Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Classroom Snapshot: Reading with Nursery 1

Chris and I brought all of the expected amenities to Ghana: light clothing, bug spray, flash lights, and our computers, but we also each brought a bag of books given to us by Andrew, to be added to the Titagya library. Although these tote bags of books proved to be a cumbersome carry-on, the inconvenience was completely worth it when the teachers and students at Titagya saw the new additions to their library. Titagya School is currently the proud owner of over 70 books, giving us one of the best school libraries in northern Ghana.

Last week Madame Baraka took some time in her Nursery 1 class to teach the children how to treat the books with care, and allow them each to “read” a book. We are only in the pre-reading stage with the Nursery 1 class, but most of the books have wonderful illustrations and interactive aspects like added texture to elements of the page or pull out sections; perfect for a beginning reader! The students were so fascinated by what they were finding in the books, and were excited to show me different animals, numbers, and letters that they were reading.

A particularly memorable moment for me occurred when I sat down with Abiba to read a book with her. This book uses vivid photographs from around the world to demonstrate different colors. As I pointed to photos and told Abiba the English word for each object, she began to repeat the English word to me, and then tell me the Dagbani word for the object. Soon another student, Irene, who knows another local language called Ewi, was telling me the object in Ewi as well!

This moment stands out for me because of the generative exchange that happened so naturally between the three of us, despite all of our differences (including language, age, position in the classroom, culture). It is not always easy to break down the hierarchy that somewhat naturally exists between teachers and students, but opening a space for the exchange of ideas between students and teachers is very rewarding for both groups. This interaction while reading exampled a way these hierarchies can be surpassed with positive results. I was also happy to see the idea reinforced that everyone, no matter what age or background, possesses valuable knowledge to pass on to others. Although I’m sure none of this was passing through the minds of Abiba and Irene as we continued teaching each other, I could tell that they were also enjoying the moment and that they recognized it as a special one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Introduction and My Tasks for this Summer

Welcome to Ghana, or "Akwaaba," as Ghanaians would say in Twi, one of the most widely-spoken languages in the nation. My name is Christopher Brandt, and the other Titagya Schools intern, Alison Crawford, and I have been volunteering for Titagya this summer. I'm hoping to use my first post to share a little bit about my background and to tell everyone about my experiences this summer at Titagya.

Most of my friends and relatives back home refer to me as Chris, so anyone reading this blog is invited to call me that as well. I am 19 years old, and a rising sophomore at Davidson College, near Charlotte, NC. Growing up in New York has been an incredible and exciting experience, and one that has had a significant impact on my personality and world perspective. As a result of living in such a multicultural environment, I am motivated to explore new surroundings and to immerse myself in foreign cultures. My other interests include Political Science, Classics, Communications, Davidson Basketball, and the Yankees! Currently, I am an undeclared major at Davidson, but I plan on focusing on International Relations during my three remaining undergraduate years.

I've helped in a number of ways so far in Dalun this summer. My main tasks have been creating three videos about Titagya's work and writing grants for fundraising. Preparing for the video has yielded many interesting and new insights. For example, interviewing Titagya's parents, teachers, and local supporters has demonstrated the increased buy-in for our project, and how people view the changing educational landscape of Dalun. Additionally, speaking with the video's participants has elucidated the community's contentment with our students' accomplishments and strong performance levels in school.

My other responsibilities include volunteering as a teacher at the school. For two days each week I serve as a teaching assistant in Mathematics and English language and grammer in one of our classes to our full-time teachers, Abdul-Azeez and Alhassan. Throughout the next two weeks, I will continue to write about my experiences in both the community and in the school. Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Trip: USA to Dalun

On May 28th I flew out of John F. Kennedy International Airport in NYC on a 6:30 pm flight. First, I would fly from JFK to Amsterdam Schiphol. From there I would go to Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana.

The plane landed in Amsterdam around 8 am local time, which made it very early in the USA. My cell phone was no longer working, so I called my Mom from a pay phone to let her know the first leg of the trip was over, and had gone well!

I was very exhausted at this point, so once I boarded the next plane I slept most of the way to Accra. Every now and then I would wake up and realize “I’m almost in Africa!” and as the sun moved lower and lower in the sky my nervous excitement grew. It was dark when the plane landed and as we walked onto the tarmac I breathed in African air for the first time. There was a dry freshness to the air, and we were emerged in an orange glow from the lights of the airport.

My guesthouse was located near “Circle,” the shortened name for the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, which is a very busy area of Accra named for one of Ghana’s first President. Circle was bustling with people selling things, others just strolling and making noise.

The next day I explored Accra and had some interesting conversations with locals about their perceptions of education and northern Ghana. A man I met in my guesthouse lobby expressed that in the south of Ghana public education is inadequate, the teachers are not being supervised by superiors, and the students are not being supervised by the teachers. He said that if you want your child to have a real education you have to pay for them to go to private school, which is very expensive. His perception of education in the north was that the free public education was much better, but families do not push their children to go to school and do not take advantage of the “free” education. He also mentioned that he has never been to the north before, and I left our conversation very interested to see how his opinions of the north meshed with my experience of it.

I bought my STC bus ticket and prepared to make the ride to the north. The next day we left Accra on the STC bus around 8 am. I felt very lucky to be in seat number two, right behind the driver, with a spectacular view out of the front window of the bus. I quickly learned a lot about driving in Ghana, foremost that horns are used very frequently to move people, animals, and other vehicles out of the way. Horns are also used when passing, which happens often; I soon learned not to be scared as our bus careened into the opposite lane to pass a car in front of us. As we rode over bumpy dirt roads towards Tamale I took in the gorgeous lush landscape, very jungle-esque in parts, and less so in other parts. Villages appeared suddenly out of the brush: mud huts with thatch roofs dotting the road and disappearing as quickly as they appeared as the bus flashed past.

By 9 pm we were in Tamale, where Fatawu and Habib picked me up. They brought me to the Simli Center, my new home, and I was so happy and relieved to have finally made it to Dalun!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Role as a Titagya Intern

My role as a Titagya intern these past few weeks has been very classroom-oriented, for which I am very happy! My basic work includes co-teaching in the classroom, creating curriculum modules, and working with the teachers on their pedagogy and teaching methods. However, I believe an unwritten role I have been carrying out is working to really “get to know” Titagya School, since all schools, just like the people that compose them, are nuanced and unique. For this reason I have worked to understand Titagya School through careful observation, participation, and by asking a lot of questions. I view this as a crucial part of my role as an intern because it has aided me in carrying out my other roles. Observing through the lens of someone new to Titagya Schools has allowed me to ask: “How is this being carried out? What are the pros of this? What are the cons? How could this be improved? What are the challenges in changing this?” and truly knowing the school, the students, and the teachers has helped me begin to answer those questions.

The trust that has developed between the teachers and me has allowed us to exchange ideas openly and provides a wonderful atmosphere for discussion. I have found their knowledge invaluable since we discuss topics ranging from the school, to the students and their families, to Ghanaian and American cultures at large! All of this gained knowledge comes together when I am brainstorming activities for the curriculum modules, or thinking about how a lesson could be carried out for the next day. Furthermore, actively engaging in the classroom and sharing about my own experiences with the teachers and students has made me feel like I am not simply an observer at the school, but a part of it. This feeling I have gained of being a part of the Titagya family has been the most rewarding part of my internship thus far, and makes the work I am doing feel very meaningful and gratifying!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Intern Introduction: Alison Crawford

Hello from Ghana! My name is Alison Crawford and I am one of Titagya’s two summer interns. I am a rising senior at Haverford College in Philadelphia, PA, where I am pursuing a major in English and a minor in Education. Outside of class I am a student-athlete, I work in the Admissions Office, and I am involved in a mentoring program for students in West Philadelphia. Through the education courses at Haverford I have worked at several Philadelphia area schools, and this experience has led me to particular interest in early childhood education and special education. It is in the pursuit of my interests in education that I found out about Titagya Schools.

I first heard of Titagya School in Professor Alice Lesnick’s class “Empowering Learners” in Spring 2009. The organization was mentioned to me a second time when I began working with Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship with the aim to find a summer internship working with children in Africa. Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (called the CPGC) funds student volunteer projects internationally and domestically that address issues of social justice and relate to a student’s academic interests. They suggested that I get in touch with Andrew Garza (Haverford class of 2008), and after speaking with Andrew a few times on the phone I was very excited about the prospect of being one of Titagya’s summer interns!

After hearing from Andrew that Titagya would like to have me as an intern, I began the long but rewarding process of applying for CPGC funding. Haverford Professor of African and Africana Studies, Professor Ruti Talmor, aided me greatly in independent study of Ghana, and provided me with both essential academic and practical knowledge garnered from her research experience in Ghana.

I was ecstatic to hear the news that I received funding, and the real planning for the trip began. Despite all of the work I was doing to prepare for my departure, the concept that I would be spending 10 weeks at Titagya School was too surreal for me to conceive of fully, and I had the feeling that the reality would not hit me until I set foot in Ghana.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Arrived in Ghana

I just arrived in Ghana for a month-long trip. It was great to touch down at the airport, and Ghana has come to feel like a third home, after the US and parts of Mexico. My first day included stopping by BusyInternet, an internet cafe, to let family know I arrived safely, exhanging money, finalizing logistics with Fatawu about travelling to Dalun on Sunday, meeting a potential donor, seeing a friend, and having one of my favorite dinners: mushroom and spicy pepper stew with Star beer.

On Sunday I'll be travelling North with Yaw, a member of our Board of Advisors. I've been eagerly awaiting this month and look forward to sitting in on classes at our school, working with our staff, interns, and advisors to enhance our curriculum, meeting with government officials about our partnership and its vision for early education and interactive education, visiting potential sites for future schools, and helping to establish fundraising operations in Ghana. It will be a busy month, but one of the good things about finite visits is that they add an extra sense of urgency for staff to work effectively and quickly to get a lot of things done by the end.

Much more to come soon, including posts about our interns' work and experiences within the next week.