Wouldn’t it be nice to be a fly on the wall…?
Here is your chance. Following is an email that my mom sent out to a few friends and family just after arriving home from visiting here. The previous blog entry was “authorized”. We’ll simply call this one “the rest of the story”. To lighten things up a little, I have added an email that I sent home just after my parents’ departure. Hope you enjoy it!
(21 Jan 2009)
There are lots of things you CAN'T tell about a school by visiting an empty campus. Wish we could have been there when classes were in session but, after seeing DASHS and visiting with Tammi and Chris, we'd like to share our impressions about their primary job assignment.
DASHS is an agricultural high school so the campus is large. We saw no ag projects but some of the teachers who live on campus have plots which supplement their income.
There are seven educational buildings and all are either unfinished or in need of repair. One of the things I noticed in a pretrip perusal of the guidebook is the frequency of the word "crumbling." In the tropical climate buildings which aren't constantly cared for crumble.
The only furnishing in most of the rooms is a chalk board made from plywood painted black with "cooked" batteries. The school supposedly has a small library but it's in storage (part of the refurbishment process).
The proposed computer lab is in an unfinished building. The present lab has eight computers operable to some degree. There are no window screens and the ceiling fan doesn't work. The air entering the room during the present dry season is smoky and dirty; during the wet season it will be extremely damp, both conditions bad news for computers and uncomfortable for teacher and students.
Tammi in front of future computer lab
The dining/assembly building has a powdery dirt floor and sheep, goats and chickens were wandering around inside. They'll be ejected when classes start but meanwhile feces is being mixed with the dust. There's an outdoor kitchen and a tin-roofed, open eating area for day students. Sanitary facilities are bucket showers and pit toilets. Piles of trash are scattered about campus.
Inside the dining/assembly hall during term break
Curriculum is set by the Ghanaian school system. The school doesn't have the equipment for all the visual arts units Chris is supposed to teach but his class sizes are small and he can substitute for what's lacking.
Tammi's assignment is to take classes of 40-60 students with limited English language skills and no keyboarding experience and turn out students proficient in MS Word, Power Point and Excel. Sound a little difficult? To me, it's pie-in-the-sky. She says most of her students, if asked their goals for computer training, would like to become knowledgeable on the internet to send out SPAM. In their defense, we didn't notice a lot of possibility for computer jobs in Donkorkrom and vicinity, which is as far as most of these students have been.
A passing grade is 35 percent. By the time some of the families scraped up tuition for the fall semester the students were so late in arriving that there was no possibility of passing. During Tammi's finals testing a proctor entered the room and removed tests from students because of unpaid fees. Hopefully, Tammi will find a way to alleviate that situation.
Students aren't alone in high absenteeism. Teachers fail to report to classes, sometimes for a couple weeks at a time, leaving students sitting in an empty classroom; there are no substitute instructors.
How do you measure success? None of us knows what we do that makes a difference in others' lives, either good or bad. In my opinion, though, Tammi is forced to set her own goals because the classroom goals she's given are impossible. Already she's faced co-ed classes (as has Chris), shown them both male and female condoms and talked to them about HIV/AIDS, probably their first sex education.
If Chris and Tammi can initiate clean-up projects which would in turn foster pride it would be a big step forward. Supposedly funds have been earmarked for building construction, renovation and new computers. Where are the contractors? Where are the computers? They're Ghana get it done...maybe...in their own good time.
Sound pessimistic? At the very least, we suffered culture shock.
Venturing into the community, however, was lots of fun. It's a short walk into town and interacting with residents at street level is an opportunity typical tourists seldom enjoy. The word akwaaba (welcome) characterizes the country. We heard it frequently as folks came across the road to shake hands and bid us good day. They seemed to get a kick out of exchanging courtesies in Twi with Tammi and Chris, who comprise two-thirds of the abruni (white) population of Donkorkrom (a Dutch nun completes the trio).
As we get caught up on chores at the Thirsty Horse I'll probably put fingers to keyboard to record more general impressions about Ghana. One thing about receiving them via e-mail, you're not a captive audience.
Marlene & Don
Hello from Ghana! (19 Jan 2009)
It was really luxurious having private transportation home from Accra. (We missed the ferry by just a few minutes which added about 3 hours to our journey but it all turned out fine). We were happy to arrive at home with our purchases and perishable groceries in fine condition. We got the yogurt in the fridge, the meats in the freezer, and most of our things unpacked before the power went out. Our spirits started to drop as the temp in our little fridge started to rise. We were still without power nearly 48 hours later when we started implementing our plan:
We prepared and ate as much meat as we could and I cooked the rest to extend its shelf life. We devised a low-tech evaporative system that we thought should work fairly well since right now the nights are cool and the air is dry. We decided to put the cooked meat in zip-lock bags, suck the air out, and wrap the bags in damp towels. We would then use our battery powered "nurf" style personal fan (a purchase that Terri highly recommended) to circulate the air around the meat and hopefully cool it enough to inhibit the meat from spoiling too rapidly. (I also decided that it would not be a bad idea to pray about it). Genius, right?!!
Well, while the meat was cooling and as we were trying to figure out how to "dry" our yogurt to preserve the live cultures for future use, the electricity came back!
1 Kilo of sausage- $ 7
Car, driver and gas for private transport-$230
Eating good meat for dinner at the end of the day in a developing country-PRICELESS!
As far as how school is going, students were scheduled to return to school last Thursday. Chris and I reported to morning assembly on Monday. We were the only ones who reported. Classes "somehow" resumed yesterday.
The headmaster was here for a day before he traveled again. He's back now though. We got in a little conversation in the yard between comings and goings though. We seem to have a lot of the same ideas for improving this school. So if we can get some commitment and follow through maybe...just maybe something will get accomplished.
Hope you are quickly recovering from your journey. I know that things could have gone a little more smoothly. But then it probably would have given you the wrong idea about life in Ghana.