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The Things I Do

I do a variety of things that I don’t often write about here.  Here’s a quick overview of little stuff from February to now!Image

I helped Peace Corps start a relationship with with Salvation Army School for the Deaf.  Hopefully they will place a volunteer there soon!

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I made bracelets with my girls club to help them track their menstrual cycles.  Each color represents a different phase in the cycle!

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I talked with students about America

(that’s what Abby is signing…)Image

I started teaching art the visually impaired students.  This first lesson was recycled cardboard musical shakers.

(the desks are labeled for inventory, not to label the kids!!)

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I taught kids (including Richard here) to make coin purses using recycled materials

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I hosted an awesome taco party!

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The girls of Primary 6 with the Ghanaian flags we made after a lesson on the symbolic use of color.

There was the Independence Day celebration (see previous post).Image

The deaf students made torn paper collages…

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…while the visually impaired kids made texture collages.

I made a lot of paste that week!Image

I also became the Sports Madame for the Visually Impaired!

This class we played football using a ball with a bell inside!

 

Of course, there’s TONS more. Going to the market, cooking, buying fabric, having clothes made, reading, exercising, gardening, sitting around and talking! Maybe I’ll get more pictures soon!

 

Independence Day

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Boys of primary 5 with the flags we made

March 6th was the 56th Independence Day in Ghana! To celebrate, schools all across the country cancel classes leading up to the day to train students to march in formation with military-like precision.  In Cape Coast the celebration was held at Victoria Park, an enormous, open space reserved for events such as this.  Some years ago the Cape Coast School for the Deaf marched with the other schools present but this changed.  Instead, the school’s Cultural Troupe was invited to perform for the ceremony.

The day started early with the troupe and various teachers loading into the bus for the ride into town.  We were the first school present and once there the students quickly set to work, unloading instruments from the bus, eating a quick breakfast and changing into their costumes.  Image

Boys unloading the drums from the busImage

A little time to goof off before the dancing!

By 9:00am the marching began.  There were units representing every branch of the military serving in Cape Coast, there was a full brass marching band and then there were the schools.  About 12 schools, each with more than a dozen students, were invited to march.  They were from public and private schools, religious and non-religious.  The marching lasted forever.  Following the marching the groups needed to stand at attention under the hot, hot sun!  At one point, emergency workers carried a small girl away on a stretcher, passed out from the heat.

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Standing at attention, military units in front, schools in the back

To open the ceremony, two of my students from the Unit for the Blind gave an address using the “talking drum”.  The girl, Emanuella, spoke her welcome in Fante while the boy, Elijah, drummed the responses. 

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Emanuella in her special costume for the welcome address

After the welcome address there was an opening statement from the master of ceremonies followed by the performance by my students!  They always dance so well and it’s great to see them do it for such a large audience.  I have a video of it that I will try to post later!

When the ceremony finished, the kids ate their lunch then we loaded all the drums and ourselves back onto the bus and back to our school. A most successful Independence Day!

Month 21

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Peace Corps Senegal prepared a diagram in the mid-1980’s of “Critical Periods in the Life of a PCV”. Broken down into roughly 3 month sections, it is amazingly precise despite the difference in era and locale. As of Friday, March 8th, my group passed into the 21st month in country and entered the second to last section of the diagram. My 21st through 23rd months will be defined by challenges such as “depression about perceived lack of accomplishment”, “anticipated separation”, “demanding work pace” and “acknowledgement of unmet goals”. These are accompanied by such behaviors and reactions as monument building, withdrawl into work details, panic, procrastination, frustration with self and moodiness. As it has been in all the months previous, the diagram has it perfect. There’s a nagging voice harassing me, telling me I haven’t done enough, I haven’t made enough of an impact, haven’t created enough change.  I’m realizing now that I won’t do all the things I want, even the ones that I outlined most recently.  The time is flying away at uncanny speed.  I feel like I blinked and February was gone.  All of these things I want to do, with such a finite amount of time yet I still find myself putting them off til tomorrow, or next week.  But soon, next week or tomorrow won’t be an option.  My time in Ghana will be done.

So how do I counteract all that badness, according to the all knowing diagram? Suggested interventions include vacation/ travel, review work plans and assess feasibility, plan “closing out” and follow up, consider post PC planning, create first draft of resume and a 4 mo personal calendar, give quality time to colleagues/personal friendships.  In the next three months, I will do some traveling, as part of work but also as my last vacation while here.  I’m beginning to assess feasibility of my work plans and decide where to focus my energy.  Most importantly, the next three months, I’ll be focusing on my quality time with friends and colleagues.  It is really those interactions that have meant the most to me and though I have no tangible product from my two years here, knowing that I’ll leave with the friendships I’ve made is monument enough.

The Downhill

January 8th marked my 19th month in Ghana which means, in my 27 month Peace Corps Service, I technically have 8 months to go. Except that rarely does anyone do the full 27 months.  Mine is looking more like 25 months which means I’ve got 6 months left!! Holy cow!

In the next 6 months, here are my plans. 

I will continue teaching Primary 4, 5 and 6 with the goal of expanding their personal creativity.  I will also work on teaching them about culture and encourage them to do the International Art Exchange.  They would mail off several of their works and receive work created by students all over the world!

I’m planning to do a World Map mural at the school.  There are very few World maps for them to look at and it could be an excellent teaching and learning tool.

I will continue with my Girls’ Empowerment Club.  We’ve talked a lot about HIV. I think we’ll shift our focus to puberty and then maybe a bit on nutrition and of course, empowerment!

I want to work with the HIV/AIDS club to do some school wide education.  There’s not enough being done, especially when our city community has the highest rate of HIV in the country!

I will begin working wit a girl named Rachael (pronounced Ra-hell).  She is deaf and developmentally disabled. Though she is in Primary 4 she signs very little.  It is my hope to teach her life skills like clothes washing ad sweeping so that when she finishes (or more likely, leaves/is withdrawn from) school, she will have skills that will be beneficial to her family.

I started a reading group last term, meeting with half a dozen students to read a picture book together.  I’m hoping to expand their vocabulary and improve their reading skills.

I will be helping at the National Spelling Bee in February, there’s an All Volunteer Conference in April and a Close of Service Conference in May.  Looks like I’ll be busy busy right up until I’m on the plane home! Time is going so very quickly!!

 

Love/Hate

Nearly a year ago, my mom told me that she got something from the Peace Corps in the mail for parent sof new volunteers.  It said that said that it wasn’t uncommon for a volunteer to hate their first year and then love their second year so much that they would be hesitant to leave when their service finished.  While I don’t think I hated my first year, it was undoubtedly difficult.  I can’t even begin to list all of the challenges I faced, with my community, my job as a volunteer and personally.

While the first half of that generalization of service was only somewhat accyurate the second half is undoubtedly true.  Since returning to Ghana from the U.S. in mid July, with about one year of my service left, I have had a spark of motivation.  I attended the leadership camp for the Deaf, began a personal arts practice, a mediation practice and an exercise regimen.  I saw to completion the IST I have been working on for months.  I have plans focusing on HIV/AIDS education and working with the students at my school with additional disabilities as well as with the blind students.  I have something penciled into every weekend for the next 2 months! I wake up energized and excited by the things I have to do.

In some ways, the letter from the Peace Corps to my mom was incorrect but in other ways, it was spot on! I’m looking forward to this next year and all that I expect to achieve!

The IST

After 3 months at site we had our education reconnect In Service Training (IST) in January.  All of the Deaf art volunteers got together to talk about things we’d like to do together.  One thing was finding a way to have a training about working with students with multiple disabilities in a mixed abilities classroom.  All of us had those kids in our classes and struggled to create a classroom environment to support them.  So we decided that an IST was needed to support our understanding of these students.  And I was chosen as the Point of Contact (PoC) among the volunteers.What followed was nearly 10 months of discussions, meetings, e-mails, more meetings, phone calls, negotiations and more meetings! And then it finally came together!

The First IST on Special Education and HIV/AIDS Peer Education happened from October 9th through October 13th.  It was funded my the President’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief (PEPFAR).  With this funding not only were we able to have the special education training we were seeking but were able to invite two students from each of the volunteers’ schools for training on HIV awareness, prevention and how to be an effective peer educator.  One of the goals of Peace Corps is to build capacity and create sustainable change.  To this end we invited teachers from all of the 13 schools for the Deaf to attend the workshop and we had excellent turn out! 12 of the 13 schools were represented!

Armstrong and my student, Sam, discussing the opportunites and challenges of being a Deaf student

The first day we were divided into two groups.  The students attended sessions on reproductive health and HIV education.  We brought a knowledgeable member of the Deaf community to assist us as well as some excellent Peace Corps Staff.  All of the students were attentive and wanted to stay later to be sure they copied all of the notes and were even reviewing them at 6am the next day!

Meanwhile, the teachers and volunteers received training in the assorted disabilities we may see in our classes, how to approach challenging behaviors, how to write differentiated lesson plans and how to manage a classroom.  We had numerous heated conversations about appropriate punishments (caning is big here) as well as direct commentary with the offiicials in charge at the education office. The day was long and we could’ve kept going!

The second day was a day entirely focused on HIV/AIDS education.  We played some games to promote awareness that we will take back to our schools and implement as educational tools. We met a woman living with HIV, a surprise for many who assumed a person living with HIV would look ill rather then strong, confident and outspoken.  We had question and answer and we planned for the last day, a visit to the Jamasi School for the Deaf where we’d put all we learned into action.


The students with Gifty, the woman living with HIV

On the last day we traveled by bus to the Jamasi School for the Deaf.  Once there the volunteers paired with their counterparts and one other teacher taught a lesson on a subject of their choosing ranging from science, to math, to art.  These lessons lasted about an hour and were then followed by an HIV/AIDS lesson with instruction by the students.  After a debriefing and feedback the workshop was officially closed!

My counterpart, Juliana, and Francis, from Kibi Deaf, teaching a lesson about plants

After so many months I was so thrilled to have the training actually work out, meet the goals I had originally envisioned and has inspired me to do so much more!  My students are planning HIV activities at the school while I have begun looking more closely at the students with additional needs and assessing how best I can help them.

In my Peace Corps service there isn’t often tangible evidence of my impact here and for the most part I’ve accepted that, but finishing the IST I can see what I have achieved.  I walked into the Junior High 1 class.  The teacher for the hour wasn’t present and Abigail, one of the students who accompanied me to the workshop, had written “HIV/AIDS” on the board and was listing modes of transmission underneath.  She had decided that in her free time she would instruct the class on what she had learned about HIV/AIDS at the workshop! This alone makes all those months worth it.

The Workshop Participants (I’m in the last row, left hand side)

The Art Room: Then and Now

This is what my art room looked like in September 2011, when I first arrived at the school.  The tables were piled with useless stuff, the cabinets packed with piles of papers.  The art on the wall was not reflective of student art.  Even the color wheels and mixing charts were labeled wrong.  The room had no electricity making art difficult on most days and nearly impossible on cloudy, rainy days. Another from the first month.

But there  has been progress!!

This is the room now, September 2012.  The piles are gone, the shelves somewhat organized and wonders of all wonders, there’s electricity!

My chalkboard was recently re-blacked and student art and maps decorate the walls. A rare, tangible indicator of change that I’ve made here!

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