I woke up on my first day in Tamale well rested after my 24 hour epic journey and extremely excited. First to meet our Lively Minds Ghana staff – David , Country Manager and Alhassan , Volunteer Coordinator – and also to finally visit one of Lively Minds projects.
Alison presented me with a helmet and my chariot to the village awaited – back of David’s motorbike. Having just met him shame went out the window as I clung onto him squealing a little as we hit the dusty pot-holed roads of Tamale. Didn’t take too long though before I relaxed into my new transportation mode taking in my new surroundings.
We drove to Yipielnaayili Village to monitor a Lively Minds Reading Scheme. The communities have extremely little or no access to books and a limited understanding of English. In years 1 to 3 of primary school children learn in the local language, but in year 4 lessons are in English – teachers read to them in English and pupils repeat the facts back. So children often have no understanding about what they are actually learning. Lively Minds provides the villages with books and Alhassan and David train teenagers (who Volunteer) from the villages to read them aloud to all the younger children in the village. First in English and then translated into the local language. Yipielnaayili Reading Scheme was set up 3 months ago and runs every Saturday – so our visit was to monitor the Scheme to see how they were getting on and deal with any issues. Our Reading Schemes aim to promote a culture of literacy, story-telling and spark the imagination of children in the villages.
As I arrived children were queuing up to wash their using tippy taps. I immediately welled up! I’ve told so many people and written about our handwashing project in numerous funding applications – so to see it really working was amazing. Handwashing is incorporated into all our projects – We train the volunteers in its importance and children must wash their hands before the Reading starts – this habituates them to this vital practice. The villages have little or no sanitation and dihorreal diseases are rife, handwashing is a simple prevention method. Ash was being used though instead of soap so I asked Alison why – often soap is just not available to these communities, the friction of washing with ash is an alternative effective cleaning product.
The children were then split into 4 groups and over the next hour I went from room to room watching these amazing young volunteers reading to the children. One teenager would read a line in English, then the other would translate. They would then show the pictures in the books to the children. It was so lovely to see the children laughing at the stories. And some of the more confident volunteers acting skills! At the end of the book the children are asked questions about the story to make sure they have understood. When they get the answer right everyone claps.
Afterwards we held a meeting for the volunteers to get their feedback. All said that they were benefiting – their English and reading skills were improving and they were finding school easier. They were also more confident and liked that the children looked up to them. They also said that the children were learning too, with one reporting how he had heard the children using phrases from the books when they were playing.
The highlight of my day though was speaking with one of our volunteers – a 13 year old girl called Fusayna. Out of the 14 volunteers she was the only female. Before we left I asked if I could interview her to find out more. We try to encourage women and girls to volunteer to empower them and improve their child care techniques so future generations can benefit. She told me however that other girls in the village were not interested or encouraged to becoming volunteers – so it is a challenge for us to break through the traditions of women staying at home and their beliefs that they should have equal opportunities. Having trained as a volunteer Fusayna has been Reading at the Scheme for 3 months. She told me “I used to be able to read but didn’t understand the translation but now I am understanding English more and learning too”. I asked her what she wanted to be when she is older after she has finished school and she became very shy but proud to say that she wanted to be a teacher. I told her that I wanted to come back in 10 years and see her as a teacher. I really hope she does!
After the day spent in the blistering heat in the field we decided to hit the town for some well deserved dinner washed down with a Ghanaian beer or two. (I have a feeling my blog posts will all end in this way!)