[This blog post was written on August 29th, 2013 while I was still in Ghana.]
For the past year Light for Children has been partnered with USAID, World Cocoa Foundation, and World Education Ghana to bring literacy classes to rural cocoa growing villages. Earlier this year, we identified 5 communities in the Ashanti Region that have high levels of illiterate adults, and high levels of children out of school. These 5 communities are subsistence farmers of cocoa, cassava, yams, plantains, and maize and life in the village is focused around farming. The villages are located in very rural areas; most are miles from a main road. The electricity access is very limited, if at all, and cell service is terrible at best.
We chose these 5 communities in particular because many of the adults in the community are uneducated and completely illiterate, not being able to read or write in their native language of Twi. It has been generations and generations of farmers with more focus in the fields, than in the classroom. The communities also have high levels of Out-of-School Teens (OSTs), consisting of children who have never been to school before, or were enrolled in school but have dropped out and not returned. The kids don’t see any use in going to school when they can make money farming or doing jobs in the village. Education simply isn’t seen as a high priority because they are removed from the larger towns and cities, and don’t see the opportunities that education can bring to their lives, meaning they aren’t exposed to doctors, lawyers, nurses, accountants, etc. The only people they know are the villagers, who all are farmers. The students also can only complete up to Junior High School in the village because the only Senior High Schools are in the towns. They don’t have access to the opportunities and resources that the cities have to offer.
The goal of the project was to lower the levels of illiteracy among adults, so they are able to read and write in Twi, and also to encourage the Out-of-School Teens to reenter school, or begin school for the first time by showing them the value of education and the endless potentials they have.
In the 5 communities we identified facilitators, most of the time schoolteachers, that will be the project leader for the village. The facilitators identify the people who would benefit from the program, encourage them to sign up, teach the literacy classes, track progress, and are our main community contact. They also helped to create incentives for people who attended the classes. The adult learners received books, pens, and notebooks for their classes and the youth students were rewarded with new netball equipment for perfect attendance.
The project began in February, and we are approaching the graduation ceremony in early September, so for two straight days I’ve been traveling to the 5 communities to administer the post-tests. This is my first time traveling to the villages, but I’ve heard so much about the projects through the Light for Children staff.
It’s been quite an adventure just physically getting to the villages, through potholes, rivers, streams, blockades, horrible roads, and corrupt police officers. It was a journey that I will never forget. Every community is unique and special and all captured me in some way.
But the community that captivated me to the core was Asakraka. We visited it on the second day of traveling and oh my, was it a voyage. We turned off the main road and onto a small path cut out of the bush. The road narrowed and most of the time the trees and bushes were whipping in and out of the car. We zigzagged for miles and miles through the bush with only this small path guiding us. At one point we all had to get out of the car so the driver could attempt to cross a huge pothole of water as we stood on the side hoping it wouldn’t get stuck. Luckily we made it through and after a while we saw tin roofs in the distance and knew we were getting close.
As soon as we pulled up a little boy in a blue shirt came running towards me with a smile and grabbed hold of my leg before I even got out of the car. He was smiling and laughing and saying hello. I’ve worked with special needs children both in the US and in Ghana, and I knew it was very clear that this little boy has down syndrome. I stood there playing with him thinking what a miracle he is. In Ghana people with physical/mental special needs are seen as cursed and possessed by the devil. They are normally locked in their houses, shunned away, or killed as sacrifice. This little miracle boy was happily running about the village and playing with all the kids. Most of his teeth were rotted out and his face had some rashes on it, but he seemed rather healthy…and extremely happy. Through my broken Twi I learned he was 3 years old and lives in the house just down the road, couldn’t quite understand what his name was though! His laughter was infectious and his smile was brighter than the sun. What an amazing welcome into this community that was already finding its way into my heart.
We started to administer the post-tests to both the Adult Learners and the Out-of-School Teens. As they were taking the exam I talked with the facilitator about each class. The Adult literacy class had between 15 and 25 students, most of whom were functionally illiterate in Twi when they began. Some could read letters and short words, while some couldn’t even recognize numbers. The facilitator worked tirelessly with them through the program and even tutored them after hours so they were ready for the post test.
The results were nothing but incredible. All of them had gone from illiterate to be able to read and write in Twi. Of course there were varying forms of literacy, but the transformation was stunning…and they were so proud of themselves. There was a very very old woman sitting in the front row, she had to be at least 80 years old. I was told she’d never been to school before and lived in Asakraka her entire life. She was sitting infront of me not only writing her own name, but reading all the questions aloud for the class! She was smiling ear to ear the entire time and I was so joyous just looking at her. Another man sitting in the back of the room had never been to school before either. He spent all of his life in the field farming crops and never was forced to attend school. He was answering all the questions correctly and writing entire sentences for the essay portion. He said that now he is able to read signs in the village, understand numbers, and read paperwork. He said it has made him an even better farmer because now when the buyers come to buy his crops, the can understand what he is signing so they aren’t cheating him…I stood in awe. 9 months of classes and trainings, and the adults and elderly of this community are not only read and writing, but are understanding the importance and value of education.
I walked over to the Out-of-School Teens and was met with an even larger class of over 25 students, all sitting in desks taking the exam. The class was mixed with boys and girls, with some children being as young as 7 and as old as 16. After the exam I asked who had never attended school before, 5 raised their hands. I asked who was currently not enrolled in school, all 25 raised their hands. The facilitator told me that there was an illegal gold mine nearby that most of the kids worked at instead of going to school, and the rest of the kids worked in the field with the crops. There are small gold mines all over Ghana that are extremely unsafe, not to mention illegal. The girls would cook meals and wash clothes for the mine workers, the boys would fetch water and chop firewood, and at the end of the day they would be paid some small amount of money to take home. I’m not talking about only the 15 and 16 year olds working at the mine, I’m talking all of the children, even as young as 7 and 8.
They kids said they would rather make money at the mine, than attend school. School was a waste of time for them when they could be making money to feed themselves and their families. I get it…I totally understand their thinking on schooling (as much as it disagrees with my own). If I lived in a village where there was no one forcing me to go to school, no one supporting me and telling me how much potential I have, no elders and adults who have gone to school, and an option to make money instead…I would totally choose the latter. But that’s why we were there. During the 9 months of classes, the facilitator said he was a drastic change in many of the children. They were learning to read and write in English, while also slowly coming around to the idea that they are intelligent, valued, worthy, and special. They walked with more self confidence and spoke with more integrity. The ones who were struggling were being aided by their peers and encouraged to keep going. Before I left I asked who wanted to reenroll in school or attend school for the first time, a few hands shot up while the cautious ones raised their hands slowly while looking around, 80% of their hands were eventually raised…that’s a success in my book.
Asakraka captivated me and left me speechless. We drove out of the community and I knew this would not be my last time there. I was transfixed by the incredible things that were taking place there, but also by the dire need for assistance. There were no medical facilities available for miles, and in the rainy season, forget about going anywhere. The school was in structurally great shape, but there was no library or computer lab for the students to explore their interests. There was good access to food, but it looked like malnutrition, protein deficiency, and anemia was rampant.
Do I know what I will do about all those problems mentioned above? No.
Do I think I can do it alone? Of course not.
Do I know that I will play some part in working with the community to help lift themselves out of the rubble? Without a doubt.
Asakraka, thank you for mesmerizing my heart and mind in a way that it hasn’t been mesmerized in a while. Thank you for breathing passion and determination back into my veins. Thank you for welcoming me so warmly with smiles (and delicious food too). Thank you for showing me that no matter what has happened or is happening; a brighter future is always possible. Hope is always a choice & education transforms lives…and communities.
SEPTEMBER 2013 PHOTOS:
These photos were taken by Mike when he went back to give the students their certificates for completing the Literacy program…love all their little smiling faces!