So before I get into the emotions allow me to just give you a run through of the events and occasions that took place during my final weeks.
Saying goodbye to people in Ghana is a long process.(At least for me it was.) I suppose it was my own fault for mentioning to people how little time I had left. Once that was said it was usually followed by the following suggestive statements: “I know that you will remember me when you go to your country.”, “What are you giving me before you leave?”, or “I must give you my address…so that you can send me money.” Kind of disappointing that that was their main interest, but I was expecting it. (I gave my number and address out to way too many people.)
During my final weeks I did my best to visit all my closest friends and prepare them for my departure since on the last few days nothing is done properly. So I visited with John, Tony, Peter and his family, Philomena, Milicent, Richard, the expatriate workers, some of the Sisters of the Holy Cross from the area, and my friends from the local restaurant/bar that I go to.
It is hard for me to describe for you how it felt during those final weeks. Sometimes I was in denial of the fact that I was leaving. Sometimes I was really excited to get back to the States. Sometimes I felt like I find a way to stay longer. Feeling like a failure. Feeling proud of what I did….I think you get the picture.
The hardest thing for me to do was to say goodbye to my students. Although I didn’t get to say proper goodbyes to all of them I did get to give them a kind of farewell speech that I somehow made it through with dry eyes. I told them to remember what I taught them. I told them to be strong when hard times come and to have the courage to always do what is right and true. Keeping it short was a must since we were all crammed into the boiling hot electrical workshop so before I knew it I was giving them all awkward hugs goodbye and watching them walk out of the school for the last time.
Br. Daniel gave me the last week off of teaching before I was to catch my flight. I had planned to use the time to rest, relax, catch up on my writing, and discover new insights through prayer and meditation. Naturally, I didn’t do any of that and rather just got myself pulled around all over the place by people who just couldn’t say goodbye. I suppose I couldn’t either. ;)
On the weekend before I was to leave the Brothers held a going away party for me at our house in Butumagyebu. Most of the Brothers came except for some who were away in Kumasi and those who were stuck in Sunyani. Also in attendance were most of the teachers from the Skills Centre and some of my friends from Takoradi, Sekondi, and Kojokrom.
It was a great party with tons of food and drink and lots of laughter. At the very end it was my turn to get up and give my farewell speech. I didn’t want to take too long so I kept it short. I thanked everyone for being so kind to me and for being so patient with me when times were tough. I told them that this was definitely the most challenging thing that I have ever done. I explained that it was the most complex task that I have ever undertaken and that it was only a success because of how we all made it work.
I talked about how it seems like some of the strongest things have been forged by fire and this first year of the Holy Cross Service Corps has certainly been like that. When I think about all of the effort, the emotion, all of the successes and failures, the lessons learned, the pain…just putting it all together to make up one year of the HCSC. I explained that I truly believe that the continuation and improvement of this program will only result in positive change for the District of West Africa and Holy Cross College.
It was a wonderful experience full of adventure and challenges. My experience has come to an end now, but my work has not. It is now time to build the program and give it a solid structure so that our future volunteers can accomplish more each year. My experience has to be shared so as to inspire others, to help them understand that they can make a difference in the world. They can be a part of the solution. We will move forwards in developing the Holy Cross Service Corps and it will be successful.
At this point I would like to thank all of you who read and contributed to this blog. Your comments meant a great deal to me during some of the hard times. For those of you who are students I hope that you will pursue your interest in the Holy Cross Service Corps.
In August I will being working at Holy Cross College as the Assistant Director of the Moreau Center for International Programs. Mainly, I will work on developing the Holy Cross Service Corps as well as assisting in the coordination of our International Experience Programs.
If anyone has any specific questions that you would like to ask about my experience in Ghana or how you can have your own international service experience feel free to ask through this blog.
Thank you very much! Maydasi paaaaaaaaaa!
Inaugural HCSC Volunteer
Now I am nearing the time of my departure from Ghana. Nearing the end of the most challenging experience of my life. It is going to take many attempts for me to be able to effectively synthesize and dissect this past year, but I think I am going to enjoy every moment of that. I can hardly believe how quickly the time has passed by. (Well, actually I can, but we must respect the formalities.)
Looking back on this experience from where I am now one thing is quite apparent if it were not for the spiritual growth that I underwent in the first three months I don’t believe that I would have had the strength to complete. But that is the whole thing!
My spiritual development in Ghana came from reading great spiritual works from Merton, Chardin, and St. John of the Cross. It came from learning to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the morning, evening, and at night. It came from going to Mass every day and becoming dependent on the Eucharist. It came from developing a longing for prayer. These things could have happened anywhere at any time, but they happened here.
If I were in the US right now doing some other kind of work would I have read those books? Would I be going to Mass everyday let alone once a week? Would I be committed to my personal prayer life? Would I have the mental and spiritual strength to love others when I am hurting inside? Would I have the ability to even be honest with myself about the times that I fail to serve selflessly?
My preparation for this experience was about 26 days in Ghana over the course of two international experiences while I was a student at Holy Cross College. Both of those experiences were with groups of 26 and 10, but this time I was going to be in Ghana for a year virtually on my own. Besides my own personal reading and research I had nothing else. (But that never really bothered me.) I was not required to pray with the community nor was I assigned books to read and discuss with any spiritual director.
I was inspired to do it. I chose to do it.
I reflected long and hard on themes of seeing Christ in the face of the poor and the ignorant, being aware of the presence of God everywhere I was, being aware of God as the ultimate source around which all life revolves, and internalizing the idea that “there is no greater proof of love than laying down your life for your friends.” Another of the most important things that I often reminded myself was that God’s graces are always there for us; but it is up to us to accept them.
From all if this newfound insight I was able to discover a strength within myself to endure whatever struggle or trial that would come to me. I accepted that I could not do it by myself and that is how I overcame them.
Also, if it were not for reading the psalms on a daily basis I would still find myself a slave to a host of vices, mainly the power of my ego. I had a hard time in the beginning of my experience accepting my ministry. Constantly looking for a way to involve myself in something else that seemed “bigger and better” than teaching high school age boys English and Religious and Moral Education I was blind to the fact that it was my ego, my selfish desire to serve others on my own conditional terms, that was causing me such torment. In the beginning, I used to dread going to school and facing my students.
It wasn’t until I realized that it was my own ego that was causing me these problems that I was able to fix the problem. It got to a point where I was even considering requesting for another ministry to participate in or the unthinkable, give up entirely. I was able to recognize my selfish ways and correct them. I don’t think that is something I have done many times before. It was an action that saved this experience. Of course, as I said back in December, even during the worst times when I was considering giving up I knew that I couldn’t.
The past couple months, the “home stretch” if you will, has been equally difficult, but for a host of different reasons. So much of what I have struggled with has been due to the great need that exists here in Ghana. I am still just beginning to comprehend the magnitude of the different global and humanitarian issues that need to be addressed in the developing world and in Ghana. As I begin to better understand them I feel helpless when so many come to me in need. That is something that will never go away. While recognizing that you cannot help everyone you still cannot help but feel frustrated when you do not have the resources at your disposal to more actively deal with these problems.
How has it affected me? I feel burned out. I feel helpless. I feel like I have done nothing. Has that affected the way I interact with Ghanaians? Somewhat. But if it were not for my new spiritual strength I wouldn’t even be dealing with this. I would be back in the States…probably feeling lost. If it were not for what happened all those months ago I wouldn’t have the vigor to keep going, to still smile, to listen, to give freely, or to tolerate the incessant catcalls of all the villagers just to visit a friend’s home(ha ha). Although at times I feel a bit numb, cynical, or hardened I am fully committed to this work.
It has all been "nyame adom"...by God's grace. Before I was inspired to pray with the community or read those books I don't think I was ready to deal with what I have. There is a good chance that I would give up. But I was inspired which tells me that I think I am on the right track.
Amos – 22 years
“At the first place, I am a young man and I am living with my parents. I schooled at St. Mary’s Boys Senior Secondary School in the Western Region when I was 18 years old.”
“When I was in school, I had an argument with my teachers in school. Having finished not knowing that the teachers had seen us. So they called us and we pretended as if we had not done anything wrong. We tried to defend ourselves but they still sacked us from the school. When I came back home I decided that I would not go back to school again.”
Amos got himself involved in some other bad activities. While he was at St. Mary’s school he became a habitual marijuana smoker. He also told me that he drank alcohol regularly during his first and second years of school.
It was what Amos did after he was sacked from school that really grabbed my attention. Instead of trying to find a way to get back into school or even go somewhere else he decided that he would leave Ghana behind.
In our conversations he would tell me how much he loves Ghana, but then when we talks about Europe or the States he dismisses everything that he previously said.
So one day, after much planning and exchanging of money, Amos jumped ship just off the coast of Takoradi and was headed for Spain, or so he thought. The ship ended up stopping in Abidjan, The Ivory Coast. Luckily he was able to stay on board, but at the next stop he was not as lucky.
Amos, a few other Ghanaians, and a few Nigerians were discovered and thrown off of the ship at Monrovia, Liberia during Liberia’s civil war. Amos spent a few days hiding in the bush before he could get back on another ship. He didn’t want to talk much about his experience there, but he just said that people were dying all around him. He didn’t know how he had survived. He told me that he didn’t sleep for the entire time that he was there.
After his miraculous escape from Liberia Amos finally made it to Spain. He was in Madrid for three days before he was caught by immigration and deported. He told me how depressed he was when he had to return to Ghana. He said, “I no go back to that ****** poor country man!”
“The reasons why I would like to go to Spain and leave Ghana is that staying in Ghana is not easy. You will struggle before you prosper or gain what you want. I know that all human beings struggle before he/she will prosper but staying in Ghana to get something is not easy… In the future I want to be a surveyor to help mother Ghana and also my family.”
About three or four weeks after I met Amos he quit his job at the bar/restaurant. Amos refused to do something that his supervisor asked him to do and then he walked out. At his job he was being paid 60 Ghana Cedis a month and was also put on the National Health Insurance Plan. Many young Ghanaians would do anything for a job like that.
It has been about a month and a half since I have seen or hear from Amos.
Last week one of the other workers at the place gave a me a sheet of paper and said it was from Amos. It was his reflections on some of the things that we talked about, but he left no phone number to call.
Anyway, let me tell you about my Holy Week and Easter. We decided as a house that we would attend all of the masses and services during Holy Week at St. Peter’s Regional Seminary in Pedu, Cape Coast. I had heard of the place many times, but I had never actually seen the place.(For the group that came here last July-August the Seminary was right down the road from the Church that you attended for the Fante Mass.)
So we traveled out to Cape Coast on Thursday afternoon for the 8pm Mass at the Regional Seminary. When we arrived on the campus it was dark and you could see all these seminarians walking around in quiet contemplation. I remarked to Fr. Bob that they looked like ghosts floating around in the night wearing their white cassocks.
It was a beautiful night with a nice breeze blowing every now and then. The moon was full and the stars were out in their numbers. We took our seats in the back of the chapel since the rest of the seat were going to be full of seminarians. I found out that the Seminary currently has about 277 seminarians. I think Moreau Seminary at Notre Dame has about 25.
So eventually the place was full of the young seminarians and in the back five rows were all of the visitors and Roman Sisters. I leaned over to tell Jude, one of the young men in the pre-novitiate for the Brothers, that is was pretty inspiring being around all of these pious men.
Well, I think that was the reasoning behind going to the seminary for Holy Week. The liturgy was flawless and traditional. The singing was superb. The experience was wonderful.
I do not have many memories of going to stations of the cross or veneration of the cross on Good Friday, but the memories I made form this past Good Friday will be very important ones for my future.
Some people out here call Good Friday crying day. It was definitely an emotional day for me. I kept thinking throughout the stations if I would be one of the people who condemned Jesus after welcoming him joyously into Jerusalem. Would I have had the courage to cry out against the murder of an innocent man? These kind of questions ran through my head all day long. It made me feel like crying since I wasn’t sure if I would have stood up for Jesus. He gave his life freely for me and for all…how have I said thank you?
I kept thinking about that subject for the next couple days. I began to apply it to my life and my work here in Ghana. Am I doing everything I can out here? Am I standing up for those marginalized? How much am I really giving of myself? Am I seeing Christ in the poor, the afflicted, and the sick?
It was this kind of critical reflection that honestly made me feel that so much of what I do is selfish and inadequate. So on Easter Sunday I resolved to myself to change all of that. I will give even when it hurts. And when I fail in doing this I will try again and again.
I will prepare myself to risk much for the well being (spiritual and physical) of my brothers and sisters around the world.(It is funny how this all worked out.) I resolved that I am going to prepare myself for a life of selfless service.
So the following Friday the day started out rather strangely. I came out of my room at about 5:30a.m. to see a mad man running up our hill to the house. He was screaming, “I’m not crazy Teresa! Hey, white man! There is a dead body down there. Come and get the body!”
Now ever since the Damien Mental Health Clinic in Fijai shut down many of their former patients have not been receiving any medication so they have really been losing control and wandering all over the area since their families refuse to care for them. On more than one occasion they have come to our house. There isn’t much we can do for them when they come and sometimes they are so hysterical when they arrive that we just have to send them away. It’s a sad situation.
That morning at school I heard that two of our students got into a fight. One boy badly injured the other after hitting him in the face with a t-square. We took the wounded boy to the hospital and the other boy was nowhere to be found.
At around Noon that same day I heard a loud ruckus outside the school library where I was working with a student. I turned to see a few students running across the assembly area towards the canteen just outside the campus grounds. As I walked out of the room I saw about a hundred of our boys gathered around the canteen outside the campus.
I knew what it was before I got there. It was what I feared…Ewee. In the Fante language Ewee means thief. Now why does that cause me to fear? Stealing in Ghana, or in Africa, for that matter is a pretty serious crime. The thing is thieves aren’t turned over to the police, in fact, the police sometimes don’t ever hear about the incidents. When a thief is caught he faces mob justice which usually ends up with the thief being beaten, humiliated and then lynched, drowned, or burned to death. The general justification for such brutal punishment is that to steal something that someone has worked their whole lives for is like taking that person’s life; so you should be killed for doing such a thing.
Anyway, the story is this. A young man was caught trying to steal a TV. antennae in Anaji, where our school is located. The small mob stripped the man naked and beat him severely. They walked him down the road humiliating him in front of all who were present until the thief ran toward our school for some vain hope of refuge. His accusers continued to beat and insult him outside our school grounds.
When I finally got to the scene I was overcome with anger. There were my own students laughing, insulting, and encouraging the other men to beat the thief. Once of the students ran up to me laughing like a jolly fool, “Hey Bro…look look Eweeo!” I shoved him to the ground and started screaming at the tops of my lungs for the students to go inside. I don’t think they ever saw me that angry because they all scattered and ran inside. One of the teachers came out behind me and helped me to get the rest of the boys back inside.
I turned back to see the thief crying and begging for his life whilst bleeding all over. His accusers stood over him holding big sticks and shovels. They were shouting insults in the vernacular and slapping him across the face.
They wanted to kill him. I felt sick. I couldn’t stand it so I stepped up to the accusers and begged them to let him go. At first they didn’t mind me at all. Almost as if I wasn’t there, but eventually they began to move away from the thief until there was only one man left. He still stood there holding his stick threatening the thief by slamming it on the bench behind where the thief was sitting. I looked at the man and told him he was sick.
All of the students were still watching from inside the campus. I had to do something for the young man. I took off my undershirt and gave it to the poor naked criminal. We made eye contact for about one second before I turned and headed back inside the school.
As I walked back into the school all of my students with impatient tones demanded to know why I would do such a thing. “Bro why would you give that man your shirt? He is a thief.”
I was so bewildered by my mixture of rage and discouragement that I could hardly speak, but I did manage to answer their question. “Because I am a Christian.”
I don’t think they understood me.
Last week on Monday I was coming home from school with Br. Daniel when we made quite an interesting discovery. I noticed as we approached the base of the hill, aptly named Roman Hill by the villagers, that the men had come to empty the large rubbish container located off the side of the road.
It is nice that they come to take away the rubbish, but honestly they only come about once every three months and most of the rubbish is found on the ground around the container. The workers are very good at sticking to their duties: remove and empty the container. They were never told to clean up the rest of the rubbish, so they don’t. The place never looks like it is being cleaned up.
Anyway, so this one day we drive by to find the semi-empty container sitting on the road up to our house. Rubbish was scattered all over as if the workers had quit in the middle of their job. It turns out that is what happened. In the process of removing the container they managed to knock down one of the cement electrical poles on a knoll next to the dump.(I still don’t know how they managed to do it.) Instead of calling the police and notifying them of the accident the two men jumped into their truck leaving a lot of rubbish and live electrical wires on the ground.
The wires were directly connected to our house and our house only. So luckily we were the only ones effected. We had no light and our water was soon to run out since our pump was shut off. I have found myself without light a million times here, but never because of something like this. My fear, which was shared by Fr. Bob and Br. Dan, was that this is something that might not be able to be fixed for weeks or months, which would not be nice at all.
Fr. Bob acted quickly and went to visit the Electric Company of Ghana (ECG) to see what could be done. Although nothing was done the first night, we were told that if we hadn’t reported the incident right away like we did then we would have been without light for at least a few weeks.(Not really sure why, but you don’t give these people attitude.) So we had no light that night.
The next day I had a great story to tell people at school, but I was worried about the situation. On this day Fr. Bob went back to ECG in his habit to visit one of the big bosses, who is a Catholic, to convince him to fix our pole and give us light. Well, by about 5p.m. we had light again and for a low price, too!
Unfortunately for the two workers who caused all this trouble our gardener, who was taking a “break” from work, witnessed the whole event. It turns out he knows the two workers and where they live. So pretty soon they can be sure that a few of Ghana’s men in blue will show up at their house.
About four months ago we lost our Broadband internet connection and telephone service, which is provided by Ghana Telecom. After making some inquiries as to what the problem was we discovered that it was a theft. A theft? Yes, a theft. Some individuals, not far from our village, dug up and cut the cable in one spot and walked about 20+ meters another direction and did the same. They hooked the cable up to their vehicle and pulled all of it out of the ground. Why? Simply because they want to sell the copper inside the cable.
It took Ghana Telecom a little over three weeks to replace the cable and restore the internet and phone service to our area.
So about a month and a half ago this whole scenario happened again, but this time it was replaced very quickly by Ghana Telecom. In less than two weeks they restored everything.
Two weeks after they replaced the cable was stolen out of the ground again in the exact same spot. We were without internet and telephone service for about three weeks. Just the other day did we get everything restored.
I think I said in a previous blog that many of my students here could benefit from some professional counseling and that even though none of us are trained professionals we try our best. You have to understand how difficult this is.
One of my first year students, Philip, isn’t exactly a great student. He talks during class. He is always late. He often doesn’t come to school at all or leaves during lunchtime for reasons unknown to me. He is a handsome young guy and he always tries to look fresh, even in a school uniform. You can see the fairly short boy walking around always wearing his “tough-guy” expression on his face.(He can never wear it for too long when I come around though.) He tries to be the guy who isn’t affected by anything...the whole macho man, men can’t cry kind of guy.
His English is horrific. He can understand very little of what I say to him so I have had to write down my comments or questions on paper for him to read and respond to when we have one on one discussions. At first I was irritated by him and his behavior. I would always call him a punk, of course no one besides myself understood the word. After a while I saw that he was really trying to change his attitude. He was putting effort into his work and was paying attention in class. I would call on him often and he really tried to participate; but, he was still late for class.
The past two weeks however, he came to very few classes and the ones that he was present at he was as silent as silent could be. In the middle of last week I approached him to see what was wrong.
With tears welling in his eyes he said, “Bro..my mother…dead….”
That is what he told me. So what do you tell a poor Ghanaian boy who lives with his Grandmother, whose father is working and living in Cape Coast, and whose Mother has died. What can you do to help the boy who barely understands your language? How do you comfort a young boy who, with the grief of losing his mother on his heart, has to walk five miles to school with an empty stomach day after day?
I talked to him and told him not to feel sad because his mother is in heaven. I told him not to think about his loss, but rather about what his Mother has gained. I said and wrote a lot of things hoping that something could help him. I listened, even though he could not express himself. I tried my best. Imagine someone giving you an opportunity to talk about something that is causing you great pain, an opportunity that doesn’t come up too often for people out here, and you cannot express how you feel.
I just wanted to tell him that it is ok to cry.
This is just one story...
My exam results came and I was amongst the first five students who did well in my school! All the schools that I chose selected me but there was no money for me to continue my schooling. I was sad because since those who did not do as well as I did started school and I was staying in the house thinking of what I could do to become an electrical engineer – since that is what I decided I want to be as my profession in life. My father tried all the means but to no avail, he decided to take me to a friend of his as a apprentice to learn a trade as an electrician. I went and the saddest part was that my father was told to pay an amount of 20 Ghana Cedis (about $20) for me to start but he could not provide that money. My master had pity on me in the beginning but sacked me on several occasions and commanded me to do a lot of extra work like washing his clothes, including his wife and children’s clothes. I would also have to walk everyday from my community to wash his car at 5am. I would sometimes walk from my place to Takoradi with no food in my stomach and in the evening too. I completed the apprenticeship and served for another two years making it five years total. (The additional two years were because we could not pay the money in the beginning.)But eventually my Father paid the money and I was given a certificate and now I am a master. Interestingly, I never thought of people suffering in this world and never thought of what I can do to help those people who were suffering.
When I completed I decided to go to a Training Centre to learn more about electricals. Now this is when life became very difficult since my father totally lost his job. I had to walk from the house to school(about 5 miles) with no food to eat, but I was determined to achieve my goal and succeed in school. I had no money to pay my school fees or my registration fees. Several times I was sacked from school but I returned secretly to sit in the classroom and study. When I was about to finish my schooling things started to get worse. My father became very sick and was forced to sell all of the things he had worked for over the years, but to no avail. Since I was the oldest among my sisters I decided to get a job to help my father to get well. I got a job in my Auntie’s shop and she was paying me 50 pesewas a day. (about 50 cents) After work instead of using this small money for food and transport costs I would go and buy corn dough from the market for my family to eat because since the morning time they had had nothing to eat. Due to this my sister who was in her second year had to stop schooling and stay in the house to take care of my father. I went on working like this for some time until one day I came home to find my father dead on the 6th of July 2006. I was very disturbed since we didn’t have enough money to bury my father. But God was good to us and through the help of my father’s friends we were able to provide him with a perfect burial. During the funeral many people gave our family money so that we might not suffer, but my Auntie took and spoiled all of it. I was furious with her because when my father was sick my mother went to her for help and she gave us nothing.
From that time on I started to experience what life is. Life has not been easy at all and I am really struggling to take care of my mother and two sisters. I sometimes sit down and ask myself if I was born to suffer. I decided that I would stow away on a ship to anywhere and if I died I died and if I survived I survived.
Fortunately, I ended up getting a job at the school I attended where I make 30 Ghana cedis a month. (about 30 dollars a month) It isn’t enough to survive but by getting other small jobs I am able to provide for my mother and sisters, both of whom are schooling. Even though life is difficult, I know that my redeemer lives and with God all things are possible to those who believe in Him. Though this life is difficult I have finally realized that there are many people who are facing problems which are more difficult than mine, and now I try to spend my time thinking of how I can help those people…I know a time will come when I will be able to help those people.
What I love about Ghana is the natural beauty of the place and the peace that exists between all its people.
Some of the things of which I don’t like about being a Ghanaian are that a lot of people have money mainly politicians, so called religious men, and well to do business people who have the means to help those who are in need, those who are helpless and they do nothing. Sometimes when these helpless people show up at their door they throw them away and humiliate them.
I have always wanted dreamed of becoming a God fearing man and secondly to continue my education and achieve my aim of becoming an electrical engineer and thirdly to help those who are in need, the helpless in my society.
The major obstacles in my way is the fear that I will not be able to achieve my ambitions since I don’t have the money and this is the main problem I am facing now. And I will take this opportunity to ask you something. Please, my friend I need an amount of 5 million cedis, about 500 dollars to further my education at Takoradi Polytechnic. I will need this money by around August-September this year, so please if you can help me or if you know of someone who can help me to achieve my aim I will be forever grateful. If through your help I am able to get to Polytechnic I will never look down upon anyone who needs help, and I know that God will bless you abundantly.
If I could teach the people of America one thing in life it would be not to look down upon the poor people of Africa and thinking that they are worthless. Because people think that when you are poor you are nothing, you are of no use whether old or young, and nothing good can come from you. When I experience this I can’t stand it because I think something good can come from anyone if somebody is ready and willing to help those people.
And I believe that help is giving to the poor is not wasted because the Bible says “if someone gives something to the poor that person has given it to God and He will pay that person more than what he gave in kind.” So we must do all we can to help these people.
Of course it was pretty darn funny that I found the weather so cold when it never really got colder than an average Fall day in the Mid-West. I realized how good it is that I will be returning to the U.S. during the summer. I think I would die if I came back in the winter, or just get sick immediately.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to the dry season. Yep, you guessed it! It is unbelievably dry. Because the winds bring with them tons and tons of dust from the dunes of the Sahara desert. This dust blows over all of West Africa and even reaches over the ocean to parts of South America. The dust gets everywhere. You can wipe your window clean and five minutes later there will be a brand new layer of dust there. When you drive around town you can’t believe the condition of some of the cars, the ones that are out of commission. They look as if they have been just recently exhumed.
Everybody suffers from colds during the dry season. You will see people using all sorts of products to keep their nasal passages moist, but most of the time it is all in vain. Everything just dries out and you end up with bloody noses and cracked lips. It can be a dreadful ordeal depending on where you live. The further north you go in Ghana the worse it will get. On days when the Hamattan was heavy all the way down here in the Western Region I could only imagine how the people suffered up in the Northern Region as well as the Upper Eastern and Upper Western Regions.
All the while during this wretched weather school was going on and things were going well in the classroom. It is so funny how in the beginning I never thought I would learn all the names of the students, but now I know so many, more than some of the other teachers I believe. Of course, it took time. Because of the new reform I am spending much more time with the first years. Instead of having English once a week we now have it three times a week. On Mondays we do reading and spelling work, on Wednesdays we do grammar, and on Fridays we do reading comprehension and essay writing. I am pleased with their performances, but it will take an act of God to get all of the assignments in on time.
The problem is so many of the students miss at least one day of school a week. Some miss whole weeks of school without notifying anyone. We have no idea why they miss school sometimes and when I ask I assume they are telling the truth. Sometimes they have to leave and work for a while so they can pay for school or so they can help out their family. Sometimes they just don’t feel like coming to school. Most times they are sick. It is quite a slap in the face when you realize how difficult it is to learn when you are sick so often. But we use the time we have together as best as we can….I think they enjoy themselves.
I did a couple of small projects earlier this term. I brought a world map from home and I purchased a Ghana map, a West Africa map, and an Africa map to put up in the Library/Staff Room. With the help of a couple of the Carpentry teachers, Br. Mathew Sabogu and Mr. Paul Damoah, we were able to make the inexpensive maps look quite nice in some glass enclosed frames. (I wanted to make sure that they last through a few Hamattan seasons.) I try to make use of the maps in my classes as much as possible. The boys really love looking at those maps and gaining a more accurate picture of how the world is arranged.
My other project was to refurbish the small library that we have for our students. It is made up of fiction books that I read during high school. From what I understand they were all donated by Br. Tom Dillman. We also have a rather large selection of reference books including a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica. Unfortunately, the reference books are all dated and are not in the best of shape…but it’s something. So after reorganizing the library at Skills I began distributing books to all of my different English students in Forms one, two, and three. Some might think I am crazy to give these boys the books since they aren’t famous for their responsible behavior, but it’s better than letting them just sit there to collect dust.
I think that the boys have become quite used to my style of teaching. They ask questions freely now, which is great, whereas before they we just sit in silence and say “YES BRO” “NO BRO”
I have never been interested in discipline, but sometimes I have no choice. Mainly I have resorted to corporal punishment and made the boys do push-ups like crazy. Other times I just throw them out of class and tell them that if they want to come back they need to write me a letter explaining why they think they should be allowed in back in the classroom. One time I threw a kid out and gave him those directions. He looked at me with his puppy dog face and begged me to let him stay, but I sent him out.(He deserved it don’t worry.) Anyway, I wondered where he went to so I walked outside the classroom and he was nowhere to be found. I walked past the next classroom down and there he was sitting in the empty classroom writing his letter furiously. It was a great feeling.
These boys can definitely be troublesome, but one needs to realize that they do need extra attention. Many of them could really benefit from some professional counseling(true of us all) and although none of us are licensed counselors we try our best to help these boys who are underdogs in every sense of the word.
It is almost March now and the weather is HOT! We haven’t had any rain for about three months save for a couple showers here and there.(When I say a couple I really mean it.) Time is flying and I have become immersed in the life here it is sometimes hard to imagine what it was like back in the U.S. I try not to spend too much time thinking about that now; there is still quite a bit of work to do here. Quite a bit.
Thanks for reading.
So what was the big problem? Basically, the government attempting to control Catholic educational institutions. Catholic institutions around the world have all experienced the pressure from education ministries or government agencies at one point or another. So at one point or another all Catholic educational institutions have to stand up and say, “We are Catholic!”
At the Holy Cross Skills Training Centre, we teach a class called Religious and Moral Education(RME). Although, it is taught from a Christian perspective the class strives to explain the concepts of religion and morality in an objective way. As a Catholic institution we hold this class in high regard and stress the importance to our students on a daily basis. However, when the brand new and improved reform came out the RME class wasn’t anywhere to be found. What was there, however, were two new classes: Entrepreneurial skills and Information and Computer Technology. I found it quite interesting that all schools would be required to follow this reform even though they were given only 3 months notice and no financial assistance for the changeover.
Furthermore, since the new reform takes effect in January, and only for the First Year students, schools will be forced to be open all year round, not to mention they will have to function with two different class schedules. In fact, the oversights and issues created by this new reform have really showed me how detached the Ghana Education Service is from the actual condition of educational institutions in Ghana. Schools are overcrowded and understaffed. Schools don’t have the funds to obtain the technology needed to teach the ICT classes. Not to mention the fact that proper syllabi have not been made available in a great quantity or in a timely manner.
There was also a big row over GES appointing non-Catholic, and even non-Christian, headmasters at Catholic Schools. There have been many complaints from teachers that these headmasters are eradicating the Catholic identity of the schools. I wish I could give you a more detailed report about this issue, but this is all that I have for you right now.
Amidst all this conflict and confusion I will applaud the efforts of GES to reform Technical and Vocational schools. The greater emphasis on English, Math, Science, Entrepreneurial Skills, and Information and Communication Technology is an obvious effort to create a more holistic education for our technical students. I truly believe that this liberalization of technical education will create many opportunities in the lives of these young men. However, none of this will be able to happen unless technical and vocational institutions are able to equip themselves properly for this new reform. Meaning that all teachers need to take time to think about where this new reform will be taking students, all schools will somehow have to find funds to purchase computers and internet connection. Also, this kind of material might be over the heads of many young technical students some of whom can barely read, write, or speak English. In order for the reform to succeed schools are going to need to be staffed with highly devoted teachers who consider teaching their vocation not just a way to pay the bills.
We at the Skills Centre solved the RME problem quite easily. We just added it to the new reform. However, other schools have discontinued it entirely just because the “big” GES people removed it. GES also went as far as to say that Religion and Morals should only be taught in the home and in Church and that morality and religion are in no way academic subjects! WHAT?!
It is quite easy to see that there is a wide gap between what GES perceives the situation of technical and vocational education to be and what the reality of it is. Either that or they just don’t care. In the meantime, teachers and schools do the very best they can to provide students with the skills and knowledge to achieve something positive while education ministers drive around in luxury cars, paid for by the government, and sit in air conditioned offices.
It is important that you should remember that wonderful things happen in classrooms all over Ghana everyday! Good things are happening, however, improvements must be made.
(The opinions expressed in this article in no way reflect that of the Congregation of Holy Cross nor the Holy Cross Skills Training Centre.)
The excitement has been mounting for many months, however, it seems that all the preparation was in the last minute. You could see the main roads improving during the last year and of course the construction of the incredible new stadiums were finished on time, or close to on time, but as for the thousands of streetlights put up, all of the clean-up crews picking up rubbish all day long, and the new paint jobs on all the moldy buildings those were all done one month or less before the tournament began. In fact they were still putting in streetlights a few days after the tournament began.
It is quite obvious that this major cleanup process which spans most of the country, since there are stadiums in Accra, Sekondi, Kumasi, and Tamale, was only done to impress the Cup of Nations visitors. The money was always there to clean up the country, or at least parts of it, it just wasn’t being done. Interesting eh? Even more interesting to see which improvements are sustained.
Anyway, for a long time I was the one always saying how ridiculous it was for Ghana to be hosting this tournament, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on football when there is still a significant number of people dying every year from easily treatable diseases. Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on football while children are crammed into public school classrooms 2 to a seat. Spending millions of dollars on football and boasting of Ghana becoming a middle income country when there are still significant numbers of Ghanaians who are illiterate or are just struggling to survive because of so few options when it comes to social assistance.
the opening ceremony and the performance of the Black Stars thus far (3-0) has been really exciting. It really has been refreshing to have all the visitors around from all corners of Africa here with us. Many times during the tournament I have found myself feeling quite proud to be in Ghana at this time. It is a wonderful feeling to watch Ghana in the limelight. The place that will always have a special place in my heart. The place that has helped to shape me into the person I am is getting some attention from the world in a big way. It is a wonderful feeling when you see everyone gathered around a small television set at a kiosk watching the Black Stars or when you hear the villages singing all through the night after a big victory. This tournament is an excellent opportunity for Ghana to become more proud of herself. It is an excellent opportunity for Ghanaians to realize their potential and what they can offer the world.I am sure some of you would say that what I have shared is oversimplified, perhaps. Which perspective do you identify with?
So instead of participating in a Mass that would last about 4 hours I decided to sit on the rooftop of the District Centre, drink a few Star beers, and lose myself completely in memories from 2007. Ha-ha Wow, it wasn’t exactly the best New Year’s Eve ever, but it will be one that I will never forget.
At the stroke of midnight I screamed HAPPY NEW YEAR! (I am pretty sure that I woke up a lot of the reverend sisters that were sleeping at ICF.) And for some reason I started feeling a whole lot better about everything! Another year to do good things, another year full of ups and downs, another year of life! For the rest of the night you could hear the joyful music from all the different Churches. Small fireworks sounded throughout the villages.
So on that wonderful note I began 2008.