Chardala Simons - General Teaching Projects in Ghana
My decision to travel to Ghana began with a simple, yet powerful desire, which was to impart the skills and abilities that I have within my possession to impact nations. Coming from the island of Bermuda, I was well-acquainted with the culture of materialism and the insatiable desire to always want more. I wanted to step outside of the all-too-familiar Bermudian culture that can often times become a death squeeze on the people of Bermuda, and commit to immersing myself in a culture that was built on collectivism.
By stepping out of the materialistic Bermudian culture, I had to recognize that I was going to step into a culture that was going to be diametrically opposed to the culture that I grew up in. I had to mentally prepare myself to have some egocentric tendencies that were within me to be shaken and uprooted because of this cultural change. That’s when Ghana started drawing me in.
After carrying this desire to make an impact in a nation outside of my own for quite some time, I engaged in much research and came across Projects Abroad. For some reason, Ghana was drawing my attention, and after researching the Ghanaian culture, I knew that Ghana was my destination.
Arriving in Ghana
Finally the day came! On May 16, 2011, my feet kissed the Ghanaian land. Upon arriving at the Accra airport in Ghana, I was greeted with an “Akwaaba” sign, which means “Welcome” in Twi. All that was going through my mind was, “I can’t believe that I’m in Ghana! I’m in Africa! The Mother Land!” I was then warmly greeted by one of the Projects Abroad staff members, who transported other volunteers and I to a Projects Abroad house nearby.
The next morning, I was driven to my host family’s house in the Mamfe, Akuapem Hills area. I was extremely excited upon meeting them, as they were such a beautiful and pleasant host family! My family consisted of a host mother and father, two host sisters and a host brother. The children ranged from ages five to ten, and they were extremely well mannered and hospitable. They often offered to help me with various things, such as ironing my clothes.
My Teaching Placement
When I thought that it was impossible to get any more excited, I was soon proven wrong. The next day, another Projects Abroad staff member met me at my new home to take me to my placement. We travelled there by a local tro-tro (bus), and once there, I was introduced to the two teachers that I would be working with for the next month. I was now officially one of the key stakeholders in the learning of the children at Wonderful Love Day Care.
At the time that I was in Ghana, I was pursuing a degree in Elementary Education, and I was excited about applying all that I’d attained so far in university to apply to the real-world setting. I was responsible for helping the children learn the alphabet, learning key phrases in English, and developing their sensory skills through art. I finally had the opportunity to develop creative lessons and apply the theories of Jean Piaget and Howard Gardner in order to encourage student learning through visual, kinaesthetic and auditory means.
During instructional time, I truly valued and appreciated that the students were so well-disciplined and were willing to learn from a foreigner. However, what I appreciated the most during my time in Ghana was not what the students learned from me, but what I learnt from them. Perhaps the pinnacle of each day that I caught the tro-tro and walked the short distance along a dusty road to Wonderful Love Day Care was the greetings and smiles that I received from the children every morning.
Without fail, they would greet me with a “Picture, Madame! Picture!,” as they would want me to take a picture of them every day. That trademark greeting and those beautiful smiles convinced me that it couldn’t be traded for the most precious of gems. Their greetings truly taught me how important it is to make someone feel loved and validated.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the children at the school and with the Ghanaian people in general. I was quickly developing a genuine love for my students, and this love and trust was reciprocated by the students themselves.
An event that would forever be etched in my mind was when, one day after school, one of my students took me by the hand and walked me to his village, which was only about a three minute walk from the school. He graciously allowed me to step foot inside his humble abode and showed me his sleeping quarters, which was only a small confined space. However, it was kept neat, and I could tell that he took great pride in showing it to me. How I wish that I had the power to pause time, because that moment truly revealed that I wasn’t just a teacher to this student, but I was also someone that he would trust and allow into his personal space.
This and other moments like it caused me to realise that I operated in the dual role of teacher and student. I was a teacher of the American English vernacular and rules of grammar, yet I was also a student when it came to learning about the Ghanaian culture and what drives the people of the land. As a student, I learnt about how passionate they are about the things of God. This is intentionally instilled in the children; as every day the students sang songs about the Christian faith, such as Daniel in the Lion’s Den.
In closing, my experience in Ghana was indeed revolutionary, as it created a paradigm shift in my thought patterns and in the way that I appreciate life and the family that I have. I can truly say that I operated as a cultural ethnographer during the month that I spent in Ghana. By immersing myself in the culture, I learned far more about the nation of Ghana than I could have learnt through any other means.
It was truly an honour to serve the Ghanaian people through Projects Abroad and my only regret is that I did not stay for a longer period of time.