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

--Annelise

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