Monday, August 30, 2010

Initial Impressions of Dalun and of Titagya-Dalun School

The next morning, I began the first official day of my internship. On my way to the school, I started my first walking tour of Dalun, and I met many more residents, some of whom I learned were parents of Titagya students. Those who I encountered frequently struck conversation with me and even invited me inside their homes! Considering that I was still a stranger to everyone there, I was surprised by the humbleness of the environment here in Dalun. The most enthusiastic residents were the children who ran up to me and Alison and shout “deseba!,” or “good morning!” in Dagbani, one of the most widely spoken languages in the Northern Region. Perhaps, coming from a large metropolis where people rarely acknowledge each other’s presence had made living in a remote and homely Ghanaian village seem completely relaxing and secure to me. From that point on, my initial homesickness quickly turned into an affinity for the local culture.

When I finally arrived at the school after navigating my way through a maze of houses, I had made many new acquaintances in a society totally unfamiliar to me. During the morning hours, I learned more about the school’s operations, observed classes during the first and second period, and had an opportunity to meet my other colleagues. The school’s daily schedule consists of two major one hour periods from 8 to 9 am and from 10:30 to 11:30 am with built in rest and playing time included in the scheduled breaks (the times in between periods and from 11:30 to noon). Friday, however, as an extended day of prayer for Titagya’s Muslim students, stands as an exception, and as a result the school grants the students more playtime than on other days.

The school building has two main classrooms, fairly large in size, which hold the two age groups of students: one for younger students (ages 3-4) and another for older students (ages 5-6). Titagya employs two fulltime teachers, Madame Baraka and Abdul-Azeez, and allows Alhassan, a professional teacher who trained at a teaching university in Tamale, to volunteer with the older students. In the younger class, Madame Baraka teaches the English alphabet and beginning English language skills to her students (many children here speak Dagbani as their mother tongue) by using mnemonic devices and educational workbooks. In the adjacent room, the older students sit at their desks in a semi-circle around Alhassan or Abdul-Azeez for their first period Mathematics class. Although the teachers create modules that include topics from various subjects, the main curriculum centers on giving children a firm footing in Mathematics, Informational Computer Technology, and English speaking/grammar skills. One of the major strengths of the curriculum is that it allows kids to enjoy the process of learning by offering a more interactive and participatory classroom environment. Additionally, Titagya believes that rigid teaching styles are counter-productive to the students’ real needs, because such styles do not target the correct methods to stimulate enthusiasm and motivation. Some of the effective styles in practice at Titagya-Dalun School mirrored those I saw at the Gateway School (a Special-Ed school for gifted students where I interned at as a high-school senior).

From my own observations, I was impressed to see how much the teachers and students had achieved in the nine months since the school’s inception. A sizeable number of the students in the younger class could understand spoken instructions and recite poems and songs in English! A handful of students in the older class could read and write English words, and a few of the more precocious students in the group could even understand multiplication and long division! Stay tuned to hear more about my daily experiences as an intern and to learn more about my responsibilities this summer!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Arriving in Ghana and the Journey North to Dalun

Instead of feeling anxious about travelling to Ghana, a place where I had little familiarity, oddly I remember envisioning Ghana as a new home, one where I would be staying with a long-time family friend in Accra, and one where I would meet my new family (all of my colleagues) for the next ten weeks. For the few days before I headed off to the North, I spent the time touring the Greater Accra Region and Cape Coast with a family friend and gaining a better sense of the Ghana's culture and customs.

Although everything seemes flawless in this first trip, things quickly took a nasty turn when I experienced a severe case of food poisoning. A rough night and subsequent trip to the hospital might send many travellers searching for the earliest flight home. However, the excitement of plunging into my project in northern Ghana helped me remain optimisitic during this event. At that point, the only agenda on my mind was getting to Dalun, which was not a short or simple journey.

When the day came to begin my intership, I drove with my family friend to the STC bus station in Accra. Once I arrived at my destination, I stood on the bus platform among a crush of passengers preparing to board. When the bus finally pulled in, everyone including myself rushed toward the porter near the entrance of the vehicle's main door. As soon as it became my turn, the porter checked my ticket and then crammed my large suitcase into the bottom compartment of the bus next to a cage of chickens and a stack of other tightly packed bags. While I stood gazing in amazement for a few seconds, it quickly dawned on me that it was inappropriate to stare at this uniquely Ghanaian but humerous sight (something that I forgotten to do in the heat of the moment). Although this event is different from anything I have seen in the U.S., I instead viewed it as a way to acquaint myself with the culture and to prepare myself for what I would observe during the next two months. Shortly after, I decided to walk away from the scene and then board the bus to take my assigned seat. Bracing for a 12 hour trip to Dalun, a village located roughly 650 kilometers north of Accra, I looked out the window and took in the scenery as the bus left the station.

Later that evening, when I finally arrived in Tamale, the first leg of my journey, I stepped off the bus to see both Fatawu, my Managing Director, and Habib, my Project Manager eagerly waiting for me beside a nearby car. With ominous rain clouds hovering above, I hurried into the car and rode to Dalun before the sky had unleashed a torrential downpour upon us. Stay tuned for information about my initial experiences in Dalun and my first day interning at the school!