Saturday, September 20, 2008

“About School” By Tammi; 19 Sept, 2008

School officially started on Monday, although it's kind of hard to tell. Today is Friday. No classes have been held yet. Only about 1/6th of the students have reported to our school. High school fees are about $75/term, (there are 3 terms), and many students will not be able to afford fees until the beginning of next month. Few of the first year students know which school to report to. The Ghana Education System (G.E.S.) is just now sending out the high school entrance test results and school assignments. Most high school students in Ghana are boarders and live on the school campus. Students typically have to travel 1-2 days to reach the school where they board.

Entrance to school campus

The students who have reported to school have spent their first week cleaning, sweeping out the classrooms, and “weeding” (mowing the lawn with machetes). Our school is very typical of schools in Ghana.

Just your typical school girls

The assistant headmasters started working on the class schedule yesterday. Before the class schedule can actually be developed, however, the masters need to know how many teachers are returning, the subject(s) they teach, and how many students are coming. These items of input are still quite vague.

Chris and Assistant Headmaster/art teacher, Mr. ABC

I have been assigned to teach Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to freshman and sophomores. Today I was issued a box of chalk, 1 red pen, 1 blue pen, and a notebook to write my lesson plans in. I have a textbook which I tracked down and purchased in Accra, a photo copy of the freshman syllabus which was provided by the Peace Corps, (the sophomore syllabus has not come out yet), and some misc electronic files that I have collected from other teachers. Yep, that should pretty much ensure my teaching success.

classroom block

We have a new school computer lab! However, said lab has been under construction for nearly 2 years (as are the admin offices, boys’ dorm, girls’ dorm, new classroom block, old classroom block, and assembly hall). The construction crew is supposed to be returning to work “any day now”. There are about 20 misc disassembled computers in various states of disrepair in a dirty (infested?) store room. If the school electrician is able to install electrical outlets in one of the designated classrooms today, I will be able to start setting up and testing the functionality of the computers over the weekend. The typical class size is 40-60 students. So if we are lucky enough to get most of the computers operational then each computer will have 3-4 students trying to use it during class. Last year G.E.S. promised 40 new computers to each high school. I’m guessing that these computers will actually reach our school sometime after the missing construction crew completes the campus building projects.

New computer building under construction (complete with sheep on porch)

Our fellow teachers and staff at the school have been delightful! The atmosphere of the school is very positive and the school seems to have a fine reputation. We are sad that our headmaster/neighbor will be moving in a week or two. But apparently being transferred goes with the territory as headmasters are transferred about every 5 years. We have grown quite fond of Headmaster Daniel and his family and are hopeful that the new headmaster and family will be as likeable.

Outgoing Headmaster Daniel with wife Madam Tina

“Our Home” By Chris- 13 Sept 2008

Out for a walk

OK so I would love to say we are living in the bush of Africa taking turns at night beating off poisonous snakes and insects while the other tries to sleep but I can't. Don't get me wrong there are poisonous snakes including Cobras and Mombas, dangerous millipedes, and scorpions that sooner kill you then look at you. All big fun but we aren't living in a thatched hut sleeping on dirt floors, we live in what was/is the guest apartment attached to the back of the headmaster's house. It originally was a house built by Japan Motorworks to house an executive that was overseeing a tractor works that didn’t pan out. We have 24/7 security guards, though I question what these guys (who are very nice people) would do it confronted with any sort of danger.

The Headmaster's house is in the front. You can see our little abode sticking out on the back left.

The "hall" (living room)

Anyway we have 2 bedrooms, a living room (what they call a hall), a kitchen, a storeroom/pantry, a shower room, and toilet. We share it all with a myriad of innocuous bugs and spiders and several geckos who are a lot of fun to watch scurry around. It is not Shangri-La by any means but it is more than adequate. WE EVEN HAVE A TV! They were so excited to show us our TV and its one channel. We do try to catch the news on occasion but it is rarely turned on for I was looking forward to being away from TV after my serious TV addiction issues back in the states. We are far more excited to have a fridge, a cold beverage in Africa is a precious commodity. We had to buy a gas cooktop and a kitchen sink, we also had a carpenter make tables for the kitchen. I know what you’re thinking; why didn't I make them? Well I didn’t bring tools I haven't quite figured out how to track down materials or tools and until then there's a need and besides they were quite cheap. One table a 36"x 60"x 20" table made of all hardwood, all be it still wet (I think it’s Kapock wood) cost us the equivalent of $25.00. I do plan on making us some furniture as soon as I can track down some tools. I also hope to be doing some sculpture of which I already have some drawings of. I will keep you all apprised of my creative ventures.

"Automatic Washing Mashine"

"Coffee Grinder" (We are grateful for the beans sent from the States)!

We are in a pretty rural area of Ghana as I discussed earlier and it is not easy to find a lot of things in the market here, but a wise person said to me before we left the states, "When you start thinking you can't survive with what's available, look around and realize that these people have survived with far less for a very long time." Bottom line is we have everything we NEED, everything else is a luxury and to me sometimes it seems we are living in luxury comparatively…

The road between our home and town

Another pretty sunset from our doorstep

"Our Site" by Chris: 12 Sept '08

Here we are the swearing In Ceremony

We have been at site now for a little over 3 weeks having sworn in as actual Peace Corps volunteers on the 19th of August. Training was intense for someone who has not been on the learning end of a classroom situation in a very long time. I would say the language was the most difficult thing for me while Tammi had a little easier time of it. We were also required to pass a language competency test before we could be sworn in. I was truly terrified of it but passed on my first try and so did Tammi.

Our Twi language learning group -and - The now "famous" drumming troup

So here we are at site, in Donkorkrom, sometimes spelled Odonkawkram or Odonkawkrom. We just learned that it means "Slave Town". Donko is Twi for slave and Krom means town. I won't go into the history of the area just now. I also won't repeat all the statistics about Donkorkrom, just some observations;

Some call the Afram Plains, (of which Donkorkrom is the "capital"), the bread basket of Ghana. Back in the early 60's a dam was built on the Volta River or in the local language Esuten Frau and with the damming of the river system it flooded not only the Volta River to our east but also the Afram River (Esuten Afram) to the west and now Afrom Plains is virtually surrounded by water. Before the valleys were flooded this was a major cocoa growing region and after the flooding the climate was changed, the cocoa trees could no longer thrive and they died. 40 plus years later the Afram Plains has switched over to other crops including Yams (bayera) cocoa yams (mankane), casava (banchae) and maize. Most farming is done on a subsistence basis growing just enough to feed their families plus enough to sell at market to make a living. Some have tried larger scale agriculture but there is still a lot of work to be done there. Probably the largest export as well as largest environmental problem in Afram Plains is charcoal. Trees are being taken down at a dizzying rate to be made into charcoal. The government has tried to get the charcoal makers to at least replant the trees but they presently see little sense in that when there seems to be plenty of trees to cut down. They seem to have something in common with us westerners; shortsightedness. Traditions and people’s minds are very slow to change here, also something they have in common with us. So if any one has any brilliant suggestions...

Loading the pontoon for river crossing to Afram Plains

Our school sets on a one square mile piece of property but the actual school takes up a very small part of that. They along with several other places in Afram have planted plantations of Teak and Mahogany which offers a wonderful amount of shade on campus and potential profit generation for the future. They are thinking long-term which suggests the school is well run. Though as with a lot of things in Ghana it is by no means a well oiled machine;

Our school was to begin Monday Sept. 15th but no one is quite sure how many students will show up or even how many teachers will return for the next school year. Its run a bit differently here than what we're use to. We are told students will trickle in for the next couple of weeks, and the form 1's (freshmen) will show up quite a bit later. School is based on a 3 term school year. We will find out what we are actually teaching and when and classes will start in earnest by say the week of the 22nd. We call it GMT no not Greenwich Mean Time but Ghana Maybe Time. Everyone we have interacted with at school has been wonderful. They are as anxious to learn about the US as we are to learn about Ghana. Our head master is first class and sadly we are losing him and his family to a lucky school in the Kwaho Mountains. We hope that our new head person will be as good.

A Note from Tammi: You may have noticed that it's been a while since our last posting. We have been "recovering" from a hard drive crash, which is something that is hard enough to deal with when you live in a 1st world country! Anyway, we're back up. Sorry for the delay...