Today the Lively Minds Ghana team took me to visit one of our newest Play Centres in Daboagshie Village. About 45 minute motorbike ride away along very dusty and pot holed filled roads – I arrived looking rather orange from the dust! What’s special about this Play Centre is it was one of the three Centres our first group of International Volunteers – who left Ghana just 3 weeks ago – had helped set up. So I was eager to see how the women in the village were getting on so I could report back.
As we arrived there was a hub of activity with children and women laughing and playing outside all around us. Possibly one of the most energetic woman I have ever seen was jumping around and singing with over 20 children who were all laughing, singing and clapping together. I stayed around to watch a while in awe of her vivacity – she seemed to be having as much fun as the children!
Nearby there was a small undercover area (a raised concrete platform with concrete walls on 2 sides and a tin roof) where the Play Centre was in progress. I learned later that this small area was the Village school. I headed over to have a look inside. I was thrilled to see that the Centre was running exactly as it should be by these mothers from the village. Lively Minds staff and our International volunteers had trained these women over 6 weeks to run the Play Centres themselves – teaching them how to make and use games. These games may seem simple to us but the majority of women who living in rural communities have never been to school. We later found out that of the 35 women running the Centre in Daboagshie, only 2 of them had been to school – and both had only been in their primary years.
I walked around to watch the 5 ‘games stations’. Each woman was sitting with 4 children playing a different game. They played each game once or twice with the children and then swapped with the station next to them. The games were very simple – counting games using bottle tops, dominoes made from cut-out sheets, matching colours and shapes – so they are cheap and can be replicated easily give the limited resources available to these women in Daboagshie.
At the end of the session we called all the women together for a feedback session. They told us that since they’d been trained they were successfully running the Play Centre 3 days per week. Each day consisted of 2 one hour sessions with around 20 children joining each session – so 120 children per week (all the children in the village) were able to take part and benefit. They told us how the children’s skills were already improving in the short time and that this was something new to them – without Lively Minds’ training they would never have games or play with children in this way. (Play is vital to a child’s development so the Centres really make a difference to the children). One woman told us that in the first 2 weeks they showed the children how to wash their hands, but not they all know what to do and run to the tippy-tap for handwashing before they start the Play session without being told. She also said that her child always washes his hands when he enters their home now too. (We give each of the woman a Tippy tap that they can use at home too).
The women were also benefitting – one told us how the games had taught her how to count in English as well as the children. They were also enjoying the opportunity to come together a few times a week (without the men) and enjoy themselves with their children. Generally women would only come together in this way at religious or festival occasions. And they certainly were enjoying the social aspect! As there were so many of them (over 30) occasionally we struggled to keep the whispering and gossiping levels down when we were trying to talk! When it was my turn to speak (with David translating) I said how I liked it was the same in England – if you have a room of women together, everyone’s going to be chatting and gossiping. After David translated for me, I was met with lots of smiles and laughter – so it’s clear to see that women are the same the world over!
After we said our farewells and took some photos of all the women, we were just outside about to leave and suddenly the heavens opened. Sheets of rain and heavy thunder and lightning. We all ran for cover back in the shelter where the Play Centre was held, and there we had to stay for the next 45 minutes. It was then that I was hit with the harsh reality of how these villages were living in poverty.
Rivers of water were forming just by where we were sheltered . Some of the children were instructed to rush out into the rain to put out pails so that they would be filled with the rain water that would be used for washing, and probably drinking. Daboagshie village has no sanitation facilities and very limited access to water. The village was 45mins motorbike from Tamale – so town life and provisions are extremely inaccessible for these communities. It was so inspiring to me to see how joyful and full of life these women were, and they were so grateful to have been trained by Lively Minds staff and our International Volunteers, welcoming me into their community.
Finally when the rain subsided we were able to head back to Tamale. At the moment in Ghana it’s coming into the dry season, so there are still often downpours of torrential rain (as I saw today and also all through the night on Saturday). But in the rainy season it rains every day and often hours at a time. When conditions are like this, it’s impossible for our staff to reach communities by our motorbikes. Motorbikes are the cheapest way to travel, but our dream is to raise enough funds to be able to afford a 4×4. This would enable our staff to reach communities that our even further away from town (those living in the most poverty and would benefit even more from our programmes) and of course in all weather too. So my new mission for when I return to the UK is to try and fundraise for a vehicle. So, if you’re reading this and keen to help, let me know! (email@example.com)