Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lighthearted Adventures

Most of our days in Ghana were highly scheduled and down to business….and rightly so. But, we also had a few ‘lighter’ moments as well….

Two men of Asikuma who hold prominent positions in the village try some cheez whiz!

What could Doug be eating now?

Let's take a closer look.....hmmm...... He’s eating snails! Fresh ones. Meaning a few minutes ago they looked like this on the roadside… And while I am on the subject of food……for the first few days in Asikuma we couldn’t exactly figure out where the kitchen was for our hotel restaurant. They always came from ‘out back’ with our orders of food. One morning, Doug decided to go looking ‘out back’ to see what exactly was….well….’out back’! And let’s just say, our food was being prepared….Survivor style! That’s a goat being skinned and be-headed! And there's lunch!!!!!!!! And Jake's fish being seasoned... And guess who got to try to pound out some fu fu? Trust me, it’s way harder than it looks! While we were back there, I decided to opt out of taking a picture of the chicken who had just been slaughtered on the rock (you can thank me later). But, I was pretty impressed by their little outdoor kitchen. However, our surprise tour ‘out back’ was a reminder of why I become an instant vegetarian on our trips. It’s a good thing I like rice. And no blood shed or guts spilled when slicing open a mango. Alright, enough about food. Now for some cultural sights… Among the numerous things I’ve seen being sold on the roadside, I can now add coffins to my list. I am still amazed with how they do this!!!!!!!!!! An iron cooling off outside a sewing stand. And, oh look, our Kingdom Hoops guys are out for a run….wait a minute, who’s that white guy leading the pack?!?!? Oh, that’s just our resident Iron Man competitor, Doug. :) There is no escaping the leg lifts when Doug is leading the workout! The Kingdom Hoops boys also got a great practice in and learned 4-out motion offense for the first time…. And they got some encouraging words of advice and things to think about from Jake. And guess what? On our very last day in Ghana we got to go to the beach!!!!!!!!!!!!! Woot woot!!! (yeah, it was pure bliss)

And here are a few more pictures of JJ living it up in Ghana… he pretty much spent every waking moment with the Kingdom Hoops boys.

Thoroughly enjoying his goat's milk chocolate shake!!!!
Our last day in Asikuma we were able to do a bible study with about 40 kids from the village. Katlyn, Emma & I taught the kids about salvation through faith in Jesus by making salvation bracelets which the kids LOVED!!!!
I didn’t realize until later that the colors in the bracelets are actually the colors in the Ghana flag! :)

I feel like I could keep posting about our trip for days and still not touch on everything that happened. The other tripsters on our team have started sending me their personal trip highlights, and they are AWESOME! I can’t wait to post them, which I will do next week. Tune in tomorrow for details on the construction projects we will be starting on our August trip. SO EXCITING!!!!!!!!! And I’ve had many people ask me what we need, what donations we are collecting for August, etc. I’ll of course be letting you in on all of that too.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tour of Schools in Accra

Our second to last day in Accra we were scheduled to tour the 3 different types of schools in Ghana: a government funded school (free education), a private school, and a vocational school. You will be amazed at the difference between a government funded school and a private school! When we visited the government funded school in Asikuma their entire school day was put to a halt as the teachers met with us and shared their concerns. However, the purpose of the tour of schools in Accra was to watch the teachers and students in action. We didn’t want them to stop what they were doing….we just wanted to observe what a typical school day was like in Ghana. First up we visited Lekma Primary School in Teshie (side note - the program I use to enlarge my pics on the blog is not working for some reason, but if you want to see any of these pictures in a larger size just click the picture).
This school runs the two class shift as Asikuma did….the head master of the school said the first group of kids comes from 6am to 12noon and then the second shift comes from 12noon to 6pm. Each class size averages about 60 children. We were able to peek into many of the classes and observe the lessons being taught. Many of the children had workbooks and we were told that these workbooks were provided by U.S. Aid.
In one classroom the children were doing computer education….WITH NO COMPUTERS!!! Well, except one computer that was up at the front of the classroom on the teacher’s desk….and the computer didn’t work. But they were using it to teach the students the keys (each student could come up front and look at it).
Did you notice the board? The student’s learned/memorized the computer keys off the chalkboard!!!! And, since there were no computers, and the one that they had didn’t work, they also learned programs off the chalkboard too….
So, it’s basically all memorization and no practical experience of actually getting to use a computer. :( Another class we peeked into was learning some sort of textile technique…separating the fibers on this piece of fabric.
I also noted that this school took great length to post all sorts of signs like this everywhere in the classrooms:
Next up was a visit to a private school, Ford Schools Limited, and WOW was there a big difference!!!! This school was very comparative to a public school that you would find in the U.S. First of all, notice all of the educational pieces up on the walls!
It was easy to see that they had a lot more educational materials, more structure in the classrooms, and more teachers. In fact, the entire atmosphere was totally different than the previous school.

At this school, they also have a large number of kids, but they have enough classrooms, teachers, and materials to run multiple classes at the same time. They do not have to run the shift schedule school day as the government schools do. We observed 4 different kindergarten classes going at once. This little guy was working on his handwriting, and it was perfect!!!!!!
This school also has their own computer lab....
And they had a library!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Seeing the library obviously brought us all some great excitement and it really helped us to envision what could be constructed for the Asikuma school. Jake really took advantage of this time visiting these schools. His biggest passion in Ghana is the educational side of things….and he wants to learn everything he can so that he will have a better idea of how to empower the youth through education.

And I bet a few of you teachers out there would like to be able to write this on the chalkboard in your class!!!!!!!!!!! :)
We were able to get a handout outlining the tuition/fees charged at this school. Enrollment for one term is around 200.00 Ghana cedis (1 Ghana cedi is a little less than 1 U.S. dollar) plus about 50.00 more if you are a new student. On top of this you also pay extra for things such as stationery, p.e. clothes, and a school uniform. Total fees are under 300.00 Ghana cedis, and a little more for the junior high classes. This seems pretty reasonable until you remember that many people in Ghana are living on less than a dollar a day. This was a great school, but it’s obvious that this type of place is only for the middle to upper class. There is just no chance for the impoverished to receive a great education like this. Now I understand why child sponsorship is SO IMPORTANT in Ghana.

Another thing that we learned today was the grade structure of these primary schools. Typically you would start in Grade 1 at the age of 6. Primary schools involve Grades 1-6….at Grade 6 you would typically be 12 years old. Then you attend junior high. Junior high involves Junior High 1-3. After junior high 3 you take a big exam that would get you into high school. If you don’t pass the exam on the first try you don’t get another chance!!!!!!!!!!!!! From what it sounded like, all high schools charge tuition…there is no free education for those levels. In Ghana you take 3 years of high school. If you don’t pass the junior high exams, or don’t have enough money to attend high school, you can attend a vocational school which teaches different trades such as car mechanics, sewing, hair styling, etc. A vocational school was the last type of school we visited. The one we toured had main courses for catering and fashion design.

And that was the end of our tour of schools! On this day Doug and Chris actually had split off from our group and had a few adventures of their own as they scouted around for tools and building supplies for our projects. :) Tomorrow I hope to post some pictures of the more light-hearted moments from our trip, and then Friday I hope to post about what our exact projects in Asikuma will be. Yay!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quick Break from Trip Posts - Justice Updates!

I have to take a quick break today from posting about our trip because some exciting things are going on around here and I can’t wait another week to share them!!!!!!!!! Yesterday was a BIG day for Justice! First of all, we had our court hearing to ‘re-adopt’ Justice under Iowa law. Basically re-adoption in our state will give Justice his official name change, permits the issuance of a state birth certificate, and also ensures that Justice is entitled to all of the rights that he should have as our child under U.S. and U.S. state law. If you want to read more about the purpose of re-adoption there is a good explanation here . So, we pulled into the new Nevada Courthouse and wouldn’t you know it, we had direct confirmation that we were in the right place: Jake took the stand on behalf of our family, summed up our adoption story, and answered all the legal questions. The judge noted that he had read through all of our Ghanaian social welfare forms and adoption documents and he said, “Adoption was a great choice for this young man, and now I can see a bright and successful future ahead for him.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Yesterday was also another big event in Justice’s life….he was accelerated up to 1st grade where he will remain the rest of the school year!!!! Over the past few months Justice’s kindergarten teacher had been noting that he was really excelling in his schoolwork, so she had recommended him to be tested for grade acceleration. The ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher had him undergo numerous literacy tests (reading/writing) to see what level he was at, and his scores showed up at a high 1st grade level. Last week we were asked to come and meet with some of the school staff to discuss moving him up a grade. We met for about an hour with the school principal, the ESL teacher, his current kindergarten teacher, and what would be his 1st grade teacher. Up to this point we had only shared Justice’s adoption story with his kindergarten teacher, so it was great to be able to share Justice’s background with the rest of the school staff. We all were in agreement that Justice seems to be around the age of an 8 year old. We also felt that given the educational strides he had been making that he would successfully be able to adjust to this grade change. We also all felt that developmentally this would be a smart move for him as well….he needs to be with peers closer to his actual age. We had a great time meeting the ESL teacher and she walked us through each of the testing packets that she had administered to Justice.

It’s pretty interesting how they do these tests. For example, for one section he was shown 3 pictures and 1 sentence in words. He had to match what picture went along with the sentence - which means he had to be able to recognize/read at least a few of the words in the sentence. On this part he got every single answer right. For the writing test there was one part in which he was told a word and then he had to write the word. Again, he was able to sound out and write each of the words almost perfectly, and these were not easy sight words! There were only a few words that he missed and his ESL teacher noted that he spelled/sounded out those words as he says them currently (for example he has trouble saying ‘r’s so he often inserts an ‘l’…like for the word pray he says play) so even though his answer was wrong, the spelling made sense because of how he pronounces the word. They went through the entire reading and writing testing packets with us, and I can’t remember all of it, but I found it pretty interesting how they assess reading/writing skills in children who are just learning to read and write! It’s pretty cool. There was also an oral section of the exam which he answered great on too. The ESL teacher noted that there are a few vocab words he doesn’t know yet just because he hasn’t experienced them here yet….for instance he was shown 3 pictures of pedestrian symbols. He had to pick out which picture showed the pedestrian not to walk. The correct answer was a picture of a hand being held up in the stop position, but he selected the picture of a person walking. His ESL teacher noted that even when he answered wrong, his answers still made sense according to what he knows. She was really encouraged and spoke very highly of Justice.

All of the staff members noted 3 main things about Justice that are an encouragement to them that grade acceleration will be a great move for him:

1) He has a strong desire to learn. Each of them talked about how intrigued he is to know and understand things. He asks a lot of questions and shows a high excitement for education. This undoubtedly is because of his impoverished background. He really knows in his heart that school and education are a huge opportunity….this is what every child in Ghana is told growing up. To him education has never been free or just a given part of life. In Ghana the right to a good education costs a lot of money and must be earned. I think he carries this mindset with him still, and I hope it doesn’t ever fade!

2) He is driven/motivated. He excels in all of his classroom work. His teacher noted that he is always the first one done with assignments, and they are always done correctly. She said he shows consistent qualities of focus and determination and it seems these must be a natural part of his personality. :)

3) He is a fast learner. He catches onto skills very quickly. In moving up to 1st grade he will be slightly behind on some things, but each of the staff noted that because he picks up on things so easily he will have no problem catching up.

We also talked about how, obviously, Justice does not fit in with the kindergartners…physically or mindset wise. The staff noted that his thought processing is much beyond that of a kindergartner, and that he has a more mature way of thinking. Apparently once a week the kindergartners pair up with 3rd graders to work on reading. Justice’s kindergarten teacher had been noting how he seems to fit in easily with the 8 and 9 year olds. She said that he acts much more natural around them than he does when he is with the kindergartners. The staff did note, however, that Justice’s social/emotional development is very lacking/behind, as I have posted about before. This is something we’ve noticed at home too, and hopefully once he is surrounded by peers closer to his age, it will aid his growth in this area.

It was exciting to talk with the ESL teacher. She wants to start working with Justice about 20 minutes each day to catch him up even more on his reading/literacy. She was pretty blown away that he hadn’t even been speaking English for a year yet. She kept saying, “It’s pretty amazing.” After our meeting we talked with the ESL teacher for a bit longer. She told us how she really tries to preserve her student’s nationality when she works with them. She noted that she has many friends from Africa, even a church friend from Ghana, and she will delicately try to work some of those cultural things into her time with Justice. We also were able to chat quickly with her about his hesitancy/sensitivity to anything that triggers his memory from Ghana. She said that this is really common with many of her ESL students, not even just the adopted ones. She said it is a common find to observe the students pretending like they don’t remember their native language. She is also the guidance counselor for the school, so I think she will have some unique ways to help Justice embrace the journey he has been on. At the end she said, “I just want you to know, I am in this with you. Over the past few years many children of different nationalities have come to Ballard. And they are all God’s children…I am so happy to be able to help teach them. I really love Justice and I am so encouraged by how well he is doing!”

All of this to say, I am still glad that we originally started Justice in kindergarten. It is much more exciting to be moving him up a grade level rather than if we would have started him higher and then needed to move him down a level. Starting him in kindergarten has allowed him to progress more naturally, and not only has he caught up, but he is now ready, and has the confidence for more challenging curriculum. This is likely not the correct scenario for every older adopted child, but for Justice it has worked well. I’m excited for him!

Oh, and one more thing…..Justice got to test for his orange belt in taekwondo this past weekend!!! We will have the official word on whether or not he passed later this week. Here he is breaking….the black belt holding Justice’s board wasn’t quite ready for the amount of force he gives off as you can see by the picture! But he snapped it in half easily on the next try when the board was held steady! :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Visit to the Beacon House Orphanage

We spent about 4 days of our trip in the village of Asikuma and then we said our goodbyes and made our way to Accra for the remainder of our time. Our first adventure in Accra was to spend an afternoon at the Beacon House Orphanage. I was so READY for this experience. I have really wanted to visit an orphanage for the longest time. I was so interested to see how they were run, especially in Ghana. Once we arrived we greeted the house mothers and children. We got a tour of the entire place from an elderly woman who was at the orphanage volunteering from the U.S. Her grandchildren had been adopted from the Beacon House and here she was, back to serve. I soaked up the information as the volunteer shared details of how everything runs….from the children’s daily schedule, to the food they cook, to the toilets that don’t work very often. :) A little bit into the tour the founder of the orphanage arrived and we asked if we could sit and pick her brain for a bit. Believe me, I could barely hold myself back from going and playing with the kids, but I also knew it was important to take some time to ask questions and understand the ins and outs of running an orphanage.

A few of us climbed the stairs up to the founder’s office and we sat with her, Romana, for almost an hour listening to her awesome God-story unravel. Our first question was, “Why did you decide to start the orphanage?” Her answer was, “Well, when God tells you to do something you don’t ask questions. You just do it.” Immediately I smiled and thought, this is going to be a great story! And it was. Romana literally started this orphanage on a vision from God. She knew nothing about this sort of work, in fact her profession was in public health. However, God kept telling her through a series of ‘miraculous events’ that she was supposed to start an orphanage. Her story sounded oddly familiar to my own experience when I felt God speak adoption into my heart 2 years ago. I understood the overwhelming feeling of clarity that she was speaking about. She knew God was asking her to do this….but she had no idea how she was going to. She eventually put aside her disqualifications, stepped out in faith, took action, and started the Beacon House. There were many details that went along with her journey….to sum it up - none of it was easy. But, through it all she ended up learning SO MUCH and she has become a WEALTH of knowledge.

The Beacon House currently houses 40 children, mostly under the age of 10. Romana takes in special needs children….those who are HIV+, have sickle cell anemia, TB, autism, etc., those who have endured physical and sexual abuse, and she also takes in sibling groups. Each of these children come with amazing stories of survival…many of them had parents who died from the AIDS virus. Romana told us a few of the children’s stories and they are heartbreaking, but have a happier ending now that they are being cared for. We asked about the process of identifying children and bringing them to the orphanage and she talked in length about social welfare’s role in making referrals. Each region in Ghana has its own set of appointed officers who are responsible for keeping reports on children and finding the details of their situations. All of the children in her orphanage are referrals from the social welfare department. Of course Jake and I were also interested to know if she did adoptions out of the orphanage. :) She said that she does independent adoptions only (she doesn’t use an agency) and we learned many details about the process. Romana also answered our questions about funding, donations, and meeting the daily needs of the children. After our lengthy Q & A session we headed back downstairs to get some time to play with the kids. Wahooooo! As usual, the kids warmed up to us immediately and pulled us in with their charm and curious personalities.
The smaller kids always get quite the kick out of meeting JJ since he is just their size. He wasted no time in showing off Daddy’s I-phone.
And I have to tell you a little about this girl, Adoko.....
She reminded us SO MUCH of Jayla! Adoko warmed up to Jake first. She would run up to him and giggle and then he would chase her around and she would try to hide, all the while squealing with delight and saying, “You can’t get me!”. That is what reminded us so much of Jayla because that is her favorite game to play with Jake. Adoko also had the friendliest demeanor that just pulled me in and she definitely had our attention most of the afternoon. I really loved getting to spend some time with all the sweety girls!!! Here they are in their pillow case dresses.
Romana talked about these pillow case dresses and said how easy, lightweight, and low-maintenance they are. They received these as a donation from a lady in the U.S. who hand sewed them. Once I saw the dresses I thought that they would be perfect for the village girls in Asikuma!!!!! Since I don’t know how to sew I sent out a little post on Facebook and now I think I have close to 20 gals ready to whip some of these up for us to take on our August trip! The girls of Asikuma would be thrilled to have a dress like this. Evening time rolled around and the kiddos got ready for dinner.

Not sure what they are eating, but it is definitely a local dish! The kids were instructed to wait until everyone was sat down with their food in front of them, then they could pray and eat.
Our time at the orphanage finished out with me playing with the little babies outside (they have their own play area out front) and Jake spoke with Romana a little longer asking some more questions. One of the things he asked her was what her highest need was right now for the orphanage. Clothing donations? Food donations? Adoptive families? Money? Her response was this, “I need volunteers. I need people to come and serve here for 6-12 months at a time. I need people who can create relationships with these children.” The children need people they can trust, depend on, and be open with. Maybe it is you that Romana is looking for? She said this would need to be a volunteer opportunity….in other words, she can offer no money compensation. However, she would be able to work with the University of Ghana in order to provide housing for volunteers (the housing would be University housing)....but that is all she can provide. In addition to the relational aspect, there would also be teaching opportunities at the orphanage. Devotionals, worship time, bible study, and prayer time are worked in throughout the day. Lessons are taught by the house mothers, but would also be another role of volunteers….not only caring for the children’s day to day needs, but teaching them about their Savior. Volunteers would also be asked to help out with paperwork, office demands, errands, etc. that are also a part of running the orphanage. If you are interested in finding out more about this volunteer opportunity email And here is the website for the orphanage: