Thursday, March 24, 2011

Our Visit to the School We Will Be Helping

In general, there are 3 types of schools in Ghana: government schools (free education), private schools (you must pay tuition to attend), and vocational schools in which you learn a trade (mechanics, sewing, cooking, etc.). During our time in Asikuma we were able to visit Asikuma Presbyterian Primary School - the government run school. This is the school that most of the village children attend (and this is the school yard we went to on Sunday afternoon that I had blogged about previously). This is also the school that the town leaders had voiced concerns about regarding their need for a library (during Jake’s last trip in January). Here’s a bit from my journal regarding our scheduled visit with the school staff:

After breakfast we walked over to the Asikuma Presbyterian Primary School, less than a mile walk from our hotel. As we approached the school entrance we saw many of the children outside playing. As we rounded the corner to head onto the school grounds the children out playing realized that we were coming to their school! THEY WENT CRAZY!!!! Floods of children hopped, skipped, jumped and ran up to greet us as we approached the entry way.

We made our way through the groups of children and I recognized many familiar faces of those who I had sat and chatted with in the school yard the previous afternoon. Many of those sweet faces remembered us too, and I had a few kids come up and grab my hand and give me hugs. From here a school staff member welcomed us and led us to a back area away from the crowds of kids to a thatch roof canopy structure. Along the way I snapped a few pictures of the classrooms...

Once we reached the canopy area we took our seats among the teachers and school staff. Our time opened in prayer and then Nana and Jake each spoke of our group’s mission. (Just a reminder, Nana is the chief of Asikuma and is also father to our previous host students, Yaw and Peprah)

Nana and Jake explained to the school staff and teachers that we were here on an assessment visit. We wanted to understand how the people of Asikuma live, what the problems are, and how we can work together to meet needs, create change, and make improvements. Jake also stressed that yes, we need to know their needs, but we also were here to discover their strengths, their talents, and what they do well - we want to help them develop those as well.

Next the head master of the school addressed the crowd. His words touched my heart. He said, “We are so surprised that someone has come and asked us what we need. This is rare to find in our world. We appreciate your concern. Even if you are not able to do anything for us, we appreciate you caring.

After these introductory speeches the floor was opened for the teachers to share their concerns over the current conditions at the school. I wrote down their thoughts:

-Main problem: Infrastructure. There are approximately 90+ kids in each class. Each class has 1 teacher. This is a huge problem. This school has a system in which they break each class up into separate sessions to help alleviate the overwhelming teacher to student ratio. One session comes to school for 3 hours in the morning, the second session attends for 3 hours in the afternoon. Even so, the class sizes are still too large compared to the space and amount of teachers that they have. The teachers noted that this sort of high class size makes teaching and learning extremely difficult. Children fight for sitting and writing places, and there are no opportunities for teachers to come around and correct children or advise them individually if they need help. Class time is basically instructional only….if you don’t understand the lesson you are pretty much out of luck. (Jake also told me later that breaking school up into 2 different sessions is a mark of poverty here. This is actually considered the ‘old system’ in Ghana and many schools have done away with it. For example, the private school that we visited later in the week had a normal 7 hour school day. There is no way Asikuma could transition to this sort of ‘typical’ school day because they simply don’t have enough classrooms or teachers to house all the students at one time)

-Main request: A library. They noted that learning to read is obviously the gate way of education. They need books to have the foundation to teach children how to read.

Other requests:

-Computers. Even 2-3 computers would help tremendously. Many students could be benefited by being able to partake in practical work using computer programs. A few teachers also noted that computers could be used to skype with U.S. classrooms. The teachers really stressed that they needed instruction and help from teachers in America. Being able to skype would allow them to sit in on lessons taught by U.S. teachers.

-Guidance/counseling office. It was noted that many of the children carry problems from home with them to school. The children are distracted by anxiety and depression and the school would like to be able to help students emotionally with these issues.

-There are many children attending school with behavioral and psychological problems. The teachers would like to be able to implement separate coursework for them (special ed).

-The school sports teams need shoes.

-Containers for trash (garbage cans) to enable a healthier environment on the school grounds.

It’s obvious that the staff and teachers at this school are desperate for assistance and direction. They are barely making by with what they have….I really feel for them.

After the teachers were finished voicing their concerns my favorite part came. We got to hand out the donated books and educational materials we had brought along. Unfortunately a huge load of the educational materials that we shipped to Ghana before-hand are ‘stuck’ in customs. Dawn, Doug & Esi tried to pick them up upon our arrival at the airport, but apparently there were issues with a bunch of forms we were supposed to have. It was an extreme bummer that we didn’t have those items to hand out as well – there are some really great educational pieces in those crates! Even so we were still able to disperse 2 suitcases of items – mostly books. Dawn and Katlyn layed out all of the books and supplies and asked the teachers to come up one by one to select materials that would best benefit their personal classroom.

They were SO HAPPY and THANKFUL!!!!!!!!!!!
After the books and school supplies were handed out Esi (Nana’s wife/Yaw & Peprah’s mom) walked up front to say something that was on her heart. She said that as she had come into the school yard she saw that many of the children did not have school uniforms, and she also saw many children without shoes. She also had noted that many of the children’s uniforms were ripped, worn, or extremely dirty. (As a side note - for government schools, if you can’t afford to buy a uniform you can still come to school, but it is frowned upon). She said that when she saw all of this she felt God tug at her heart and she decided right then and there that she and Nana would sponsor 20 needy students. Esi has a heart for helping the disadvantaged ‘girl-child’ as she says, so she asked that the teachers identify 20 female students who were in need of financial assistance. Once identified, she and Nana would take measures to ensure that they had everything they needed. This then led Doug to stand up and say that the Isaiah 1:17 Foundation would match that donation and provide financial assistance for 20 needy boys in the school. Doug explained that this sort of thing was exactly the type of partnership he wanted us to have with the community of Asikuma. They could rely and trust in us for assistance, but they too needed to take steps to improve their situations according to their abilities and ideas.

This was a great ending point to our time of learning the needs of the school. A closing prayer was said and then Katlyn was asked to meet with all the teaching staff in a sort of Q & A session. They had SO MANY questions for her!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The teachers were thirsting for assistance and direction on just about every single topic you could imagine.

Since all the teachers were there meeting with Katlyn, the children didn’t have class so the rest of us took charge! Dawn started to read a book, and take a look at how many children gathered around-

Really, that might be my favorite picture from the whole trip. It is so telling.

Meanwhile, the rest of us tried our best to teach some structured games out in the school yard. Duck- duck-goose was entertaining again, as well as follow-the-leader, tag, and song singing. There were SO MANY kids!!!!!!

During this time Doug, Jake & Chris toured the school buildings and took measurements for construction. I will be doing a later post regarding the specific details of what we will be doing to help this school. You can watch for that post next week….it will be titled Asikuma Projects: Phase I. There are some EXCITING things in store for this school, but we are really going to need some help from all of you! :)

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