23 June 2011 – Journals From Ghana

Ghanaian society is very communal, people as a whole are one.  Male and female are are both one.  Pink and blue are no longer divided.  When asking one of the students what his favorite color was, he replied “pink.”

Today, I went to school to see Bernice; when I came, there Bernice was with two Barbie dolls.  And then there was an older student with the third one—just standing there brushing Barbie’s golden synthetic hair.
Talk about taboo right?

There is no way a 13 year old boy could walk in the streets with a Barbie doll without being stared at or considered queer in the eyes of others in the States.  Let’s break this down further.  Even in a non-public setting: In one’s own house, a concerned father may throw the doll across the room yelling at his boy to “act more like a man,” while a mother sobs in distress, “Where did I go wrong?” Who sets these societal bounds? Who labeled blue for boys and pink for girls or sissy boys?

Tim and I were one day talking about graduating college and despite Tim’s older age, he was not in any rush to graduate early.  Many will look down upon that in misjudgment that the “super senior” is just lazy or unsuccessful by society’s standards.  But I told Tim that I believed that was completely fine.  In Bentley, I always hear my peers frantically signing up for summer classes and winter intensives so they could “graduate early” or “on time”  On time? What does “on time” mean? Whoever said on time meant an inflexible four consecutive years?

Again, who sets these societal bounds?

This can severely cause harm, self deprecation, and misjudgment of others. A guy brushing a Barbie’s hair is not “gay.” Liking pink is not because he is not a man. 
Skinny is not a size 2.  Fat is not a size 6.
Setting these bounds is so harmful to our society.  We have such defined positions and boundaries for virtually everything in society.
Just look at the typical American neighborhood—your lawn is your lawn and mine is mine.  Let’s draw the lines of borders of white picket fences like the Northwest Ordinance.

I sound really bitter haha but I’m not actually as sour as I may seem.  I know that in the end, these things are bound to happen. The human mind works in such wondrous ways.  We can’t help but rationalize things and put our mind to certain beliefs according to cultural and socioeconomical development. 

At the same time, I wish people weren’t so judgmental.  In the end, we have the power to control our minds, to choose what to believe, and change humanity.

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My Personal Statement of Ghana

“When are you coming back to Ghana?”

A confidently stated question, I thought to myself.  When am I coming? I think we skipped the question of “Will I ever come back?” because according to Kwame, I’ve decided I am coming back.  He just needs to know the exact dates now.

I’m not quite sure yet.  I hope one day. But for now, I cannot say…”

“You must come back.  Bring money and help build our country. You have the resources to help us.”

As much passion and zeal I have for development and offering aid, it was strange for me to feel such a discord when I heard these words from Kwame.  Firstly, I am the average college student, who lives off of nightly 3AM feasts of ramen and cheese puffs.  Secondly (and most importantly), Ghana is rich in resources.  Even its flag symbolizes its wealth of gold, land, and soil that fills the country.  “It has 50 percent of the world’s gold, most of the world’s diamonds and chromium, 90 percent of the cobalt, 40 percent of the world’s potential hydroelectric power, 65 percent of the manganese, and millions of acres of untilled farmland, as well as other natural resources”. If we measure countries’ wealth by natural resources, Ghana would surely be a superpower over the U.S. and U.K.  But in terms of nominal GDP, Ghana ranks 100 after the U.S. holding the number one spot and the United Kingdom holding the number six spot.  (International Monetary Fund). So why is it one of the poorer nations of the world?

There are many theories to this question-ranging from Africa’s ages of colonialism and corruption in government.  Whatever the answer may be, the issue at hand is how to remedy the current economic disparity and political instability of African’s nations.

One answer popular in belief is simple: donations from wealthier countries.  There is much good intention from the West and Asian countries to provide donations and aid to Africa.  It’s well-meaning that they want to give money and help; also it is very characteristic of America to want to help “fix things”. Sharon Stone wants to contribute mosquito nets to the Tanzania.  First need cotton to make the nets…where does this come from? Get it from the cotton in Tanzania. Encourage the farmers to pick the cotton.  Sell into the company.  Produce the yarns and right there in Tanzania. Produce jobs and transfer technology.  Give markets to the farmers.  Lots of resources are given to help.  If you just make the nets elsewhere from U.S., Asia, etc. and import it to Africa, what will happen when that aid ends? One day there will be no more money coming.  No farming for the cotton pickers.  They need the repairs and replacement for the equipment and technology[1].  What will they do then?
Best intentions don’t solve the problem.  The problem is that processes are not thought through.  You need to work with the communities.  Need to reduce any habitats that make it possible for mosquitoes to produce.  Africans need to wake up.  Enlighten their minds and test their curious minds.  During the Spring Semester of 2011, I interned at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF New England headquarter office.  I attended a donor luncheon that is hold several times a year for generous donors in the region to hear the words of a speaker involved with UNICEF. The speaker who came to this luncheon was an ambassador of UNICEF in Kosovo, a country also suffering from a slow economy and lack of political stability.  Luciano Calestini, coordinator of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF at Kosovo spoke to us about a unique approach to stimulating leadership and motivation for the youth.  Mr. Calestini spearheaded the Innovations Lab, a center that provides small scale funding for youth who present ideas to turn innovative and impactful ideas into a reality.  The Lab will help youth transform ideas into actionable projects and implement them. The Lab provides mentors who help manage and implement projects; necessary equipment and office space for co-working is provided; connections to Kosovo institutions and to a community of young change-makers are supported! It doesn’t matter if the students don’t succeed in their projects, what matters is the “light bulb” has gone off in their heads; they are enlightened thinkers, who are thirsty for knowledge and answers to questions or issues surrounding their lives.

This is what I believe is much needed in Ghana: a need for an enlightened youth to lead.  Education is key, and there must be a reform in education to inspire children to think out of the box and to think creatively.

While I was a teacher at the Carol Gray International School, I remember the first day, I asked the students to write a paragraph about themselves and whatever they wanted me to know about them.  I remember my 10 year old self and other pre-pubescent peers answering this question with relative ease.  The first thing coming to my mind was my favorite color, my favorite singer, and anything that could come in my overly active mind.  An unexpected turn of events: the children sat in their seats, dumb stricken, looking around the room confused, almost as if I had asked them to find the derivative of a polynomial equation.  It was only until I clarified, in full detail, what I wanted that they picked up the pen and started writing.

This is precisely what I mean by reforming education to include creative thinking and mental stimulation.  Even what seemed to be a relatively simple assignment, struck these students as a mental challenge.

I sat in an eighth grade class room one day to see the education of students in the school and also to accompany my new eighth grade girl friends.  From my own observations, it seemed to me that the students wrote down and repeated anything the teacher said.  No one was asked about their opinions; thus, there was no challenge of different opinions in the class.  The students memorized what the teacher said and spat it back out.

The Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Model

The Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Model was developed by AlexOsborn and Sidney Parnes (Davis, 1986).  Osborn is well known for his work originating the idea of brainstorming—the inception of any creative writing or thinking process.  Parnes, a professor at Buffalo State College, NY, worked with Osborn to develop a six step process known as the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Model.  This process described included: objective finding, fact finding, problem finding, idea finding, solution finding, and acceptance finding:

“Objective finding relates to identifying a problem that presents a challenge.  Fact finding is an effort to find all known facts related to the situation at hand.  Problem finding is set to identify a problem statement, and to isolate the most important problem identified in the mess finding stage.  Idea finding is designed to identify as many possible solutions to the problem statement.  Solution finding is performed by looking at the possible solutions and choosing the best solution for action.  Acceptance finding is the act of making every effort to gain acceptance for the solution”

I must say that these abilities were not quite found at the Carol Gray International School.  Of course, my observations cannot be validated as true without complete research of other primary schools in Ghana and even research of universities.  But I feel that a common theme among underdeveloped countries such as Kosovo and Ghana, may be the lack of critical thinking embedded in education at an early age.

This poses the question: How do we incorporate critical and creative thinking into education? This is not an easy matter of course.  I decided to look more into it because it’s more than just having students reflect on creative journal writing assignments.  I was really interested in seeing if my theory was indeed valid.  A study conducted by Matthew B. Norton of Texas Tech University, analyzed the effects of divergent teaching techniques upon thinking abilities of collegiate students in agricultural systems management courses.  Granted, I’m thinking that creative thinking be incorporated in education at an earlier age; yet, I still found some Norton’s finds to be applicable and interesting.  What Norton means by divergent teaching techniques is “Activities that spark creative thinking, and may follow many lines of thought.  Divergent teaching techniques tend to generate new and original solutions to problems for those involved in the exercises” (Norton, 3).  If we can agree that Ghana, a country of (and I repeat) “40 percent of the world’s potential hydroelectric…and millions of acres of untilled farmland,” then we can apply these teachings intended for agriculture students to students in Ghana.  “Bringing creativity in the agricultural science classroom will adhere to Guilford’s (1967) statement that creativity is the key to education in its fullest sense and to the solution of mankind’s most serious problem”.

There have been many activities and exercises developed to stimulate divergent thinking abilities.  Some of these include: brainstorming, brain writing, and the use of analogies. Brainstorming is the term coined by Osborne, and is the act of generating ideas in a group with no judgments made on the ideas.  Brainwriting, similar to brainstorming, is when groups of people generate ideas and do not have to speak to one another.  This silence facilitates more ease and openness of others to express ideas.  The idea is that writing on paper to express ideas will allow those shyer students to still be able to express their ideas, when it is more difficult to do so orally. Myoted Ltd. found that analogies are a key feature of many approaches to creativity.  The person saying the analogy is exercising creative thinking by trying finding alternate ways to demonstrate an idea, while the person(s) listening to the analogy are also exercising creative thinking by understanding parallels or making connections between two items of an analogy that may not usually fall along the same category.

What I believe I witnessed in my own classroom and other classrooms is the opposite of divergent thinking: convergent thinking.  This refers to the conventional thinking of problem solving, where one is directed towards finding only one correct or best answer.  This is in direct opposition to divergent thinking in that the later produces a wide range of ideas from one starting point.  I believe that the method of teaching in Ghana is directed toward convergent thinking; it is stunting the growth of students’ minds and as an indirect result, the growth of the country.

Ghana is a country brimming with so much potential to grow as a developed nation.  There are many aspects of the country’s government, economy, and politics that must be improved in order to help Ghana become a stronger nation.  However, these things cannot be changed directly through donating foreign capital and building businesses.  There must be a revolution within its people—a revolution without bloodshed, violence, or war.  Enlightened thinking starts with the youth, who have the ability to motivate and the open-mind receptive to changing their lives.

One day, I hope to come back to Ghana or provide resources to Ghana that will provide teachers with workshops and training to instill divergent thinking teaching methods.  That is where I believe some of the donations so generously given by others should be invested in.  There must be specific measures taken to uplift the youth so Ghanaians can revolutionize their own country, not us.  If provided “Innovation Labs” such as the UNICEF provided for Kosovo, where thinkers are given a chance to test their ideas with the resources they need, slowly we will see an enlightened youth ready to target the problems of the economy and tackle those issues directly or join political parties without giving into corruption but fighting for a real cause to help Ghana. If we can test these theories in practice in a few schools in Ghana, we can test results in a few years and then possibly use similar models in other African nations.

I have such hope for the African continent.  Africa has been exploited far too long for its people and resources; I believe that they all have the motivation and the passion to help their country, if provided these educational resources to them, we will one day see Ghana rise as a wealthy, powerful nation.

19 June 2011–Passion For Education

Yesterday, I went to Saturday Entertainment as promised to the students.  The second I walked in through the gates, some of the kids – Isaac, Seth, Johnson, and Solomon—came out and scared me from the front entrance.  It was kinda cute considering I’ve been questioning whether or not the home children actually liked me.  The second I walked in, they asked if they could practice typing.  Their eagerness to learn is just…wow.  I remember crying hysterically, kicking and screaming when my mom tried to get me to go to school.  We are so ungrateful.  These students deserve the best education.  We go because we are forced to go to school.  They go because they want to.  They look to satiate their voracious appetites for learning.  I’ve seen this in Tanzania too with the students we visited in school…And I promised myself that one day when I am an established business woman, I will set up a scholarship fund for students in less developed countries to grant them the opportunity to have a great education. They can go far with their education and I want to require them to go back to their countries and work in their respective fields to be educated and competent leaders for the future development of their countries.  They deserve it.

 

 

17 June 2011 in Ghana

I love teaching. Love love love it.  Teachers have such power to inspire and help set the foundations of a growing individual.  I see that being present as a role model has such an impact on the students.

Yesterday in class, I gave the students an assignment to write a story about “If I were King for a Day”
Ebenezer wrote a beautiful description about his morning, afternoon, and evening.  He wrote about how he would help his community.  How he would make sure the poor would have enough to live.  He would make sure the elders and everyone in the community resolve all issues heard from society members.  He kept writing about how he would want to create a better world for peace and harmony.  It was so beautifully written.  I went over grammatical errors and ways in which he could improve his writing.  I could see in his eyes and his gentle smile, his willing to learn and his passion to understand.  It’s an amazing feeling to see and feel his desires.  It makes me want to give so much more.  He’s such a pleasure to teach.

Not a great quality picture--but it's the only one I got of me and Ebenezer

You know, what’s also rewarding is when you see improvements and results reveal themselves.  Yesterday, the students took a diagnostic typing test for typing on the program Mavis Beacon Typing.  The students at first scored relatively low, scoring three words per minute and four words per minute.  Not even after our one hour session was over—probably only after five minutes of a lesson—they improved their skills to seven.  And by the end of the session, they were typing 16 or 17 words per minute.  How rewarding it is to see such great results.

We met a new student today.  His name is Charles.  And although he is not a home-child we let him come because of his determination, his hard work, and motivation to learn.  He comes everyday to learn and it is just so inspiring to see that.  And the fact that some of these students come to class on days that are not assigned, during their own free time? Wow…I told Tim about how amazing it is to see all of this.  To see their faces more than once a week and he said, “I guess we must be doing something right.”
I believe so.

 

Tim, Charles, and I

“Kids, if you were king for a day, what would you do?…”

16 June 2011
by Ebenezer

If I were a king, I would look up to the poor, the needy people around me, and the whole community.  I will always call them together and ask them things that are worrying them.  Then, if possible, find solutions to their needs and problems.

Every morning, I will ask my elders to make sure everybody goes out to work, clears the gutters, and weeds around the bushes and the necessary places that nee to be cleared.

Also, in the afternoon, I will call everybody around, and we will be gathered under a big and nice tree and have some funs and other things.  Through the hardwork done by my community members, I will organize a very special and wonderful party for the members where everybody will come and dance, drink, and eat at a well decorated tree and play some games like football between my elders and the members of the community.  Therefore, I will always make sure the people live in peace, harmony, and unity which I will make all of them united and one people.

Then, in the evening, I will discuss certain issues bordering the community.  Also, I will discuss certain issues with my elders and other important people in the community.   I will make sure I provide all their needs that they demand, which will always make them remember me all the time and make them happy all the time.

6th day in Ghana–Pride, God, and Money.

8 June 2011

Yesterday, I woke up to roosters crowing…today, I woke up to drums beating and children’s chattering.  Every morning, the children stand in line by grade with their striped school shirts, black slacks or skirts.  Teachers check the cleanliness of each student’s attire, eyeing their shoes, their shirts neatly tucked into their shirts, and track points of each student and grade.  Madame Francisca directs the children’s attention on her–as housemistress she has announcements for the group.  Then, they proceed to sing:

“God bless our homeland, Ghana…
Raise high the flag of Ghana
And one with Africa advance;
Black star of hope and honour
To all who thirst for liberty… 

After they sing their nation’s song proudly, they sing their school song (which I don’t have the lyrics to sadly =/) Each grade proceeds to march in line–oldest students first–hands proudly swinging by their sides to go to class.  It was such a sight to see the students eagerly marching proudly with their chests out and chins up…Let me say this again, they were not walking…but marching…with such a stance of sheer joy and readiness to venture off to a new day of learning.

In the morning, Mr. Olan spoke with me and Mark about our microfinance projects for the month.  Short synopsis on Mr. Olan’s microfinance loans: Olan started his own Mmofra Trom Microfinance Organization very recently in order to provide for loans to various villagers who are looking to expand their small stores.  He envisions that he can help his village and his students from poverty.  “Education is the key to eliminate poverty”; his loans will help those in need.

He said that he wasn’t sure when we would be meeting with the loanees but probably within the week.  Well, only about twenty minutes later we were beckoned to meet with Muna and her sister.

Ha…that’s just a little bit of Ghana for you.  Don’t schedule anything. Expect the unexpected–oh the irony.  I am more of a go-with-the-flow person anyway because life has taught me you can’t forsee or plan out every single aspect of your life.  There are always going to be an unexpected turn of events.

Diane told us that Ghanaians don’t like to plan things far in advance because it defies God.  God has plans for us and only He knows our future.  I find it so interesting and inspiring that their lives encircle religion with God as the “Sun” of the solar system, and everything else revolving around it.  Even the stores and stalls here may be called “Jesus Hardware”, “He has risen”, or “Nobody knows tomorrow”  I have made it a little quest for me to read the rear window of taxi cabs and tro-tros (van systems that work like public buses here)  that have bumper stickers of such catch-phrases.  What’s kinda fun is how everyone has a different phrase…so hopefully you can imagine why I like looking for the back of these.

However, my excitement about this was quickly robbed from me.  I was in a cab with Mark that same day, listening to a Christian sermon from the car radio.  The first words coming from the speakers were “God will make you rich.  If you seek God, He will provide you with richness…etc”

I couldn’t help but feel a little sick to my stomach hearing this.  I guess it was naive of me to think that everyone truly believed in Jesus, and I’m not saying that everyone falsely follows God.  It was disappointing to see that there are those drawing in both non-believers and believers into faith through monetary and materialistic means.  They’re not believing in God for the right reasons.  But I guess having faith, believing in a religion, following moral codes is better than nothing and having no God at all?  I don’t know…Still, I can’t come to terms with this way of missionary work.  Is it better to have a false sense of faith and hope than have nothing at all?

First Post in Ghana…2 months a little late.

So I haven’t been able to update my blog as I planned to.  Didn’t end up having internet in the little village of Somanya where I stay in Ghana.  The only times I have had Internet is now…when I am crashing the places of my fellow Bentley colleagues of Accra, the capital city of Ghana.

Although I haven’t been able to update online, I have been keeping track of my adventures, as well as my streams of thoughts and various epiphanies in my own written journal.
So from this point on, I’m going to be transcribing a few of my journal entries to my WordPress. So here goes…this is from my fourth day in Ghana:

5 June 2011
This morning I woke up to roosters crowing.  I stepped into the Mmofra Trom, the primary school that Bentley has been partnered with for five years to provide computer donations, clothing donations, and etc.  The school is lcoated in Somanya, a small, peaceful, and rural village two hours away from the capital city of Accra. It’s as country as it gets–open roads, green, unplowed fields of weeds 6-7 feet tall.

I walked outside with Diane, the director of the partnership with Mmofra Trom and exclaimed “Wow, this is gorgeous!”
It really was.  So much greenery, mango trees, chickens running around, children playing the drums, and it was just so sublime.  Being a pseudo-hippy myself, I couldn’t help but feel at home here and feel so peaceful.  A fantastic getaway from New York life.

Anyway, back to this morning, so I woke up to roosters.  I had originally planned to wake up really early to attend church service with the students, but since my new friend Janet and I spent a lot of time talking the night before, we did not get up in time.  But that’s okay.  We went to a nearby orphanage with the homechildren of the school. (the homechildren are the orphans of the school).

Honestly, I was feeling a little opposed to our field trip.  It didn’t feel right to go to the orphanage.  I felt like we were going for our own sakes; for our own curiosities to see a “real African orphan” like the ones we always hear about, read about, and see on TV.  It felt selfish to me for us to just come see them like they are animals in the zoo, while we fascinate at their “poor lifestyles” and realize how much we have it better.  It all seemed so self-centered int he end.  Yes, the orphans enjoyed our stay, but it was like a tease for the orphans I feel.  We come, get some nice pictures, upload them on Facebook to show them off to passerbyers and then go on with life.  But these kids…it is harder for them.  They still don’t have anything in the end.  It doesn’t seem like a “give and take” situation…just a one-sided “take” situation.

I don’t know…I’m just speaking mumble jumble now. I guess I’m just bothered.