Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ghana Memories

1. The Ghanaian handshake. Snap. Kool krah.

2. Highlife, Hiplife and Azonto.

3. Being called obruni ("white person" or "foreigner"). It's not considered offensive, just a factual statement.

4. Almost all business and vehicle names including Christian references. (Our van was named "The Holy Spirit".)

5. The amazing ability of women to carry huge loads on their heads while also carrying babies on their backs.

6. The smooth sound of Ghanaian English. Aaah haa.

7. Ghanaian's obsession with soccer. They are ALWAYS watching international soccer on TV.

8. Bottled water (a necessity for obruni).

9. Banku and fufu.

10. Garbage. Unfortunately it's everywhere.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Goodbye Ghana

We spent our last day, Saturday, in Accra visiting the Centre For National Culture and having a farewell dinner at Tribes Bar and Restaurant on Labadi Beach. We've become a tight group over these past two weeks and everyone was reluctant to say goodbye to each other, to our hosts and to Ghana.

After returning to Minnesota (and high speed Internet) I'll be adding photos, video and additional posts. Come back and visit sometime after March 25th for more visuals and details.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Last Day In The Central Region

Friday morning the Cape Coast crew spent our last day in the Central Region. We visited the Elmina Castle, the oldest European building south of the Sahara and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although originally constructed by the Portuguese to facilitate the trade of goods, it became a major port for the Atlantic Slave Trade, similar to the Cape Coast Castle.

After touring the castle, the museum, the female and male dungeons and the Governor's quarters, we emerged onto the upper level of the castle. The view of the Gulf of Guinea and the town of Elmina was breathtaking - sunshine, crashing waves, colorful fishing boats, a lively fish market, and a boisterous political rally. The New Patriotic Party candidate for the December 2012 Presidential election arrived in a motorcade of large SUVs to deliver a campaign speech. In Ghana, this is no somber affair. In fact, almost nothing is a somber affair! A parade, music, dancing, flags, t-shirts and a party. Emerging from the castle to this view struck me as incredibly ironic. Ghanaians free, independent, preparing for their sixth democratic election.

We're now back in Accra, preparing to check out and spend our last day at the Centre For National Culture and Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum. We fly out tonight around 9 p.m. It will be a long journey - first to Frankfurt, Germany, then Chicago, and finally back to Minneapolis. Although looking forward to reuniting with our friends and families, I know we are all reluctant to leave behind the spirit of Ghana and our many new Ghanaian friends.

The Haves And The Have Nots

Thursday night we said goodbye to our host teachers at a dinner hosted by the Wesley Girls Headmistress. Ironically, she was not able to attend as she was unexpectedly called to Accra for a meeting at the Ministry of Education, along with other heads of Christian schools. Unlike our system, all secondary schools, including parochial schools, are funded and administrated by the national government and subject to its policies. The issue at hand is that Muslim leaders wish to construct mosques on the grounds of the Christian boarding schools and ensure that Muslim students are able to practice their religion freely and not be compelled to participate in activities such as morning devotions and religion classes. Wesley Girls is a Methodist school and Christian faith and teaching is integrated into all aspects of the girls' education. The leaders of the Christian schools are adamantly opposed to this proposal and do not believe it will be implemented. Ghana's population is estimated to be 70% Christian, 17% Muslim and 9% followers of traditional religions. (Many Ghanaians maintain some elements of their traditional belief system in combination with Christianity or Islam.) Up to this point in its history as an independent state, Ghana has experienced very little interfaith conflict, which is not to say that people do not have their prejudices. The teachers expressed concern about the potential for conflict, based on what they are seeing in neighboring West African countries such as Nigeria.

In Ghana, education is free and compulsory through Junior Secondary School. At the end of Junior Secondary School students take an exam to qualify for Senior Secondary School (Grades 9-12, referred to as Forms 1-4). Approximately 25% of students make the grade, apply to attend, and are placed in a Senior Secondary School, most of which are boarding schools. Senior Secondary School is not free, as fees must be paid for books, supplies, uniforms, room and board, etc. Because our classroom experience here was limited to secondary schools, and schools with IREX alumni teachers, we were interacting with a very small subset of Ghanaian students - the most academically successful, whose families can afford to send them to secondary school. There are many, many children who are not in school and are working to support their families in agricultural fields, villages, towns and cities.

Ghana has one of the highest GDPs per capita in Africa ($2931) and a healthy GDP growth rate (14% in 2011). Valuable resources include gold, timber, cocoa, diamonds, manganese and bauxite. (Almost all coffee and cocoa is for export. Coffee served in restaurants is instant Nescafe and processed chocolate is virtually impossible to find.) Oil was discovered in the Western Region in 2007 and there is much hope that this resource will be successfully exploited to support sustained economic growth. Despite valuable export resources, Ghana continues to be reliant on significant foreign economic and technical assistance and remittances from the Ghanaian diaspora. The highest proportion of GDP (35%) is derived from the agricultural sector and unemployment, particularly among youth, is very high. 28% of the population is estimated to be living below the poverty level.

The gap between the haves and the have nots is in front of your eyes everywhere you go. Informal economic activity dominates, and everywhere, EVERYWHERE, people are trying to eke out a meager existence by selling whatever they can sell. Huge disparities in housing quality are obvious. Clean, safe drinking water is not a given and lack of sanitation is a serious problem. Official statistics indicate that 75% of the population has access to an improved water supply and 18% have access to adequate sanitation. Based on what I have seen in my two weeks here, those estimates are on the high side. The infrastructure simply does not exist to provide clean, safe, reliable water and sanitation to urban and rural dwellers. My Essential Question (a required component of our TGC Capstone Project) revolves around water security. Read my summary HERE.

One of my TGC Ghana group members, Karen, discovered this video that does a great job of representing life for the "Have Nots" in Accra.

Under the Mango Tree from Steven Bartus on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Live Pure, Speak True, Right Wrong and Follow the King

The past three days have been filled to the brim with school, school related activities and socializing. We've been observing classes, doing a little teaching, lunching and dinnering with administrators and teachers and have been thoroughly entertained by student cultural presentations (music, dancing and drama) at both Wesley Girls and Mfantsipim.

Wesley Girls is considered the most prestigious and highly performing girls high school in Ghana. It is a boarding school, attracting girls from all over the country to receive a holistic education. The focus is not only on excellent academics, but on learning to become a well-rounded, self-sufficient, moral leader. Girls are given a high level of responsibility to maintain their dormitories, classrooms and grounds. They do their own laundry and dishes (by hand) and assume a wide variety of student leadership positions. Almost all continue on to post-secondary education, either at Ghana's well-respected universities or abroad.

Teachers move from room to room, rather than students moving. Females around the age of your mother are referred to as "Auntie", so when I enter a classroom I now know the girls will stand and politely say "Good morning, Auntie Sara". (This level of informality was used only because I was a visitor. A regular teacher would always be referred to by their surname.)

Our host teachers have continually emphasized to us that they use primarily the lecture method due to the fact that they have very large class sizes and very few teaching materials. I actually would not categorize what I have seen so far as lecture. I would describe it as teacher-led, interactive discussion. Students have typically completed an assigned textbook reading prior to class. Teachers have a prepared list of key points that they use as a reference, and students are expected to record those key points in their notebooks. As there are few photocopies or handouts, their notebooks become a critical study tool. Each classroom has desks, chairs, chalkboard and chalk, but not much more.

There is a high level of student participation. When students respond, they are expected to stand, rephrase the question or prompt, and answer in the form of a complete thought using standard English. The level of academic rigor and evidence of critical thinking exhibited through oral classroom activities far exceeds that which I have experienced in U.S. high schools.

The Wesley Girls alumni organization ("Old Girls") recently purchased laptop computers for the teaching staff. The only use of technology for instruction that I have noted was in the case of one teacher who had his lecture notes on his laptop rather than in a thick notebook. Wesley does have a Computer Lab with Internet access. Girls are learning basic keyboarding and Internet search skills as well as introductory Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Both Raphael and Michael have indicated that they would very much like to have projectors for their classrooms.

Kate's English class exhibited the most evidence of the influence of her time spent in U.S. classrooms. Students were recording ideas on large pieces of paper around the classroom, "pairing and sharing", and having a lively discussion about culture, positive and negative elements of Ghanaian culture and cultural blending.

The heat is definitely an issue in the classroom. Even with open windows and doors and here in Cape Coast, a breeze off the ocean, classrooms can be oppressively hot. The male teachers continually mop themselves with handkerchiefs and the girls fan.

The students that attend Wesley Girls and Mfantsipim are Ghana's "best and brightest". They are intelligent, confident, articulate and deliberately being groomed to become Ghana's future leaders. Economic development and globalization are bringing increased opportunity to Ghana. In the past, these young people would be prime candidates for permanent emigration. It seems increasingly likely that they will stay in Ghana, or "go outside", as they call it, for educational opportunities in Europe or the U.S., with the intent of returning to live, work and raise families in Ghana.

We've had many home cooked lunches and dinners this week (including a very fun evening with host teacher Michael, his wife Golda and children Theresa, Gilbert and Connie at their flat) and have now tasted quite a variety of Ghanaian dishes: red-red, plantains, yam (a different variety than we have in the U.S.), cassava, groundnut soup, light soup, jollof rice, beans (black eyed peas), fufu and banku, to name a few. Fufu is the dish Ghanaians say they miss most when they are outside. It's funny to hear our host teachers talk about the food they tried while in the U.S. "Too many leaves" and "too sweet" are the most common impressions, inevitably offered with a big smile and a hearty laugh.