M.O.P, was founded in August 2009 by Renee Farwell and Kwame Agoe. They began teaching a group of about seven students in Kwame’s compound. Today, the school has sixty-five kids but all of them still remain in the compound. For the past few years, M.O.P has been planning a big move to their new building. This September, the school will finally make that move. With permission from their parents, the students will be taken from the Kissemah village to Aikuma, which is about two hours away. They will live at the school during the semester and visit their families for holidays. Some of the teachers will even go to Aikuma with the students. Luckily, one of the donors has offered to pay their rent for the first year! This is a big relief to the teachers because it would be a challenge for them to financially support themselves if they move. The kids are excited about going and they are ready to have the boarding school experience. Throughout my time in Ghana, there has been a lot of work to do to make sure that the school will be ready in time. M.O.P will be accepting more students so they have to higher a bigger staff of cooks, house mothers, and teachers for all of the kids. They also have been working on getting permission from each of the parents to take the students to the boarding school. Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to travel to the new site and see exactly where the kids will be going. It is a really large building equipped with dorms, classrooms, and an office space. It still has some work to be done, but Mawuvio has come a long way. I’m really excited for all of the students and staff, they will really enjoy this new learning environment.
This blog post will be about a few things that I’ve adjusted to since I have been in Ghana. When I first got here, I felt completely out of place because I simply didn’t “fit in.” I didn’t understand the language, I used my left hand to greet (which is very offensive) and I couldn’t properly pronounce any of the Ghanaian names. Now, I’ve become so used to the different cultures in Ghana, that the differences aren’t as apparent. Here are just a few:
- Food: What I eat in Ghana is completely different than what I eat in America. For one, their food is way healthier. Everything is organic, so the people do not consume unnecessary hormones when eating. Also, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, Oreos and other things that are filled with sugar aren’t really the first choice of food for people in Ghana. Most of them enjoy fruits, such as paw paw and watermelon. There are a few sweet snacks that are popular with the kids, but generally speaking, the adults don’t eat too many sweets. To add, people rarely eat desert in Ghana. I’ve been here for about two months and I only had desert on one occasion; when I went to a birthday party. I’ve definitely gotten used to the eating habits here and I think I’ll continue some of them when I go to the U.S. For example, I only drink water everyday… no matter how hard I tried, this is something that I haven’t been able to do throughout my whole life back home.
- Greeting: Every where you go, you must “greet.” Greeting means saying “Good Morning,” “Good Afternoon” or “Good Evening” to the various people that you come across. At first, I would just say “hi” when I saw a stranger in passing. I got different responses from this, some people would give me a weird look, others would just laugh, and some would respond loudly with a “HELLO!” I quickly discovered the word “hi” is normally used to get the attention of a group of people. Now, I only use “hi” in school when I am trying to quiet my students. Eventually, I learned that it is better for me to greet a person according to the time of day that it was. I also greeted someone with my left hand before. This is very offensive in Ghana because when you are a young child and you are taught to wipe yourself with your left hand when you go to the bathroom. Therefore, you do nothing for another person with your left hand in Ghana. For instance, you should never hand a person money with your left hand, they won’t take it.
- Family: The different cultures in Ghana really strive to create a familial environment. So, calling people who aren’t really your parents, “mom” or “dad” is really common in this country. For instance, when I walk around my dad’s neighborhood with him, everyone calls him dad. One day, I asked him about thi s and he told me that he treats the whole neighborhood like his family. If anyone was to need anything, they would know to come to him because he is a representation of their father. Also, the director of Mawuvio’s outreach programme is called “Auntie Renee,” this shows that the students respect her but they have a sort of affection for her as well.
- Names: One person may have a multiple names in Ghana. They can have an English name and a couple of Ghanaian names. At first, I got confused by this because sometimes I wouldn’t know who was being referred to because they were being called by a different name. After a while, I began to understand that it was the same person. I even learned that I have a Ghanaian name as well. Sometimes, you are given a name based on the specific day that you were born. Since I was born on Saturday, my Ghanaian name is “Ama.” Most people call me by my first name but sometimes they ask me for my Ghanaian name as well.
Sooo apart from interning at Mawuvio, I was given the opportunity to travel with my cousin to see The Cape Coast slave castle. This was one of my favorite experiences in Ghana because I was able to come face-to-face with my history; a history that I have been interested since high school. I have heard allusions to the slave trade my entire life, but I really understood it after taking African-American history with a teacher named Ms. Barno. She taught me about the ship route, the exchange process, and the conditions that the slaves lived in. It was truly a privilege to be able to see the slave castles that I had learned about from my teacher and read about in textbooks. The tour guide that we had was phenomenal. She described the conditions of the dungeons so vividly, that I felt like I was a part of that era. The Portuguese ran this particular castle during the slave trade. It held many rooms that were used for various purposes. For example, the communications room, which regulated the arrival and departure of the slave ships. I also saw the Governor’s quarters, which was where the governor lived while he ran the entire castle. She showed us how hundreds of people were packed in a small room, and how food was passed through a small opening for all them. In many cases, people would die of starvation because they could not reach the food. The description she gave of some of the other rooms in the castle were completely horrific, so I will spare you the details. Despite the sadness that I felt while learning this history, it was really an experience that I will never forget.
My second week at Mawuvio Outreach Programme marks the beginning of an after school program for a group of 18 students. I chose to teach them debate once a week. I focused on this topic because I want to be a Lawyer, so I think that this is a great outlet for them to enhance their critical analysis skills. The first debate activity that the students did was simple but educational. I split them up into two teams and I assigned them a simple debate topic, ‘football’ vs. ‘baseball.’ This was the beginning of The World Cup, so I felt like this was a topic that would be relevant to them. Each team had about 15 minutes to conduct research on the topic, that is, write down some points that showed that they were in favor of their sport. I asked them to work in teams to do this and immediately they were shocked. Normally, in the class they are taught to only work by themselves. They hesitated at first and then they eventually began to share ideas with one another. Then, I asked for an individual on each team who felt that they were comfortable enough to debate for their subject. I chose two students, Komlavi and Benjamin and I asked them to debate against one another. Right away, the students on the opposing teams became very competitive. Their commentary included “he’s eating him,” which can be translated into “he’s beating him.” After five minutes of this debate, the alarm sounded which signaled them to stop. Because this was the first debate, I decided not to choose a winner. The students were slightly disappointed but they understood my reasoning. I praised each of the opponents, and gave them feedback on how they could improve for our next debate session.
Week 2 of Debate 06/18/14. The students playing a debate game that I made up myself. The rules of the game were that if they agreed with the statement, they would step inside of the circle and if they disagreed they would remain in their spot. After each statement, we discussed the opposing viewpoints.
As many of you know, I am half Ghanaian. I have a father who lives in Ghana and he has been here for the past couple of years. His mother, my Grandmother, lived in this country for her entire life. I had never met her before. She was 105 years old on the Sunday that I arrived. I had planned to visit her on the following Saturday. On Tuesday of that week, June 3rd, I received the news that she had passed away. I was extremely disappointed that I would never get to meet her, especially since I was so close to finally being able to.
In the Ghanaian tradition, there are two ceremonies in honor of the deceased. The first is the “one week celebration” and the second is the actual funeral. The funeral is normally held 2-3 months after the person has died, to give family members the opportunity to gather the funds to travel and contribute to the ceremony. The funeral for my grandmother will be held in October of this year, unfortunately, I won’t be able to come back because I will be taking classes. Luckily, I was able to attend my grandmothers “one week celebration.” It was a happy celebration full of food, people, drinking and dancing. I quickly realized that Ghanaians do not mourn in the same way that Americans do. They choose to celebrate the life of the individual and only focus on the days that they had spent on this earth. I found this to be quite an interesting contrast. Everyone was dressed in black, with red accents in their clothing and people brought monetary gifts to give to the family of the deceased. They also cooked a lot of food to share with everyone who came to pay their respects. Surprisingly, the way that they celebrated made me feel happier than American funerals ever have.
Landing in Ghana had to have been one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life. As soon as I stepped off of the airplane, I entered into a completely different world than I was used to. It really hit me when I passed through customs, I realized that I was now considered a foreigner. Because I have never been outside of The U.S., I never experienced this feeling before. That moment in time really helped to identify with those foreigners who come to America. Driving from the airport to my destination was interesting as well, I was taking pictures of everything and everyone, I completely looked like a tourist. People on streets were selling everything from peanuts to windshield wipers. They would walk past the cars that were stopped at a traffic light, looking for potential customers. Sometimes, I would stare at them for a little too long, and they would immediately rush to my car to sell me something. They would scream the price through the window “2 cedis, 2 cedis,” trying to persuade me to make a purchase. Little did they know, I hadn’t even changed my American money into the Ghanain currency yet.
My first week in Ghana was full of introductions. I met the staff and students at Mawuvio Outreach Programme. They all greeted me with a warm welcome. The kids even sang a welcome song, which said “we welcome our friends from far away.” It made me happy to see that they were excited about my arrival. The director, Renee, allowed me to visit each classroom to see which one I felt most comfortable with. The school classes range from nursery to class 6. While visiting each class, I noticed that there is a huge age gap within the classrooms. For instance, class 3 has students who are between the ages of 8 and 13. However, immediately after visiting this class, I knew that I wanted to work with them. Right away, I could tell that they were a vivacious group who would make my teacher’s assistant job extremely interesting. One of the girls named Priscilla smiled at me the entire time I was there, she was overjoyed that I had come to work with her school. On lunch break, she rushed up to me and asked if I would be returning the following day. I smiled and replied “yes.”
After countless hours of planning, organizing, filling out paper work, shopping, and sad-goodbyes, I am finally ready to leave for Ghana! As I sit in my seat on the plane, I can’t help but think that it is going to crash. Unlike most people, this is my first time flying and I couldn’t be more nervous. I’m wearing my Global Scholars T-shirt, which is a reminder of why I’m risking my life in the first place…to help the kids at Mawuvio in one way or another. As the plane takes off, I nearly have a heart attack, and I’m sure strangers are staring at me. After 15 minutes of this tantrum, I am finally relaxed enough to fall asleep on the flight. The flight from Miami to New York is a breeze. Now, it is time to catch a flight from New York to Ghana. After relocating from NY LaGuardia Airport to JFK, I finally board the second plane. This time, it was a little easier to relax in the air. I watched a few movies and talked a little bit with the person sitting next to me. But most of all, I can’t stop thinking about all of the things that this trip has in store. I am really excited to meet the teachers and students at Mawuvio. I have been talking with the director of the program and she has really given me a good idea of what to expect, but there is nothing like actually seeing the place in person. Not to mention, I will get to meet some of my family on my dad’s side who live in Ghana. I know that no matter what happens on this trip, I’ll have a story to tell.
Donae’s first flight(: