 4:30 every morning to pray, sweep, walk to school, sweep some more, and prepare his assignments for class. This is a typical schedule for these children. They are all so willing to learn and work hard; it is upsetting that they don't have the resources that other children have (such as dependable computers) because I know that if they had them, they would put so much of their time and energy into mastering them.

For our after school program, Molly and I hung up one of the basketball hoops that we had been constructing. The children absolutely LOVE basketball. Many of them practice shooting and ball handling any chance they get. Molly and I originally thought that we would try to create a sustainable after school sports program at McColin's that would encompass many different sports, but now we are focusing our efforts on creating a girls' and boys' basketball program at McColin's. One of the teachers, Michael, has played basketball competitively in the past, and he has expressed interest in coaching the children. Molly and I think that it will be easier to create a sustainable basketball program than a sustainable "after school sports program" simply because of the high interest level in basketball and the fact that it is a more specific focus. Anyway, the girls and boys alternate days that they stay after school to play basketball. During the day, the kids will ask if it is their turn to stay after and play. When we say 'yes,' I love to see the smile spread across their faces as they dance a little celebratory jig.

Last Saturday we climbed Mt. Afadjato, which is supposedly the tallest mountain in Ghana (though when we got to the top, we could see other mountains that were taller). The climb up was very steep, but it was only a 30-40 minute hike, so it was definitely not as strenuous as our earlier hike to the Upper Wli Waterfall. Once we got to the top, we wanted to relax and enjoy the view, but there was a troop of young Ghanaian police officers and a class of school children at the top. Many had brought their cameras to take pictures of the incredible view from the top, but when we arrived, we (the Yavus!) suddenly became a more interesting subject to photograph. They took hundreds of pictures of us. When we were finally able to take a few minutes to appreciate the view, we saw a huge waterfall in the distance. (I think it was in the neighboring country of Togo). We also saw some nearby villages. Even though it was an overcast day, we could see pretty far. The view was definitely worth the climb.

Last weekend we also went back to the Tafi Monkey Sanctuary and Wli Waterfall. We took the new volunteers that hadn't yet been there. It was just as fun to feed bananas to the monkeys as it was the first time. And the waterfall still blew my mind. It was even more powerful this time, and we tried to get close to it, but we were blown back.

Last Sunday, most of the other volunteers decided to go to chuch with Molly and me. We went to Global Evangelical Church in Fiave, which is on the way to McColin's. This service, like the last service we went to (at a different church) was very focused on asking for money--especially on asking us (the only Yavus in town) for money. It was a three hour service, which, if anything, is shorter than most. During the middle of the service, we got up and danced with some of the women in a circle in front of the podium. The dancing and singing was our favorite part!

As we start to feel that our time in Ho is coming to an end (we will be leaving in 2 weeks), we continue to develop relationships with the locals and learn as much as we can about their culture. We will be excited to come home and see our family and friends, but we will definitely miss many aspects of our volunteer experience in Ghana--especially the welcoming people in our village of Ho.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Celebrations of Life

Time for another update! It is now our fifth week here in Ho, and the last few days have provided with us with yet another set of eye-opening experiences to share. On the Saturday after we returned from our trip to Mole, our group got invited to visit the village of our friend, Linda, who cooks for us at the volunteer house. It was the one year anniversary of her mother's funeral, so we returned with her to her village in the Eastern Region of Ghana, just about an hour and a half or so from Ho, for a memorial celebration.

The village was fairly small, with probably only a thousand people, and it seemed as though everyone knew Linda's mother well. We were introduced to many of the locals, and we were repeatedly invited into homes and offered all kinds of food--Ghanaian hospitality is unmatched. It was a very cool thing to be welcomed so warmly by literally every one we met, including Linda's large extended family, who were very gracious to our group of 11 previously unknown white people. We then went with Linda's family to the cemetery for a prayer service, which was very moving--I never would have believed that we would be invited to participate in such an intimate moment in Ghanaian life. I think my favorite part of the whole thing was experiencing the closeness of the community, who all came together to support Linda and her younger, (16 year-old) sister after both of their parents had passed away.

We returned to McColin's on Monday, and have been teaching there as usual this week. I'm not sure if we've mentioned this before, but a new volunteer, Caroline, joined the program a few weeks ago, and she is also stationed at McColins. On Wednesday, during the final class period, the three of us teamed up to teach english to the sixth graders. We were attempting to teach them similes and metaphors, but their attention kept slipping, and we could tell they were getting antsy. They kept bugging us to teach them a song, so we decided to come up with a song for the material we were teaching. We made a simile song to the tune of "We will rock you" and had them go around the room free-styling similes about each other. Here is one example: Clifford is as short as a squirrel / Annelise is as white as a pearl! It was hilarious, and their teacher seemed to think so too. It was definitely one of my favorite experiences teaching thus far!

Annelise's 20th birthday was Thursday! And we celebrated in style at Bob Coffie's, a hotel in Ho--one of the most "American" places you'll find here. We both ordered steak and french fries and ate by the pool. We made her an "ice cream cake" of sorts by pouring 5 FanIce's into a bowl and adding a few wafers. She loved it!

One final note, Annelise and I have taken up a new project this week...we're building basketball hoops, with backboards, for the students at the school. Using only a handsaw, 1 hammer, and some plywood and two by twos, we've actually made a lot of progress! Pictures will definitely follow shortly..

Hope all is well in the States; we were definitely missing the USA on the fourth!