At Kotingli we have a volunteer who has made a huge impression on us and been an inspiration to the other local volunteers. At the community meeting a man in his fifties told us about his life and his lack of opportunity to access education. He spoke of how he recently taught himself to read in both Dagbani and English and then demonstrated his skill to us by reading a sentence at the meeting. The man expressed his interest and support for our reading scheme and encouraged people to volunteer.
Although our meeting was aimed at acquiring youth volunteers, especially young women, we decided to give this man a chance and we have been delighted with his input to the scheme. As well as respecting this man, the youth volunteers also get along with him very well and to enjoy his presence. His reading and translating is far better than we had anticipated and he is a pleasure to work with.
At the end of each session this volunteer will often give a short motivating speech to remind the younger volunteers of the importance of education and the opportunities they have for their future, which he did not have. He also encourages everyone to be punctual and to keep attending training sessions so that the scheme is successful. We feel that by having this man within our team of volunteers he has built our confidence in the Reading Schemes potential to succeed and to be sustainable after our training is completed.
One of the biggest challenges in training our play centre volunteers is the language barrier. None of our Play Centre volunteers speak English and we can only speak a few words of Dagbani, therefore all of what we say is translated via an interpreter. This method of communication is not ideal as it is time consuming and sometimes miscommunications occur between the speaker and the translator.
A method we experimented with in today’s training session was teaching without using any words at all. We informed the volunteers that we would be using gesture, body language, facial expressions and demonstrations in order to teach them the games and how they should be teaching the children these games. It was explained that this is also a useful strategy to use when they are teaching children, as using less language will take away the pressure of processing verbal instructions at the same time as trying to learn a new game.
We started by demonstrating how building blocks should be used with children by sitting with a group of children and allowing them time to explore the shapes with their fingers and to experiment with putting different shapes together. If the children were not participating, the Lively Mind’s volunteer would build a tower of blocks and then give some to the child so that they could either copy or make their own tower. The play centre volunteers were able to see that no language was needed for the children to participate in this sort of play.
Gestures, such as pointing or hand movements, were used to teach the volunteers how they should teach the other games, such as the shape sorter. When the volunteers had difficulty putting the shape in the right position for the matching hole, time was given for them to work the correct position. If help was needed the Lively Mind’s volunteer used another shape or their fingers to show which way the shape should be turned. Praise was given by hand clapping, smiling whilst making eye contact and giving a ‘thumbs up’.
Even though these methods of communication are very simple, we can take for granted how effective they can be when they have to be depended on alone. As English speaking volunteers we felt we added real value today, especially as we were able to demonstrate how learning can be enhanced in a calm and less pressured environment.
At Kotingli we were very impressed to hear that the evening before our selection meeting 20 of the youths in the village had met to discuss our reading scheme. A total of 19 volunteers showed up when we came for our meeting, some of who were there by the time we arrived and others arrived up to an hour late. For Ghana, we have been told that this is to be expected, however this is a behavioural aspect of the culture that we are aiming to change.
As there were less than 20 that attended our particular meeting, every volunteer was accepted onto the scheme. Each volunteer filled out a questionnaire with questions such as ‘how many brothers and sisters do you have?’ (some of the families are very large!) and ‘how many times has someone in your family had malaria in the past month?’ Shockingly, most volunteers reported that someone in their family had malaria in the past month at least once, some more than this.
The community meetings are our opportunity to tell a large group of people, including influential members of the village such as the chief and elders, about Lively Minds work and how a reading scheme or play-centre can benefit their community. As well as providing children with access to an education, through play for 3 – 5 year olds or through listening to stories for 6 – 10 year olds, these schemes will empower the local volunteers that will be running these sessions. Our message is communicated through opening discussions and by demonstrating how to play one of our games or how to read a book to a child.
This meeting is an important chance for us to create awareness and interest in the work of Lively Minds and to gain the support of the whole community, as we believe the schemes are beneficial for everyone. The support of the community is vital for the schemes to succeed as our volunteers will need to dedicate four hours a week of their time for six weeks (and therefore be relieved of their family duties) in order for the training to be completed. After our training the volunteers will be running the centres themselves and working a total of two hours each week. These sessions will be monitored at first then our participation will gradually be reduced. Punctuality and attendance at the training sessions is very important and this is emphasised in the community meeting.
Throughout the meeting our teams shared the roles so we each had a part. As the local language is Dagbani, what we said was interpreted by our local staff member. Our presence alone drummed up a lot of attention as the community can see that we have travelled from afar to work with them, bringing with us our own individual experiences. The response was fantastic and many people shared their own experiences and opinions on education with us as well as thanking us for coming from our countries.