Jarigu Village (session 2 Meeting with women volunteers)

Kipilo and Jarigu 019

This was an intensive but extremely rewarding meeting!  Following the meeting with the elders at the beginning of the week when we sought permission to set up the play scheme in the village, we asked for a minimum of 24 volunteers to make the scheme working.  When we arrived we were greeted by over 30 women and the community hall quickly became quickly packed with excited young and very old women keen to hear more about us.

The objectives were clear.  We were trying to get the women to see the importance of education, play and volunteering and to disperse any local taboos they were accustomed around volunteering their time.  They are expected to teach their children through play for 1 hour per week and volunteer for their community for a period of two years for free. It was important to establish how many women attended the first community meeting and whether they heard about us from others in the community.  This was an important indicator to assess whether they were forced Kipilo and Jarigu 053to attend the scheme.

The women were divided into groups and asked to participate in discussions.  With the help of Alhassan’s translations, I was able to ask simple but effective questions of these women.  What surprised me was how difficult they found to understand  why playing games with children was beneficial to children’s growth and development and all in the community.

The discussion was lively and each woman was keen to be heard.  David, the manager skillfully geared unravelled the key concepts at the heart of Lively Minds and introduced them to women volunteers.

John is observing the teams from the side

As an international volunteer and a woman, I felt I had an important role to play for Lively Minds in educating these women on the importance of play and education in their community especially for young girls and women, who seemed to be at a clear disadvantage.

Children are observing their mothers participating in the training

One answer, in particular, stuck with me because of the way one lady responded. “The programme must be good because you come from Europe to be here with us” she said.  I explained that we were here together because we collectively believed in the wellbeing and development of children, through education and play.  They understood me and I felt satisifed to play such an important and positive role.

We left on an upbeat note; with hope that these women will return truly believing in the roles they could play as Lively Minds volunteers in their communities.

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Kpilo School reading scheme (session 2) – “The Noisy Little Farm”

school and villages 057 Today we arrived at the school to show the children the benefits of good reading.  The aim was to reinforce drama and audibility in story telling and to make reading fun and interesting for younger readers.

When we arrived, the school was full of children, with headmaster present but no teachers.  We learned that the teachers went into town to collect materials for the election campaign however we were expected to continue with our training.  Classrooms were full of children, with very young ones seated at their desks and older ones keeping the school running.  The children were extremely excited to see us and many have already got to know my name, I heard “Jadzia, Jadzia, good morning Madame Jadzia” everywhere. One girl walked up to me and with a serious face and asked to carry my bag into class.  Childen were so good here and I felt so rewarded to be with them.

I peeked into one of the classrooms and saw one young boy standing up and reading aloud numbers 1-10 in English from the blackboard.  I was extremely impressed with how keen these children were to learn, however I later found out that these pupils did not understand what they were actually reading as everything was based on repetiton and often teachers did not have a full understanding of all the materials.

The pupils we were visiting werschool and villages 022e much older, P5 and P6 pupils.  We were there to train them so they could read to the younger ones in P1 and P2.  David, the project manager, explained to children why we were here.  We emphasised the techniques of good reading by demonstrating to children how to read well.

The story, which I read to children this time round, was about a “Noisy Farm”.  The children were mesmerised by the story, the book was interactive with sounds and the children enjoyed pressing the button, to hear the sound of a tractor.  They giggled and laughed.  I laughed with them too and was very happy.  We broke them up into groups and asked school and villages 044a child from one group to tell a story to the rest.  We staright away could see two brighter children, which could read well but were in the younger group and lacked confidence.  The point was to get the children to read out loud and to interpret their stories in imaginative ways using pictures even if they could not fully underestand the translations.  A very shy boy stood up and started to read alound a story of “The Gingerbread Man”.  He was one of the youngest boys from P5 and this book was one of the hardest to read.  I was astonished how well he could read despite being the youngest in the class.  I praised him for his reading and encouraged him to use dramatic techiques to tell the children the story.  He was so pleased tschool and villages 015o be able to show me and his collegues what he could do and to be praised in front of the younger ones.

I was extremely proud of what Lively Minds was doing here.  At the end the visit, children understood what we asked them to do and despite the lack of teachers at the beginning of our session, the visit went well and was well recieved by the children and the headteacher.  We knew we still had some work to do and I could not wait to return!  All the children did not want to let us go but waived goodbye to us for now and anticpated our next visit.

Kpilo School – Reading Scheme (session 1)

school and villages 020Early start to the day, the objective was to visit Kpilo School to set up a Reading Scheme for children in Primary School stages 5 and 6 and get them to read to younger children in stages 1 and 2.  We wanted to get the children to understand the  importance of reading and the difference it can make at home, school and whilst travelling to them and their families.  The key message was to train the children how to read in a special way, which is fun and interactive so they could also read to the younger children and enjoy reading themselves.

We were already made aware of the sensitivity of introducing such schemes into schools and the interaction with the local teachers who often worry about being undermined or criticized.  It was very important to us to get the teachers on board with Lively Minds.

Today was a lot cooler; it was the time of Harmattan blowing from Sahara.  On the bike again, we whizzed passed clay hut villages, with many children smiling and waving, women going about their daily business, carryinschool and villages 030g water, food or cleaning rice.

We arrived there early and were greeted by the School Headmaster and his teaching staff.  There were only 6 teachers for the entire school, they seemed nervous about meeting us. We introduced ourselves and met the full staff. We explained the value of Lively Minds and that it was there to support the students and staff, adding value to teaching and learning, not substituting it.  It was nice to be greeted by teachers.  The children were waiting in anticipation for us to arrive.  In total, one class consisted of 48 children; only 4 girls were present. This reinforced the issue that Ghana faces in relation to education and participation of young girls and women.

school and villages 041My task was to demonstrate that reading could be fun and interactive.  Equipped with a children’s reading book entitled Hippo’s Day I read the story to the children, often making them laugh through my imitation and facial expressions.  It was great to see that every one of them was listening.  They enjoyed the demonstration, the story telling, which engaged their imagination.  Translating the story into local Dagbani helped them to be more receptive.

We promised to come back the following day with more stories.

school and villages 047

Community meeting with the Village Elders at Jarigu Village

school and villages 146The day started at 08:30 am where we prepared for our meeting with the Community Elders of Jarigu Village Today was important, we needed a full buy-in from the village, particularly the women, who we hoped would join our programme.

I climbed onto the back of the bike and we sped towards Jarigu for the community meeting.  When we arrived the school headmaster greeted us.  The community school hall was already filled with people.  The Chief of the village was already seated at the front.  His presence was important, it showed that he took our visit seriously and the villagers would listen.  It was important to show respect and greet the Chief and the elders in the right way by bowing low and speaking in the local dialect.  We were warmly received.  Only a handful of women attended the meeting and the gender separation was clear, as most sat in the corner of tschool and villages 130he big community room.

With David translating into Daghbani, I was asked to introduce the Lively Minds programme.  Each of us worked extremely hard and team work and communication was really important and each of us had crucial roles to play.  Our objectives were simple, the community leaders needed to understand the programme and we needed to spark interest, we asked for the minimum of 24 women to volunteer and we clarified the criteria for volunteering.  We asked a set of simple questions:

How many of you can read and write?

How many of you have paid jobs?

What are the causes of these?

Do you want your children to have different lives? 

We demonstrated a set of simple counting and picture matching games and we asked the leaders to participate.  These were simple, interactive and fun games aimed at 3-6 year old children but many of these grown up men did not seem to understand these games.  It was important to explain to the community the benefits of children playing these games.  The meeting went well and they appear to have enjoyed our demonstrations.

Convincing the Village Elders to see the value of play, education and volunteering wschool and villages 121as one challenge.  The second challenge was to ensure that the women were not forced to attend the Lively Minds meeting but they come freely and saw the value in educating their own children.  Coming from the Western culture, I was astonished to see how much power men tried to excerpt over the women by attempting to control the recruitment for the scheme.  The meeting was turning unpleasant and we had to act quickly.  I asked to speak which seemed to have worked.  I reiterated the essenschool and villages 126ce of volunteering, my role which I played for Lively Minds particularly as a woman and an international volunteer.  I reached out to women in the meeting and told them that I especially come to see them and they themselves had to take the initiative and help their own communities otherwise this would not work.  Women were the natural carers and home -makers, they were the natural ambassadors for Lively Minds as naturally they would share what they have learned with their children our of love and care for the benefit of the whole community.  This seemed to have worked.  I went over to greet the women and they welcomed me warmly.

We thanked the leaders and all we could do now is wait and hope that the participation at our next meeting with women was high and they come freely.

Introduction to the Lively Minds Team and Tamale

Meeting Lively Minds staff in Tamale

Today was the training day a 09:30 hours start and I couldn’t wait! I started the day with a strong cup of Ceylon mint tea and some bread with Marmalade Dundee, which were kindly left behind by the last volunteers.  Equipped with a bag full of donated books for children’s reading scheme donated from many families in UK, I wandered over to The Lively Minds Office tacked away behind the volunteer house.

The office was small but cosy and well equipped with office tools.  A lot of thought went into planning the space; there was a white board, a sitting area and an office desk.  Many creative sessions with staff and local volunteers must have happened here.

David runs the project for Alison in Tamale, Ghana. He plays a leading role in the operations and growth of the Lively Minds and maintains regular contact with the UK office.

David manages the project for Lively Minds International in Tamale, Ghana.  He has years of experience in education sector and project management and plays a leading role in the operations and growth of the Lively Minds in Ghana.

I met David the Lively Minds country manager for Ghana who warmly welcomed me and explained to me the practical side of the project.  This introduction was extremely useful and David not only explained the project clearly to me, he also encouraged the team to actively participate in the discussion and shape the plan for the visit.  Once the objectives were agreed, we discussed roles and responsibilities and techniques to engage the villagers and I looked forward to my first village meeting.

Alhassan has an extremely important role to play, as well as supporting David and John in running of the project, he  connects local communities with Lively Minds International Volunteers.  Alhassan is the main point of contact for volunteers from abroad.

Alhassan has an important role to play, he is an extremely talented communicator and is well connected with the local communities.  Alhassan is the main point of contact for international volunteers whilst in Ghana.

Alhassan (volunteer coordinator) explained to me the local customs, which I found extremely useful and taught me a few key words to use when greeting the villagers for the first time in the local dialect, Dagbani.  Not only did I learn about the Ghanaian hierarchy and the code of values, I also obtained a valuable insight into the local life.

I was soon introduced to another member of staff, John, who joined Lively Minds a year ago and already is making an impact within the communities.  John is responsible for monitoring, training and supporting local volunteers that engage with the Lively Minds scheme.

John joined Lively Minds a year ago and is already making an impact.  John is responsible for monitoring and training villages which engaged with the Lively Minds scheme

John is responsible for monitoring, training and support of local volunteers that joined the Lively Minds programme.   John often leads on sessions and plays a crucial role in interacting and negotiating with key community leaders.

All Lively Minds staff visit the villages on motorbikes, which are the key in effective running of the project as villages are out of town and many are remote.

Introduction to Tamale

Once the day has finished, Alhassan took me into Tamale for a ride at the back of the bike.  This was a great opportunity for me to get to know the town better and get familiar with the local people.  The roads were extremely busy today and there was an air of excitement.

The elections are coming up on Friday and people were lining up the streets with NDC (National Democratic Congress) flags in anticipation of the current President coming into town, who is local to Tamale ahead of elections to get people’s support.  As we whizzed past the National African Stadium,  I remembered that Tamale had also many Opposition Party supporters (NPP) with the party promising to deliver free education in its manifesto.  With little understanding of both parties, I was eager to soak up all the knowledge and was looking forward to democratic and peaceful elections regardless of the result.

NDC supporters in vain await the arrival of the President

NDC supporters await in vain the arrival of the President in Tamale

There were traffic jams and young men were whizzing by on motorbikes overtaking each other, racing to get to the main road where presidential campaign was expected to come.  Cars were filled with people; elderly women and men were squashed into taxis and overcrowded Tro-tros (or commonly known as “boneshakers”)were packed with many young, all in a hurry to get somewhere.  An ambulance flew by us at high speed, someone was in trouble.

We paid a visit to a shoemaker’s stand.  Alhassan’s friend owned it.  It didn’t take long before I was promised a new pair of furry animal shoes (probably a goat) to be made for 20 cedis (that’s £6.50!).  We quickly moved on to capture with the others and get in the middle of the political frenzy.  As we drove through the crowds, I felt glad to be shown about by a trusted guide.  There were drums, people dancing wildly in the street, some were even doing what seemed to me “a tribal like dance”, lots of NDC flags were waived and people were shouting in my face patriotic slogans!  The atmosphere was mostly jubilant, however there was a slight edge to it, people seemed in a trance like frenzy with the mood easily turned.

We found a spot to stand; Alhassan took a few photos for me to capture the atmosphere. I quickly learnt that Ghanaians are very proud and somehow, I felt that it was better and safer for Alhassan to take a few snaps. Yet the President never came and so many people waited for him.

We returned to Alhassan’s stand.  This is where he mostly hangs out in town with friends and does business.  We were greeted with smiles “Sambi-naa (aka The Chief of Foreigners) is here”.

Here too politics were discussed by local NDC supporters  “free education is nice to have but you need to have structures in place first, you need buildings, teachers and resources”.

I was then introduced to a very shy young girl Fahima, with a hidden artistic talent. “She paints tattoos,” said Alhassan “extremely talented young girl”.  I told her that I will return to see her paint and maybe she can paint something for me.  My mind was racing on how I could help her.Tamale Central Mosque by sunset

The night was nearly over, equipped with bags of food supplies, mainly a bag of tomatoes for 8 cedi, water and some melons, I returned home. Alhassan pointed out to me “you know that song that I played to you called Choggu… we are driving past the village now”.  I looked towards clay huts with straw roofs.  It’s true, these musicians had humble upbringings but they did not waste their talent!  It was great to get a feel for young and talented Ghana.

Journey to Tamale

After a good night’s sleep in Accra, we Journey to Tamaleboarded a 07:00 STM Coach to Tamale.  I was well looked after and didn’t have to worry about purchasing the tickets, which could have been a bit tricky to figure out on a first day.  The journey was 11 hours long with stops on the way for rest.  Despite the distance covered, the time went quickly, this was definitely a great way to see the country.  We passed many beautiful towns and villages and the scenery outside the window was simply breathtaking; it changed from green and lush rainforests in the South to drier savannah as we travelled North.  It was nice to meet other travellers on the way, in this case two American exchange students who studied in Accra. The girls were travelling up North to see the rest of Ghana before going home for a Christmas break.

I was overwhelmed with how beautiful the country was! There were elderly men sitting outside their houses, young children were playing and women with beautifully flowered and coloured dresses were balancing fruit baskets or water on their heads, which was done with ease and so much grace!  We passed many, many, many churches and business with Christian gospel slogans “Jesus Loves Fashion” or “Trust in God Hair Saloon”!  This was a very religious country, with 68% of Christians predominantly based in the South and Centre of the country and 25% of Muslims mostly based in the North.  It was good to see so many different religious institutions coexisting in harmony next to each other.

At stopovers, I had my first experience of the local cuisine and tried some special fried rice and chicken, which cost 7 cedi.  The portion was big and I decided to share my meal with Alhassan.  We both enjoyed the spicy chicken.

Before reaching Tamale, I had a crush course in everything Ghanaian including food, Dagbani (local dialect in Tamale) customs, culture, music especially the talented Choggu Boys from Tamale, current affairs and local religion!  My head was spinning with information but it was great to get this insight from a local person!

Alhassan told me about the looming political elections and the biggest contest between two political parties, the Presidential Party currently in power known as National     NPP rallies up the support of towns outside KumasiDemocratic Party (NDC) and the biggest opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP).  It was great to hear this from a Ghanaian and to understand some of the issues, which Ghana faced; the political theme ran throughout the rest of the week until the elections, which took place on Friday, 7th December.

We arrived in Tamale in the evening and it was already dark.  Stepping outside the coach, I was greeted by many taxi drivers but Alhassan quickly moved me away from the crowds and directed me to a trusted taxi driver.  Not sure what to expect in the houseIn Tamale - picked up by Alhassan's friend the taxi driver , I was able to make quick shopping provisions in town before being dropped off.

On arrival, I was impressed with the standard of the accommodation Lively Minds had for its international volunteers.  The house was secure, big and rooms were spacious.  The kitchen was equipped with fridge and cooker, more than the average Ghanaian household possessed and here were two showers and bathrooms.

As I was the only volunteer in the house, I tried to make myself feel at home by exploring big spacious rooms.  Mosquito nets and evening calls Lively Minds accomodationfor prayer from a nearby local Mosque were such novelty and everything seemed strangely beautiful.  Despite being so far away from home, I felt good to be here.  A security guard arrived outside the house to look after the property.  I slept well that night.

Christmas and New Year with Lively Minds in Ghana

Ghana, the Gateway to Africa

I was excited to come to Ghana!  My days of planning and preparations (jabs, visa, work and fundraising for the project) in London whizzed quickly by and before I knew it, I was saying my goodbyes to family and boarding the British Airways flight to Ghana.

My first impressions of Ghanaians were on that very flight.  The first class and business class were fully occupied by business people and many young Ghanaians.  This slightly surprised me, as the image of Africa that I grew up with in Europe was very different.  The economy class was lively and buzzing and the more I observed, the more I became aware of behaviours and customs of people.  I noticed how patient and polite and respectful young people were towards their elders, which seemed to be a collective norm.  There was a real sense of community even on the plane. People were proud and extremely well dressed.  Women took pleasure in their appearance; some wore colourful and patterned dresses, others had beautifully decorated long nails and well maintained hair.  Men too were well presented and displayed electronic gadgets or well decorated jewellery or watches.

I found myself sitting next to a UK defence barrister, a Ghanaian born lady, who was also heavily involved in charity work in Ghana. We were both pleased to meet each other and to learn about the Lively Minds project.  She told me that her father’s motto, which she cherished was “to choose only one thing and to do it well”; her choice was to give voice to those who cannot defend themselves in her profession and to connect with people through the charity work she was doing in Ghana and UK.  I liked that and wished that many more people could be involved in helping own communities.

Welcome to Accra (the capital)

Upon landing at Accra airport, I was greeted by big health-warning signs displayed by the World Health Organization.  This was my first experience of entering a third world country and I was a little overwhealmed and sad to think that disease was such a high risk to human life in this country.  I felt that my trip had a purpose and despite these difficult conditions, I was glad that Lively Minds was operating in Ghana reaching out to most needy communities.  This is why I chose this project and I felt proud to be a part of it.

“First time in Ghana? You are welcome” I heard one lady say to me.  I smiled and felt at ease straight away.  After months of waiting I was happy to be finally in Ghana (my Golden Coast) and without a doubt this was going to be life-changing experience!

In arrivals, a young man with a warm and a smiley face holding up a Lively Minds sign was patiently waiting for me.  It felt good to be greeted by Alhassan, the Lively Minds Volunteer Coordinator who travelled 11 hours on the coach just to greet me here!  We soon became friends.  I was very happy to be here.