Wednesday, December 30, 2015

That time I remembered I had a blog

I didn't actually forget I had a blog - I just simply became very lazy about it these past 9 months.

9 months?!?! What has happened since then??

Well, let me bulletize my life over the past 3/4 of the year:

  • I no longer live in Ghana (surprise!). I left my term of service with AgriCorps in late June. See what they're doing (and check out some more of my photography) on their website.
  • I drove to California with my dear friend, Angela, and we explored 15 states and several friendships along the way! 
  • I no longer live in Pennsylvania. I moved to California in July to take a new job (see rest of blog post below). 
  • I am currently back in Pennsylvania for another week of Christmas break. It is very cloudy here compared to sunny California. 

Well, that was much easier than anticipated. Now for a bit more elaboration - since I know you are dying to know about my exciting life.

WAYYY back in March/April (when I lived without running water, constant electricity, and Starbucks), I began to consider the setting of my next chapter in life. My thought process went like this:

"So, I miss the USA (and Starbucks), but I still have a heart for the nations - but not Ghana... Well, maybe another country in Africa, but Ghana has been a challenge - culturally, spiritually, and emotionally. So I think going back to the US for a bit is okay. Hmm... I don't really want to (use my degree to) teach high school agriculture right now, as that is a bit of a commitment (a few years, at least) and I still feel like this is a good age to be abroad, if possible."

Enter the prospect of being directly involved in ministry (rather than serving the Lord by loving others through an indirect/secular occupation). Two years abroad with a team of solid believers (guaranteed community) in a somewhat urban area... sounded legit. So I began applying to iEDGE with the Navigators. Lo and behold, I found out about 2 days before the applications were due, that I was not going to be back in the US in time for the required training for the 2015 team... and thus, God closed door #1 of the "job" searching.

Next thought process: "Okay, so the US it is - well maybe I can find something that pays decently, uses my degree, and is still on the East Coast so I can be close to home for a couple years before going abroad again..."

Applications to two different extension/education programs in NY and VA didn't pan out - one was an internal hire, and the other application never went through the online system! Clearly, God was closing a few more doors.

It was getting into mid-April and with 2 months left before returning to the US, I was getting a bit concerned about my "next step." So, much later than I should have done, I began to pray earnestly for some guidance from the Lord. I asked for anything from a sign to a job posting to a dream. I was really unsure about WHAT I wanted to do and WHERE I should do it - I was willing to go and grow anywhere!

*Note, I am about to talk about making decisions based on having dreams... if this freaks you out, just pretend that I've always wanted to live in California and that's why I searched for jobs there*

So then came the dream about California. I had previously considered grad school, but decided the timing wasn't right to start applying just yet. When considering grad school, I thought about several schools - UC Davis included. However, when praying about a job or sign, I received a dream about applying to UC Davis for Grad School. I trust that the Lord can use dreams when He desires (see Genesis 37-41, Daniel 2 and Daniel 4) although I know that I am not a prophet. Let's just say I decided to not decipher the dream as actually applying to UC Davis, but rather considering California for a job... so how did that look?

"California? Really, God? Okay... we'll see... let's google search 'California agricultural education' and see what comes up. Hmm - the California Agricultural Education website, how interesting. Job listings... wow, there are a lot of teacher openings in California. What's this one? Ripon Christian Schools - a small private school looking to start an agricultural education program and FFA chapter. Supportive community."

Please note: although I wasn't planning on looking for teaching jobs, my "ideal" teaching position was always one that involved starting an ag program from scratch, utilizing community resources to develop brand new opportunities for the students of a smaller school... well, once you throw in the whole Christian thing (you know, kind of important) after living in a spiritual desert for a year, I was quite intrigued.

Also, there was this rock that I stepped on every day in Ghana as I walked from my home to school. From the first day I arrived, I always thought of it as the "California rock" - Californian friends may not think that it looks like your state, but the rest of us (and myself at the time) think it looks close enough! So I called it the California Rock. Then I applied to a job in California.

Now, when I inquired about the teaching job in California, I didn't hear back for two weeks - so I decided to drop all hopes of finding a job and move home to bum at my parents' house. Just kidding - but I did decide to give job searching a rest until I got back to the US in June. But then I heard back about the job, and received an application to fill out. Then, two weeks later, after a phone interview from Ghana and some prayer, I accepted a very nice offer to start the agricultural education program and serve as a teacher and FFA advisor at Ripon Christian High School in little Ripon, California. 

Then it came time to say goodbye to my African life. I cannot believe it has been 6 months since I left that tropical home - as a home it was. I learned so much about God, humanity, and myself while living and working in Ghana. Although I faced some struggles in Ghana, I know my time with AgriCorps was part of His plan to teach me MANY lessons. I still miss my students and community members dearly. 

My awesome little brother, Kwame Davis.
My sister, Esther, and I on a hike. 
My other little brother, Mac Sebastian, and his mama - Nanama
My sister (and student), Ama Regina, and Mac
My temporary pet kitten, Felix. He was a bugger. But I miss him.
Even if they didn't realize what it meant for the obroni to leave, they still made me tear up with this stunt... 

Arriving in the USA in June was refreshing - but also felt a bit rushed, as I had only 3 weeks to pull my volunteer life out of two suitcases, re-organize everything, and throw my big girl, paid job life into my new (hand-me-down) car, Fred. With such little time, I was amazed at how smoothly things went. I also managed to catch up with over 30 friends in that 20 day time frame - as I knew I wouldn't get much time to see them once moved into California.

My dear friend Angie decided to make the 9-day trek west with me - and we had an amazing time visiting several of my (our) friends in Ohio, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, and North Dakota. The trip was so incredible, and went so smoothly that I was continuously encouraged that the Lord's hand was over my move west. 

Then, I moved into an adorable little house that just happened to work out perfectly, even without meeting the owners or seeing it prior to arriving in late July (another God thing). A week later, my position officially started (August 1). Then, less than 2 weeks later - classes began.

Well, it has been a whirlwind... but a blessed one. I absolutely LOVE my job. Teaching agriculture and introducing FFA to a group of talented students has been a huge success. They have jumped on board and, together, we are learning more about ourselves, our Father in heaven, and agriculture. We have already experienced successful speech contests, CDE events, community events, and fundraisers - all to the glory and praise of God (which I get to do, you know, since I work in a Christian school).

I could really go on for ages about all the successes that we've experienced as a new program, but that blog could last for ages. So, instead, I will leave you with a marketing plug so you can see for yourself what RC Ag Ed has been up to! Follow and like these social media pages that some of my awesome students have created!!!


Check out that awesome blue corduroy.

In other news, I am still (sort of) doing photography! I sold my photos (as cards) for the first time in public last month! Check out my website.

As for my heart - God has been continuously teaching me about community, trusting Him, and reassuring Him (and myself) that my life and job never become my idol. Although I may work 50-70 hours a week, I know that I am doing it to honor Him by loving these kids... and I know how to take a nice break every now and then! Even if that does involve cooking or baking.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully I will be a little more regular on my blog than one post per 9 months...

Blessings to you and your family!
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Little Slice of Heaven

Last week was a bit of a dream – I was in Accra (Ghana’s capitol) for a week-long conference. We’ll come back to the conference, but let me first share some of my simple joys with you from that time “away” that I had been looking forward to for months. Before even arriving for the conference, I met with Melissa to go to a church recommended to us – it was great to sing worship and hear doctrine that I am used to, but I still miss my church back home. Then, we adventured... to the mall! What simple joy we took from shopping in a “westernized” grocery store, seeing other white people, and eating Chinese food and Frappuccinos. Then, we stayed at a friend’s house – this friend, a nice French guy we met at the beach a few weeks ago, is living with his parents while they are all working in Ghana. His dad just happens to be the general manager for one of the largest banks in Ghana... so let’s just say it wasn’t only a house. I will simply share a photo of his family’s kitchen (where their personal chef cooks) to paint a picture: I was drooling over this kitchen. It was the nicest house I’ve ever been in! And I’m in a developing country! Such a strange paradox. I guess it gives a good image to the concept of “poverty gap.” However, it was a nice retreat for the night. Then we went to another mall to hang out/get more (real) coffee! Finally, we checked into my hotel for the conference.

This is my dream kitchen... and I found it in Ghana?

So many obroni hair care products! Our excitement all weekend.
This hotel wasn’t anything super fabulous, but it was nice (shout-out to the parents for sponsoring it!). My room had air conditioning, hot running water, electricity (all the time), a mini-fridge, and a TV! I know, you’re thinking “well, duh, doesn’t every hotel room have those things?” Well, not in Ghana – this was high class, and those items were definitely a luxury that I realized I too often take advantage of in the developed world. I even got to eat KFC and (my fav) wild berry Skittles! It was like being back in the States. Now here I am, back in my village, sweating while simply sitting and charging my phone constantly because I am unsure when the next “lights off” will be. But then again, I knew the nice retreat had to come to an end, for this African experience wouldn’t be complete without the lack of those luxuries we all take advantage of in the developed world. You could think that I am “suffering” through it, but I really don’t mind not having running water or AC in my home here: they are just nice things that I enjoy when I am able to access them. Plus, I was glad to get home to Felix, my new cat.

Okay, now for the conference reflections. ECHO is a faith-based NGO devoted to sustainable agriculture. They held their first ever West Africa Anglophone Networking Forum in Accra last week, and I was proud to represent AgriCorps at the small, yet successful event. There were about 50 participants (lower than expected, but hey, it is the first time) from countries across West Africa, including: Nigeria, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, and Senegal. Most participants were national development workers, so it was great to engage with Liberians, for example, who are passionate about progress in their own country. I don’t think I expected this –I guess I was hoping to see more white people, but this was a blessing in its own way! I am always advocating development as driven by local community members (and not by a temporary foreigner, AKA me) so I was thankful to see these participants who not only knew their culture and potential barriers, but were prepared to overcome barriers to reach development goals. It was so great to dialogue with people who are doing work in the SAME COUNTY that we were supposed to be in Liberia! I also got to watch one of the most entertaining people I’ve ever seen give a presentation about what he is so passionate about: beekeeping. Plus, he gave me some of his super delicious honey! It was a good time, overall. Hopefully, my connections will help 4-H (Ghana and Liberia) and AgriCorps continue to develop their reach for greater impact over the coming years.

A new friend from Nigeria, Lekam. He's a masters student in animal science!
He and Melissa had a great convo about cattle in the tropics! 
The conference was great, and I was able to end the week by hanging out with one of my few Ghanaian friends, Esther. She met me in the city and we toured Accra. I took her to the nicest hotel in Ghana where we enjoyed caramel cake and drinks (a milkshake for her and iced mocha for me). It didn’t matter that we didn’t look like we belonged; we felt special and that made it a memorable experience. Plus, I got tickets to go PARAGLIDING this coming weekend with John and Courtney! That’s right, I’m going to jump off a cliff in a developing nation because the tickets were so much cheaper than in the US... don’t worry, it’s run by foreign professionals. No deaths have occurred in the 10 years of running it. J Stay tuned!  

Esther and I, enjoying our fancy drinks at a fancy hotel after walking around the city.
And as a great “welcome home” from my 8 days away, my sweet corn is coming up! WOHOO! It should be ready right before I leave! So excited! Sorry, we ag development workers get excited about plants.

Check out that little sweet corn plant. He's so courageous!

P.S. My photography website is updated! Check it out to see what I get to see here in Ghana (or anywhere else for that matter) through the lens of Boaz, my faithful DSLR camera! 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Saviour 4-H Rock Stars

National FFA week (USA) took place during the third week of February. As an opportunity to connect agricultural youth leaders around the world, I reached out to my student teaching cooperating center FFA program to connect the Pennsylvania FFA members to Ghanaian 4-H members. 4-H in Ghana looks very similar to FFA in the US: It is school-based, tied to classroom curriculum, and encourages home entrepreneurial projects (known as Supervised Agricultural Experience in the FFA). 

The plan was to exchange some preliminary information and some photos of the two student groups in honor of National FFA Week. So I got out my camera and let my 4-H members pose away! (note: Ghanaians love taking photos) I also asked them about their basic “biographical” information and why the love 4-H. Here are the responses and photos of some of my star members!

Name: Asare Boateng Samuel
Age: 15
Grade: Form 3
Position in 4-H/committee: Secretary
Home entrepreneurship project(s): Gardening, literature
Why you joined 4-H/why you like 4-H: I want to be a successful entrepreneur in the future and I know 4-H will help me.
Some other notes about Asare: Asare sought out and competed in a national contest to draw a “car of the future” and I got to accompany him to the capital, Accra, to deliver it to the Toyota headquarters. He is extremely creative and curious: he has written stories since primary school and even wrote a song for 4-H a few months ago.

Name: Awayigah Ebenezer
Age: 15
Grade: Form 2
Position in 4-H/committee: Crops committee assistant chairman
Home entrepreneurship project(s): Gardening
Why you joined 4-H/why you like 4-H: 4-H is the only club at the school, so I joined. I have learned many things that have helped me – like how to grow crops well, how to speak in front of groups, and how to prepare and present reports. If it wasn’t for 4-H, I would never have learned these things.
Some other notes about Awayigah: Always the first one at the 4-H garden and the last one to leave, he takes his role as an officer very seriously. He seeks new knowledge and always tries to do what is best for the club. He often comes to help me at my home garden and always warms my day with his lovely smile. He was the winner of the “Growing Greener” award at the end of term 1 – an award given to the most dedicated member in the 4-H garden.

Name: Rosemary Asirifi
Age: 15
Grade: Form 3
Position in 4-H/committee: Chairperson for marketing/outreach committee
Home entrepreneurship project(s): Book designing and typing skills
Why you joined 4-H/why you like 4-H: I want to be skillful and develop critical thinking skills – I want to be an entrepreneur in the future.
Some other notes about Rosemary: After a few months of term 1, Saviour 4-H formed the Marketing and Outreach committee and Rosemary was elected its leader. Though I had not seen much leadership potential in her prior to her election, I quickly saw why the members chose her: she is motivated, creative, and hardworking. One example is how she took advantage of an opportunity in her community to publicize Saviour 4-H in the Saviour Church Calendar – a calendar that goes out to the entire country and its various Saviour churches. Rosemary won the “Best Marketer” award at the end of term 1.

Name: Paddy David
Age: 14
Grade: Form 2
Position in 4-H/committee: Animal Husbandry Committee Assistant Chairman
Home entrepreneurship project(s): Gardening, Pig rearing
Why you joined 4-H/why you like 4-H: I want to learn more agricultural skills, like how to raise pigs properly and how to have a successful farm.
Some other notes about Paddy: Paddy is one of those boys who you can count on. He is dedicated and loves to get his hands dirty. He has been the key caretaker of the Saviour 4-H pigs – so much so that he has his own key to the piggery! Along with his best friend, Awayigah, he is always at the garden when 4-H says they will be working there and though he is quiet, he is a vital contributor to the 4-H club. Paddy, as everyone expected, won the “Animal Husbandry Award” at the end of term 1.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sports Week = organized chaos at its finest

Remember that time, in Ghana, where I didn’t teach for several weeks due to a national teacher’s strike? No, there isn’t another teacher’s strike... but it is Sports Week!

In Ghana schools, physical education is not built into the class schedule. Rather, students can voluntarily be on sports teams and the school occasionally calls off classes (for a half or whole day) to play sports in the place of class. Sometimes, local schools visit each other to compete in specific sports (during those half/full days off).

Then, in second term, there is an entire sports week. So, as you might have already figured, we have a whole week off class – a whole week dedicated to competing against other teams in the area. While Sports Week was officially this week, the teachers (coaches) have needed to train their players to prepare for this week... meaning that the past several weeks were so disorganized and classes were so irregular (with half of the kids gone for “training” or school simply ending mid-day to train) that I only taught 50% of the time. Being used to Ghana, I’ve adjusted to this lack of teaching by hanging out with the 4-H pigs and reading Harry Potter.

This year, sports week was held in the next town over, Bunso. The Saviour students (both JHS and Primary) were hauled in a tro-tro (12 passenger van) on Tuesday, squished 2-3 to a seat, for a 20 minute ride of them singing songs loudly and in incredible rhythm. I sat in the hot sun with 2 elementary kids on my lap in the front seat and smiled as they sang the Saviour School song – it was the first time I had heard it! Upon arriving, in clown-car fashion, the students piled out of the van and ran into the “park” or school yard set up for sports activities. The hiplife music was already blasting with the well-established sound system. Food vendors (AKA ladies selling food out of Tupperware on their heads) were everywhere. Schools intermingled, noted by the varying colors of local school uniforms. Goats occasionally wandered through the fields. In summary, it was the most organized chaos I’ve experienced so far in Ghana.

The Saviour Primary School Soccer team... and other random photobombers
Now let’s turn to the sports themselves. As should be expected (for just about every other country than the US), soccer was the most popular sport. The full-sized football (soccer) field was already surrounded by tents and chairs for the teachers when I arrived, and hundreds of school children closely watching the movements of the well-dressed athletes. Any time a team scored, the majority of the fans (aka classmates) of the scoring team would run onto the field in celebration, sending up a cloud of dust from the red African soil.

Soccer is intense in Ghana... even on such scruffy turf.
Apart from soccer, the most popular sport for these youths is netball. Netball, played by girls, is a unique African rendition of basketball – however, because the ground you are playing on is most likely not conducive to dribbling, you pass the ball in the air. Also, because it’s Africa and women are tough, there is a lot of heavy contact in this sport. So, I would say that netball is like a mix of rugby and basketball. There are 2 metal “hoops” with no actual nets hanging from them (again, let’s be African-appropriate) spread across the field (about 3/4 the size of a typical basketball court) and the girls pass the ball – but they cannot carry it, meaning they get only 1 step in addition to their landing step to transfer the ball to someone else.

Netball = rugby + basketball. See the metal ring? No backboard or net = better accuracy.

There's also volleyball. One of my favorite sports, and one that can easily be adapted to Africa. Ghana volleyball is like US beach volleyball – the court is sandy. Other than the ground, though, it is identical to US volleyball. Students also participate in track events – short and long-distance running.

The Saviour JHS Volleyball Team - they know they be ballin'

Then there are the casual, schoolyard games that I learned while here (not played officially during sports week). Ampe is normally a girls’ game, whereby two girls “challenge” each other by jumping up and down, clapping, and stamping their feet opposite each other in a catchy rhythm. Once you get into it, it is quite a physically active game – not one I am about to challenge a 10-year old girl to anytime soon. Then there’s handball – the Ghana equivalent to what we know as “monkey in the middle.” You pass a ball to a friend/friends over the head of a single/several people, as they try to get the ball if you fail to throw or catch properly. Finally, there’s dancing! All Ghanaian kids know how to dance, and dance super well. Give them a beat (or let them make it themselves) and their genetically-present musical-dance talents will shine. I’ve heard from several Ghanaians that white people can’t dance (although they love it when I try) and I don’t feel offended at all – obronis really can’t dance the same way these Ghanaians rock out (impressive pelvic thrusts are commonly seen in kids as young as 1-2 years old).

Anyways, back to sports week. Games were organized between local schools for both the primary and secondary level. Playoffs are organized, then a school claims the prize of winner for each sport. The soccer JHS winners get to take home the area “trophy” for the year... I sure hope Saviour gets to bring it back this year! They won the first soccer match and made it to the playoffs, but I didn’t get to see the championship game.

It’s been a nice little break, but I need to get myself back on track for next week – however, I am told that the Independence Day celebrations (March 6) take much preparation. Who knows when I will get to have a “normal” school week ever again? I just take it as the day brings it – and I look for those chances to SEE these kids and invest in them. Last week, when classes weren’t really going on, I hosted a few Spanish sessions for some form 3 girls who were super interested. I also helped clean the pig pens when I was supposed to be teaching (given there were no students in the class) and I am also visiting the Saviour Senior High School to help them start a 4-H club. More about these happenings and other life reflections in the next blog... keep in touch! 

What more could a teenager want than a Ghanaian Sports Week?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The first time I've added a blog addendum

Second term. Week one. Second day of school.

The first day ways yesterday: Students aren’t learning yet – there isn’t much teaching going on. The headmaster’s corn was ready to harvest, so he used his pupils productively and sent them to harvest and carry the corn back to his front yard (which is also the school yard). Then, a communal “husking” occurred in the evening – simply another way for the children to show respect for their elders and serve the ones who are sharing knowledge with them. This concept (unpaid labor) may seem extreme to you and me, but it’s a way of life here. Students often help their teachers by working in their home gardens, helping on their farms, or cleaning for them. It’s an expectation in a culture where adults and educators are valued – thus children are taught to serve them.

Other than re-learning these cultural norms, I’m generally readjusting to life in Ghana. I left Osiem about 4 weeks ago to take my vacation and travel to Europe to meet my parents. We passed Christmas in Barcelona, New Year’s in southern France, and ate a LOT of pastries. It was almost too good to be true, mainly because I was allowing myself to be spoiled by my loving parents who (mildly) pitied me and my volunteer “salary.” We toured the cities, saw a bunch of churches (typical Europe), drove through the countryside, ate delicious food (paella, tapas, grilled duck, McDonald’s), drank red wine and coffee, walked on the beaches of two bodies of water (Mediterranean and Atlantic), and enjoyed sleeping in. I tasted the oranges of Valencia, devoured the tapas of Madrid, toured the Gaudí structures of Barcelona, entered the Arena de Toros (bull fighting ring) of Pamplona, got a pair of Spanish leather boots, spoke a LOT of Spanish (which was awesome), savored French macaroons, and saw the vineyards of the Bordeaux region. I also, of course, captured lots of photos. There are some selected ones on my Facebook page and a few (camera photos) here – more to come on my photography website soon!

A view of Barcelona from the tower of an enormous church near our apartment
One of the several gorgeous churches - this one, in Cordoba, was at one point made into a mosque (it was built around the chapel), then back into a church
Merry Christmas! We had an apartment in Barcelona and were able to cook a legit dinner: pork loin, mashed potatoes, fresh salad :) It was lovely. 
Why yes, I did enjoy that Nutella latte and chocolate cake #firstworldluxury #spoiled

Overall, it was a wonderful experience. Of course I was happy to see my parents again and share my African life experiences with them. I quickly slipped back into a lifestyle of material comfort in a place where tasks are generally easy to complete. I left behind the struggles and frustrations of my life in Ghana and didn’t want to have to face them until the New Year...

But then I came back to my Ghanaian home and was forced to confront those things I had set aside for 3 weeks – unachieved goals, poorly executed projects, stressed relationships and other effects of my pride. Upon reflection of my goals, I felt discouraged by the number not met yet motivated to re-invigorate them. Hopefully this term will be filled with 4-H members taking the lead, new club and home projects, increased profits of the farm, life skills development, and better networking in the school and community.

I am excited to be back in the classroom as this is one place that my (lesson) plans almost always follow through as intended. I am definitely growing as a teacher and learning that I enjoy taking knowledge and presenting it in creative and interesting ways to the students. I still have a long way to go to help them increase critical thinking skills and academic confidence, but I can see progress. I still have not had to use a cane to discipline students and I never intend to – they discipline themselves when they don’t engage in learning activities.

In other news, its dry season here in Ghana! What does that mean? Well, the “Harmattan” has come (Sahara trade-wind) so the air is dusty and dry and there is a thin layer of dirt covering everything. It hasn’t rained in over a month and my garden looks dreadful... but there is a positive side to the dry season (at least to obronis like me): it’s much cooler! Nighttime temps can get down into the mid-50s and daytime max temps only reach the mid-80s (but it feels cool due to the dry air and the fact that the sun is slightly shaded by the dust). I actually enjoy this weather to the humid rainy season, but the locals hate it – they don’t function well in anything below 70 degrees (so school is quite lethargic in the morning) and they complain about dry skin (even though there is still some humidity in the air) and coughing (which I experience as well). I have resolved to be happy about the weather, as it means I can snuggle under a blanket at night and wear long sleeves to school! Plus, I am not sweating all the time, so that’s awesome!

What else is there to say on this warm (but not sweltering) African January afternoon? I will proudly share that I was able to bring home a nice little stash of chocolate and real coffee (not nescafe) along with a French press – so my mornings are a little more encouraging with an extra burst of caffeine. As for the chocolate, it still surprises me that the #2 cocoa producing country doesn’t make its own (tasty) chocolate – just one more reason why it’s developing! So in the meantime, I will enjoy a bit of Hershey’s every now and then to keep me going strong.

Happy New Year! Or in the local language, Afeyshia Pa!

May the Lord bless you with encouragement in your struggles, friendships in your ventures, and opportunities to love others!

*An addendum to the above blog post, added just hours after I finished the main text*

Wow – talk about God’s timely blessings. I had been praying for encouragement in this time of adjustment and just as I was finishing my original blog post, one of my 9th grade students/4-H officers came in to talk to me. We have had a few semi-serious conversations in the last few weeks of school, but I never paid much attention to them. However, today he straight up told me that he enjoys talking to me and wants to learn as much from me as he can while I am here so that he can be more like me! I have never had anyone so directly tell me I am their role model, and by the way he openly and sincerely sought advice from me during our conversation (on everything from being a businessman to dealing with school peer pressure), I truly felt valued and significant. He even ended the conversation saying that he wanted to learn to be a better public speaker (and to improve his English) – which is amazing since I was planning to introduce a public speaking workshop for the 4-H club within the next month! I almost cried as we were talking and he told me that he looks up to me – let’s just say this was exactly what I needed. Praise God! He is faithful to answer prayers!

Okay, this really is the end of the blog post. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

That frustrating moment...

That frustrating moment (or month) in the development worker’s career 

Yep, it’s happening. The honeymoon stage is over and I’m hitting walls and falling on to my butt in the dirt. The paths I thought I was going to explore are closed or I’ve realized I haven’t even made it far enough to enter them. But let me give you some exciting updates before I delve into the frustrations.

Wow. It’s been almost a month since I last blogged... time is flying here. I cannot believe it’s been over 3 months since we landed in Ghana. I also cannot believe that Christmas is just 5 weeks away! Normally, around this time, I would be preparing to sing Christmas carols as the snow flurries fell and Pennsylvania cuisine would transition to hearty winter foods. Because I’ve never lived in the tropics during fall/winter, I’ve been missing those key aspects of my favorite time of year: fall colors, pumpkin stuff, apples, cool weather, scarves, sleeping under several blankets, and fires in the fire place. However, I have to be content with the hot, sunny weather here and rejoice in the little things... like green beans!

The “minor” growing season is coming to an end here in Ghana, as we end the second rainy season within the coming month. Then comes the dry season: meaning more sun, more heat, and more dust. Right now, our 4-H garden is producing some small green beans, planted about 2 months ago. While there aren’t enough to market them, 4-H gave the first harvested handful to their white advisor yesterday – and man did those green vegetables make her evening! Vegetables are not often eaten fresh/semi-fresh here but are rather cooked down into stew or sauce. I’m super excited for when the lettuce comes! Plus, there may be some orange sweet potatoes ready for our AgriCorps Thanksgiving dinner next week! #thelittlethings

Well, the strike sort of ended about 2 weeks ago, so we’ve only missed 2 weeks of the 13 (ish) weeks of the first term. I’ve enjoyed being in the classroom again and am thankful for all the work that got done on the pig barn construction during the strike! It’s looking pretty snazzy with the walls and roof up. We’re almost ready for the pigs!

Check out the splendid 4-H Enterprise Gardens and Piggery Barn (we had just weeded the garden, hence it looks so nice)
In other news, Saviour 4-H was able to go on an educational field trip during the strike. We traveled to the next town over (about 7 miles away) to visit the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG). The 45 students who attended got to learn about the major cocoa varieties, see coffee trees (something that made the white people very excited), experience different cocoa seed fermentation methods, and visit the “flavor lab” where the wafting aroma of chocolate filled the air as they did some quality tests on the final product. If you want to learn more about cocoa, check out Dustin’s latest blog post.

Various Cocoa and Shea varieties grown in Ghana. Little did I know, shea is a completely different plant from cocoa, but its butter is often used as a filler in chocolate/candy bars (without you knowing)

4-H Saviour members on the trip to CRIG

Traditional sun-drying method for cocoa seeds
In other obroni news, the AgriCorps team got to see some pretty cool agriculture lately. We traveled to the Ghanaian version of the mid-west by visiting the African Atlantic Enterprise Farms in Afram Plains (region of Ghana around the Volta lake). The huge farm has several pieces of modern agricultural equipment not often found in Ghana: of these is a massive pivot irrigation boom that pumps water from the lake to irrigate the 40 acres under cultivation. Although the farm is still in its development stage, it is a very interesting approach of how Africa can capitalize on local resources (i.e. a lake and irrigation system) to maximize rural agricultural production.

The first thing that caught our eyes as we approached the farm... you'd think you were in Kansas, not Ghana
One of the village cattle, grazing as the sun set over Volta lake
This is Trip, the Ghanaian mascot of the Afram plains farm - he made my weekend even more enjoyable as he accompanied me on all of my explorations of the farm and surrounding area (note: I miss my dog, Bella)
Another exciting event was traveling to Kumasi (the second largest city in Ghana, behind Accra) for FAGRO (the Food and Agriculture Expo of Ghana) this past week. With over 30 vendors, some of which seem to be great partners for 4-H Ghana and AgriCorps, we had a successful trip. We also were able to tour a bit of the city, eat some good food, and stay in air conditioned hotel rooms for a couple nights! It was definitely a great get away.

I don't think I'll ever have another blog post with so much JD Green in it, but this still was exciting to see! John Deere has a great vision for African agriculture, and they're patiently waiting for mechanization to take hold.
A nice evening view of Kumasi from the walk to our hotel

Now time for the deeper reflections:

Change is hard. Period. Even if it is something small, humans usually have a difficult time adapting to change. Now think about coming into a completely new culture and trying to implement something that has never even been considered before. Sure, at first people want to change their habits because they are excited to have a foreigner working with them. But then they realize I am just another human with different ideas and they soon lose interest in change: so things start slowing down, going backwards, or hitting me in the face. Skills I thought I was sharing with the 4-H members have disappeared and I’ve begun to question my purpose here.

But then I realize this is an occurrence for anyone in development: change is gradual and patience is more than a virtue - it is essential for success. Perseverance, too, is a requirement to pursue these long-term changes. Although I find myself often discouraged after being in my community for over 2 months, I must remind myself that I still have 7 more months and these people have a lot of potential. The piggery project isn’t going as I envisioned it, club meetings are still disorganized, people aren’t keeping records, and teaching still seems to be about using the cane to subdue “disobedient” youth. Some of my goals have been met, but so many more sit untouched, taunting me as though they will be unattainable. Sure, it is discouraging, but I picked this career. As many of you may know, I am normally a results-driven person, but results look really different here: I must remember that patience and time are required for them to come. Then again, do I really need to see results to feel successful or of value? My mind tells me that I do, but my heart and faith tell me that I should not feel that way. My value doesn’t lie in what I do, but rather who I am and who I love. Development work isn’t about projects or products; it’s about people and processes. I’m not really in the business of agricultural development. I’m in the business of loving and investing in people: while they may be frustratingly different from myself and slow to develop the skills I know will help them, I must be patient and graceful in working with my community.

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

I'm just learning to live where I am.
Sometimes its the little things that get you through the day... like helping John fetch water when I went to visit him. I'm thankful that I don't have to carry 4 gallon buckets of water on a 5 minute walk up a hill on my head every day like he does! But it still was a fun experience!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The best time to blog is when there is a national strike.

Well, it has been crazy busy here in Osiem, Ghana... until this morning, that is. Starting yesterday, a nation-wide strike of 12+ workers unions has ensued. The two national teachers unions are included in this, thus, teachers are not coming to school. With no teachers in school, there is no point to bringing students, so school was closed this morning with no certain re-start date. I honestly have no idea when the strike will end – it seems the unions are looking for pension benefits, so let’s see how long the government will hold out on the majority of its workforce.

In the meantime, a lack of classes gives me a brief chance to blog! Mind you, I am not sitting idle – especially since, as an AgriCorps volunteer and unpaid teacher, my job is still intact. But we’ll come back to that.

So it’s been about 3 weeks since I’ve last updated you – I thought I would have much more time to blog in Africa, but it seems this is not the case. Since classes started 3 weeks ago, I’ve been moving from sunrise to sunset. Between planning and teaching five 35-minute classes a day, two 4-H meetings a week, a district 4-H advisor training, test taking (for the students), a weekend AgriCorps training, day-long power outages, and visits to my fellow Corps members, I haven’t had much down time. But I suppose this is better than being super bored and feeling deficient – something that may creep up on us if this strike lasts long.

Amidst all the activity, I am continually being affirmed as to why I am truly here – I’m here for the students. How is this different than being an ag teacher/FFA advisor in the states? Well, it really isn’t that different – young people are hungry to be seen, heard, and invested in. It doesn’t matter if they are poor Ghanaian middle schoolers or middle class Pennsylvanian high schoolers. They simply desire to be valued. Teachers all around the world have the extremely significant task of loving on youth. Here in Ghana, I’ve found that this does not look the same as in the U.S. The hierarchal structure here has children as inferior to adults and therefore completely submissive to the teacher’s authoritative role in the classroom – this can be visualized by the “cane.” Teachers in Africa (similar to teachers in the U.S. about 50 years ago) are the center of the classroom, thus instruction is centered around them. If there is a learning disruption or lack of submission to the system, students are “caned” (whipped in the backside with a long, flexible wooden rod). Teaching usually involves lecture and copying of notes, with question asking as the most common method of checking for understanding. However, in classes of 40-60 students, not everyone gets the chance to answer questions – so the stars shine and the slower students sit quietly.

Mind you, teachers are not heartless beings – they generally care about their students. But caring about youth here means that you teach them to be disciplined and respectful to their elders – something that we often neglect in the U.S. I’ve come to respect the way that children are always willing to serve their elders (even if it is another youth just a few years their senior). I feel as if I don’t deserve the service from these children since I didn’t really have to serve my elders in the same way when I was a youth...

Regardless, student-centered instruction is scarcely seen here. Thus, the student learning “activities” I have utilized so far have been widely accepted by the youth and even misunderstood at times (i.e. these students have never been asked to “teach” their peers, so a small group teaching activity wasn’t quite grasped at first). One of the most rewarding results of my desire to use experiential, student-centered learning has been a comment by one of the 9th grade students. He came up to me about 2 weeks ago and said, “Madam, the way you teach agriculture in class – it makes me want to study agriculture at university. I want to learn more and become a successful agriculture scientist and you have made me believe I can do that.”

I wasn’t expecting to see many fruits of my service here, but that one was pretty huge – powerful enough to motivate me for another 8 months!

Another exciting event has been the success of the 9th grade class on their animal digestion exam. They took the test this past Friday and, as opposed to the normal test average of 50-60%, the class average is 79%! I was so proud to give so many stickers to those who scored an A (80%) or higher and especially proud that some of the top scorers were the executive officers of the Saviour 4-H club!!

Okay, I’m done bragging about the 9th grade class. But I really am proud of them – I have a lot of fun teaching them, even if it is a class of 64 students. Let’s hope this strike ends soon so we can get back to the unit on soil and water conservation (one of my favorite topics)!

What else is happening? Well, 4-H Saviour is receiving funding from the head church pastor (who is also a nationally renowned cocoa farmer and member of the Ghana presidential council) to build their pig rearing structure! We hope to break ground next week so that the piggies can arrive in early November! Hopefully we can be productive with the free time during the strike to really get moving on this project, along with several others. However, I do realize this isn’t a sustainable model (wait for school to be canceled to do all the work...). Oh well, we’ll be opportunistic! More updates/photos to come on the pig project!

As I observe other teachers and get frustrated with them beating children, I realize that I cannot make them change their ways. I am attempting to demonstrate student-centered, youth empowering strategies that will hopefully be picked up and adopted here. Thankfully, I have a very understanding and adaptive counterpart who I hope will continue to use innovative teaching methods. I’ve been telling him, any time he complains about Ghana or poverty, that change starts with him changing his actions. This is how I am trying to live... You all know the famous Ghandi quote, and its ironically painted on the wall of our school library (by a previous U.S. educational volunteer group): 

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Students will be successful. Students will be seen and heard. Students will be life-changing leaders. It starts in a student-centered classroom. 

Here are some long-overdue photos to update you on other exciting things!

4-H members planting seeds in the nursery of the school garden! Not all the seeds germinated, but it definitely looks better than it did in August!

I do enjoy African food... but this was super special. I made an American dish with boxed mac n cheese from Koforidua, sausage (hot dogs) and a fresh vegetable salad!

2 week ago was a special entertainment event (AKA dance party) for the whole school, as planned by the 4-H Saviour Entertainment/Recreation committee!

This may not seem like much, but it is me using my first ever personal machete!! And I am making a mound for pumpkins in my first ever personal garden!! 

Dustin and Blaze leading some Parli Pro discussions at our district 4-H advisor training

My first ever Ghanaian wedding! It only lasted 3.5 hours :)

Eunice is another 4-H advisor - here she is reviewing all the Parli Pro concepts I had just taught to our members... but in their local language. I think it went well!!