See you later Tafi Atome, because there is no way this is goodbye. This trip was nothing that I expected but everything I wanted and needed. I’m currently on a trotro to Accra and a few more tears have managed to escape. Over the past months Tafi has become home, just as the chiefs said it would becom a short 9 weeks ago. I truly am blessed to have been given the opportunity immerse myself in a totally different culture. This experience, the memories, and all the people will be cherished forever. As mentioned before, the Edge training really prepared me for this trip. I found myself being extremely mindful of the culture, in situations that would have before been uncomfortable for me. I also found myself wanting to create sustainability in the village, rather than just give things in the moment. Of course I donated clothing and school supplies, but when I was asked for money or asked to sponsor a child I instead thought of way for the families to earn this money. This summer, I also learned a lot about myself. I had a lot of time to reflect and I realized that working with non-profits and improving the quality of others lives is something I want to continue, especially in Tafi. As I was saying my goodbyes, no matter how many times I told people I would be back they simply did not believe me. After talking with the headmaster and teaching staff I realized that so many people have volunteered in Tafi and maybe a handful have returned. It got me thinking, what is the point? It really is selfish and not very productive to go somewhere for a relatively short period of time, begin projects and just hope that they continue. Wilson explained this idea perfectly before I left with a planting/gardening analogy; I planted these seeds, I cannot just sit back and expect something to grow, my garden needs maintenance. With that said, I without a doubt intend on going back next summer. As for the friendships I made in the village, I cannot wait to go back and see my children again. Saying goodbye to Joseph, Wisdom, Roland, Keke, Debbie, Lucky, Eli, Williams, Pius…and the list goes on…absolutely broke my heart, especially Josephine. She is usually sassy and a tough cookie, but the waterworks began after seeing her with eyes full of tears the night before I left. And I especially lost it when she called me into her room to give me a necklace (one I will wear forever) and note telling me how much she was going to miss me. Tafi will forever have a piece of my heart and like they say..home is where the heart is.
When I first arrived in Tafi Atome there was a definite division of gender. At first we lived with Wilson who had a women, Agnes, to clean his house. After living there a while I realized that Agnes was also Wilson’s mistress and she heavily relied on him for a place to sleep and eat. A few weeks into our trip Wilson’s wife, who he called our Mother, came to visit. She lives in Accra and visits Wilson once a month or so. While she was there she seemed to be working the whole time; cleaning and cooking, even freezing meals for him to eat when she was gone. Coming from the US this was a big shock to me but I realized it was the culture. At Josephine’s it was a little different but still the same premise. I learned that Josephine’s mother was in charge of the house but because the father had another wife and lived with her in the village. Her mother was constantly cooking, cleaning, and working on the farm. After talking to Queen Mother about this she made it clear that men are lazy and women do all the work for themselves, their homes, and their children. It’s hard for women to make money because of all the domestic duties they tackle everyday. Apparently men, who should be working on their own farms, pick up jobs at others farms to get money. But this money does not reach the families. Queen Mother is hoping for a better future for the women. She is the head of the women’s group that Hannah is working so hard to get running. They hope it will be an source of income for the women of the village. This is very reassuring to me because although I accept the culture, I am in no way at all supportive of it. After becoming so close to a number of girls and women here I hope for nothing but a bright future for them.
After nine weeks of teaching at the primary school I have grown to know how it operates and become accustom to the completely different style. Growing up in the states school had always been a chore and I lost count of how many times I faked being sick growing up, but I have definitely gained an appreciation for my schooling. If I were to ask any child in Tafi Atome if they liked going to school I know their answer would be yes. But still my class of 50 students never has had more than 30 students each day because somedays parents make the students work or go to the farm. This greatly effects their learning. It seems to be that even some children are late to start school because they are needed to work. Because of this the class ages are skewed. My first week at the school I visited almost all the classrooms and noticed that there could be a 13 year old in class 2 and also one in class 6. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the classrooms had trunks with textbooks though, granted some students had to share. When talking to the teachers they discussed how much harder it was to teach in rural villages because of the lack of attendance and supplies. They expressed how difficult it is to build up the students knowledge when so many are absent every other day. There are someone things that I have not gotten used to, like the punishments and especially caning. Seeing the children having to do 100 squats while holding their ears in the front of the class made me very uneasy. But nothing it worse than caning, caning is when teachers hit the students on the behind, hands, back of legs, or heads…sometimes repeatedly with sticks. Sometimes it is just once but other times it’s repeatedly until the students are bawling for the teachers to stop. And what makes it even worse is that it’s over the littlest mistakes. One day I was talking with Josephine and I asked her about her day at school, she said it was okay but she told me she got caned. I assumed she was just being sassy because she has a tendency to be but it was only because she did not put the date on her paper. She continued to say that nothing happens when she does put her date in the paper though and that when I realized the need for positive reinforcement. It’s very sad that students are so used to punishment when they do something bad they are not encouraged to do anything above and beyond. Overall though I have enjoyed working with each and everyone of the students, their drive to learn made me want to attend school everyday. I hope to raise funding for more supplies and more sound proof rooms. In my first weeks here it was difficult to grow accustom to teaching over the sounds of surrounding classes and yelling teachers. I cannot imagine how hard it must be for the students to concentrate.
Last weekend was another mini excursion around the beautiful Volta region of Ghana. We visited the Wli Waterfalls again, and it was an entirely different experience in the rain. I am so happy we went again, but boy did that water come down hard! And apparently it was meant to be because our global scholars group ran into Cole, Taylor, and Ellen who are volunteering with HCDP. So together we decided to hike Mount Afajato the next day. I definitely underestimated the 885 meter hike…can you say out of shape? Our group was not the smartest because we did not think to bring water but the view at the top was worth the dizziness and gasping for air. From the top of the mountain you could see neighboring Togo, surrounding villages, and the Volta River. And don’t worry we got plenty of global scholar pictures! After the hike, their directors were kind enough to invite us to lunch, the Banku (typical Ghanian dish) was the most delicious I have had. It was so nice to hear about HCDP’s mission and all the work they are doing to develop and sustain Ghana. It is such a friendly country and has so many organizations working for a greater good. I cannot believe that my trip is coming to an end. The thought of saying goodbye (for now) to all the children and wonderful people I’ve meet throughout Ghana breaks my heart. Especially Josephine, who I have decided to make the centerpiece of my capstone. Throughout my time here I have realized the inferiority of women of all ages in the village. And because Josephine is a teenager, and the future of Tafi Atome, I am documenting and observing her day to day life with the hopes that our groups women empowerment project will positively effect her in the future. Also, the last two weeks Tafi Atome has been a little crowded. There were 27 volunteers from the International School of Paris. ISP and Compassionate Journeys have a 5 year contract to develop and sustain the community. This years project was to actually put up the home for rescued child slaves. Working with them has been exciting and a learning experience. After the Edge training this past semester I find myself comparing and contrasting volunteer experiences. I truly believe that the length of time someone spends volunteering is very important. The fact that ISP was only here for two weeks boggles my mind. Granted they put up a house in that time, I could not imagine being here for less than two months. In our course we learned not to have expectations because things do not always go as planned and with this our group was able to achieve things we never thought possible, like the women’s empowerment group.
As weeks go on, everyday continues to get better and better. It is making the thought of leaving almost unbearable. It’s been a while since I have posted a blog but Ghanian time is almost worse than Cuban time and plans don’t always workout. Two weekends ago I visited Wli Waterfalls, the tallest waterfall in West Africa and without a doubt the most beautiful waterfall in the world. After a gorgeous 45 minute hike through the forest we spent the day at the waterfall. If you were near or under the waterfall and began to screamed the water would come down harder and the bats would begin the fly overhead, it was a blast! After our time there we ate lunch at an amazing restaurant that overlooked both the lower and upper falls. The view, the company, and the food was out of this world.
Last weekend we took a long weekend away from Tafi Atome. After a trotro, ferry, trotro, bus, trotro, and a taxi we arrived at a beach in Accra. Our hotel room was a 20 second walk away from the beach. We spent the night there listening to music and watching cultural performances, while drinking piña coladas out of coconuts…can you say paradise! The next day we ventured to equally beautiful Cape Coast, also known as, the Gold Coast and unfortunately the Slave Coast. There we visited the Cape Coast Castle, one of the many slave castles in Ghana. The experience was emotional and eye opening. But something that amazed me was the positive outlook that Ghanians had on such an inhuman practice. The tour guide explained that because of this Africans are now all over the world but will always know their roots. The “point of no return” is what was written above the door from inside the castle, this is what the slaves went through before sent to their various destinations. Now outside the castle on that door reads “the point of return”, it goes to show that Ghana is still home. Believe it or not within an hour we went from the beach to a rainforest. It is here we went on a Canopy Walk, it was a series of 7 rope bridges that varied from 11 to 40 meters off the forest floor. Ghana’s beauty never fails to surprise me! After our adventurous weekend and 9 hours of traveling back, we were greeted by some great news in Tafi Atome. The women’s organization had previously been struggling to get started. But once we got back they surprised us with 20+ headbands and a number of gorgeous dresses! I cannot wait until these works of art are sold back in the states (get ready to buy!). This past week we moved into Josephine’s house and I am so happy we did. Now I believe I have completely immersed myself in the culture. At Wilson’s, because it was the volunteers house, I felt sheltered and as if we were being catered to because we were American. In the past three days, I have fetched water from the stream, gathered fire wood from the farm, did laundry at the river, and helped make a variety of Ghanian meals. And I learned all these things are much harder than they seem. It’s actually pretty embarrassing, Josephine, who is 14 makes it look so easy but I am still sore from fetching water and pounding cassava for Fufu and Banku is no joke, except when I am doing it everyone finds it funny. We have even learned a bit more of Ewe. It turns out “your mother is going to beat you” and “you’re beautiful” sound very similar in Ewe…we are sure to have made some kids scared to go home.
Today is pretty much my halfway point, I cannot believe how fast time is flying. Looking back we really have done so much in Tafi, but despite all of our successes, I am constantly facing the fact there is really only so much I can do. Something that I think a majority of volunteers throughout the world face is volunteers mean money. Specifically in Tafi, “white” people mean money. I have received a number of handwritten notes from students and even parents asking and even begging, for money, clothes, bikes, private school tuitions, etc.. It truly is heart breaking and sometimes a little discouraging. Of course I want to give them everything but I am realizing the greatest gift they can receive is the means to get it themselves. This is why our group is focusing a lot on projects that will provide sustainability. Through Compassionate Journeys, we have helped motivate and reorganize a women’s group to make a variety of Ghanian clothes and accessories to sell in the village and in the United States. This will hopefully create a steady income to allow for the continuation of the group and even empower the women. In a lot of cases the men of the family work but their income is not always used for the greater good of the family. Also, we are working on a community clean up/recycling project for the village. Tafi Atome has previously been awarded cleanest village in all of the Volta region. This was until the 500 ml clean water baggies came about. Yes they are much better for ones health but the empty plastic baggies are a nightmare for the villages cleanliness. We have found out that the government gives a little bit of money for the recycling of these baggies. So we have been picking up the trash around the village with the children and providing bins for the recycling. All with the hopes of a clean environment and providing a few jobs.
As for these coming weekends we are doing a bit of traveling around Ghana and I am so excited! I’m will be sure to take tons of pictures and cannot wait to share stories from what I sure will be an adventure.
P.S. Remember how I talked about the helicopter fans ability to amputate fingers? Well it was a bloody mess and my middle finger will never be the same….
This past week a has been a bit of a roller coaster. Although, I have been getting into the groove of things in Tafi Atome, unfortunately, I have been sick three times. It’s nothing too bad just some high fevers, body/headaches, cold sweats, and some sleepless nights. But in my time being sick I have really noticed the abundance of goats in the village. Yes, I see a countless number everyday but I had never realized how vocal they are and how much their noises resembled a crying baby until I was up at 4 am wishing I could sleep. But do not worry, my program director told me yesterday that he was going “to fast all day tomorrow to pray and ensure that Kelly does not get sick ever again”, it might have been the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me. It probably does not help my case that I have been taking showers via rain…in the middle of thunderstorms (do not worry I have not drank any rain water). Besides that and the fact we look like the village idiots, rain showers are a blast. They are incredibly refreshing and surprisingly leave my hair very soft. On top of that it’s even got me get over my fear of lightening! Another fear I have gotten over is motorcycles, there was one night we had to take a motorbike back to the village and I wish I could have captured the moment, the stars were breathtaking because there are barely any lights. The scenery is just among the many things here that I appreciate and will miss oh so much. As for my productivity here, I have been up to a lot. Compassionate Journey’s has made a lot of progress on the construction of the children’s home since we have been here. As for school we have started an award system for the children to motivate them to be the best they can be. At the beginning of every week we will give out a few certificates (best attendance, best behaved, best dressed, and star pupil) to every grade level to reward students and give them a bit of positive reinforcement because we found that is something the school lacks. On June 20th, our group will be leaving Wilson’s house and moving to a new home stay. Although I will miss Wilson’s company, I recently found out that I will be living with my favorite person ever, Josephine. Josephine is 14 and in grade six, the first time I met her she chased me, cornered me, soaked me with water and told me we were now best friends. And now I am so thankful that we are, I see so much of myself in her. She definitely is a tough cookie but also one of the sweetest girls, she helps everyone and anyone around the village and always bring a smile to everyone’s face, including mine. One day she decided that I was going to go to the farm, so I walked and walked and walked…as she and her friend laughed at me struggle to balance a bucket on my head. After we walked over two miles we finally got there, it’s another view that was absolutely breathe taking. A patch of land had been burned down for the next farming season and you could just see the rain and sunset rolling in over the mountains. Of course I did not have my camera but it was just another moment where I fell in love with Ghana a little more.