As many of my friends wrap up their summer adventures and begin a new year expanding the minds of university students, I am gearing up to dig in and begin some of my initial Peace Corps Ghana projects. I have spent three months getting acclimated to town. I feel pretty good these days about taking care of myself in this foreign land. Having Michael here was fantastic, but I’m ready to get to work.
This week has been very busy. It began at site, with a visit from an NGO’s literacy representative coming to train us to begin their English literacy program for adults. Last week was busy signing students up for this course (we signed up around 92 adults who are interested in learning to read and understand English better). This week we trained the teachers and assessed the adults who wish to attend classes. The NGO, EngageNow Africa, is providing us with books and curriculum for the program and we are hoping to graduate our first crop of students in six months. I was a bit disappointed when only 24 possible students came to our official registration meeting, but we are hopeful that many more will come this coming week. Of the 24 that came, about 75% of them could recognize 10 letters or fewer in the assessment test. A handful more could recognize most of the letters and read a few two and three letter words. Only two could read four and five letter words and they had little comprehension of what they could sound out. This literacy project is really exciting to me. The ability to read, even at a basic level, can really open doors for some of our students; many of whom are small business owners already. The ability to read and write is something many of us take for granted, but those skills cannot be assumed here, where many people don’t even complete junior high school. Think about it, being able to read allows people to know their medication dosage when combatting malaria, gives the opportunity to figure out your profit margin (or if you have one) on the products you sell, allows you to read the scriptures to decide for yourself what you believe in your chosen religion, and so much more. For me, here in Africa, I have more free time than I have in years, so my ability to read allows me to transport myself into various worlds, learn how others view and cope with their lives, learn new things, or just escape into the fantasies of others. I can’t imagine life without the gift of literacy.
On a related note, I have secured a pallet of books for the town and plan to begin their first library. I’m especially looking forward to starting a reading program for the little kids (to inspire their thirst for knowledge at an early age) and hopefully a reading club for some of the older kids. Education is essential in order for a country to develop and inspiring kids to want to learn does not come naturally here in Ghana. Since few parents can read, there is the obvious consequence that few children are read to. In the schools education is primarily rote memorization (repeat after me until you’re blue in the face) and thinking/digesting/analyzing skills are not a part of their schooling. This is a HUGE problem here, and not one that I can conquer in such a short time (I’m only here 2 years after all), but one that I can chip away at. One where I can help plant seeds of change… We’ll see.
My week continued with a trip to Kumasi (a big city about 5 hours from my town) for a training workshop. About 16 PCVs,with 2 Ghanaian counterparts each, got together to learn a program called Grassroots Soccer. It uses the medium of soccer to teach kids about HIV, both in terms of safe practices and to reduce the stigmatization of PLHIVs (people living with HIV). It was a great, enthusiastic training and a good solid platform for educating the youth. We hope to pilot programs in the 4 JHSs in town when students start back to school in a few weeks.
Finally, I have returned home and we registered another 30 students for the literacy course. We have a mandate to register another 50, but we were able to begin the basic classes already with those who have signed up. It was exciting to watch 50 enthusiastic adults sit in a classroom and repeat after the teacher: “a is for apple.” Wow! This adventure is exciting to be a part of and the possibilities are endless! Unlocking the door to reading opens up worlds…