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The stories of two adult students in a Ghanaian village

Posted by sankofacrafts on Sat, 07/03/2010 - 17:03

Eric was our ‘technical man’ on the Platform2 worksite and seemed a stern, silent figure at first, observing our noodle-armed efforts to dig and occasionally stepping in with patient resignation to pulverize the rock hard earth with a pickaxe. (We volunteers were joyful and eager workers of course but even the skinniest of Ghanaians had superhuman strength beyond most of us)

Not being one to let a potential Twi lesson slip away I made use of cement mixing time getting him to teach me how to say “what time is it?” and “have we finished?” and other whiny work-related questions. He thawed fast and was soon mockingly exhorting us poor, tired souls to “DIG!” while we rallied with our newfound vocabulary “lazy” “crazy” and “you want to kill me!”

One day while making pineapple jam and listening to my Twi course on the phone, Eric came forward to ask if I could help him with his reading- at the time he was still very shy with us so I was surprised but welcomed the approach.

During the first lesson I assessed his knowledge and learning background and heard his reasons for wanting to study again. Eric came from Kumasi and had no family in Kasapin other than some brothers-in-law who occasionally turned up. He stopped school at the age of 18 because he was told he could not advance to Secondary School but would have to go back a year instead. Unwilling to sit and study among 12 year olds and uninterested in an academic career, he left school altogether and came to Kasapin where he knew of a chance for work.

He found it with Richard and Francis’ Twinsco Building Contractors company who gave him a place to stay and trained him as a construction worker. He had completed his apprenticeship and had been working in Kasapin for 5 years altogether when we met him, but he now spoke of returning to Kumasi and entering a technical college or finding more lucrative employment. His younger brother was approaching the age when they would want to send him to an expensive school and Eric felt the responsibility. However to find this work in the city he needed to have at least basic literacy, even if his spoken English was relatively strong.

His reading on the other hand was shockingly weak for someone who had gone to school up to the age of 18. He didn’t have a complete grasp of the alphabet though he recognised some words. Somehow he had surfed through school for years having a friend do his writing for him and slipped through the system entirely. His renewed interest in literacy did not come through some state-sponsored initiative to engage in adult education but from his own awareness of the immediate material benefits and necessity which gave him this new urgency. Despite that he didn’t come especially regularly but this brother in law of his was making him build another house all evening and he had a hernia to boot. Still I’d give him grief if he didn’t turn up or hadn’t done his reading homework- I like my students to be serious.

My other student was Adwoa, a girl from the North who was always always smiling. She had come to Kasapin with her sister but when her sister was married she was informally adopted into a household of amazingly strong women, from a grandmother who I hardly saw because she was always travelling, Yaa Medina who had the most overflowing market stall in town, and her highly intelligent and ambitious daughters Belinda and Priscilla.

Belinda was on the point of applying to university when I left having just graduated secondary school. Full of energy and interest in the world, she spent almost all her spare time reading at home.

Adwoa didn’t speak a word of English and even Twi wasn’t her first language so most of our communication was through smiles, gifts, hugs and broken Twi which proved more than enough for a lasting friendship. She was an apprentice seamstress and had a machine that she could work with from home. Belinda had tried to teach her English before but really it’s nearly impossible to learn from family- we would never sit still for my mother to teach us Bengali writing, and my aunt who just arrived from Italy wisely has no dependence on us teaching her English whether or not we are qualified teachers with grammar pouring out of our ears. Back in Italy the Bengali women had a lot of similar problems learning Italian – when I was there the overcrowded basic Italian for refugees and immigrants, fortunately located on the first floor of her building was the only option. Since then she says the women had begun their own group where they could feel more comfortable (and actually have somewhere to sit) which was great. Another story I guess and already blogged of in a past blog so I won’t repeat it all but you can read more here.

There were others like her among the women in the village- another seamstress and apprentice, both Muslim, expressing their wish to study English. Adizah, a former volunteer whose family run Yaarah Schools, used to run an English class for many Muslim women at the mosque and achieved regular classes with committed students. You can read her report here. This initiative dissipated, despite all her efforts, as soon as she left and the SYTO guys only decided to mention its existence to me three weeks before we left.

When I realised what an opportunity had been missed to contribute something of value and have an actual chance to build relationships among the adults, especially amongst the more withdrawn Muslim women, it suddenly set my mind on fire. There was no time left except the beginnings of organising something- talking to Dacosta about possibilities, registering students and talking about it on the radio (DC wrote out a nice speech for me in Twi which I wish I’d recorded) and sending books back from Cape Coast bought at the great Black Star Bookshop- run by a generous pioneering man called David who has second-hand books sent to him from Germany. Fortunately for his business there's a strong German volunteering presence in Cape Coast

Since then it’s been a series of delays and worries that momentum had been lost. At one point there were so many students who signed up but no time when they could all meet and they came from surrounding villages so they would be too tired from the farm or rushing to get home. Twice Dacosta waited for students that didn’t turn up and he suggested the books be donated to Danak instead. But he said there were at least 4 or 5 from Kasapin who were keen and serious so for their sake he tried again. The classes have been going for 2 weeks, not long, but the students requested an extra day so it’s now twice a week Friday and Sunday.

I will be returning this summer, I’ve booked my ticket now so it’s pretty definite now, to research more about adult education and consider how is best to continue- whether it’s bringing resources to form a syllabus, or gathering a group of local teachers that can provide DC with a support network, because he’s already one of the busiest people in town and no one has much faith in just one individual as opposed to a strong team.

Read this post with photos included plus many other stories from Kasapin and Ghana at my blog www.anobruniabroad.wordpress.com

For anyone who is able to give me some support in this work believe me I need plenty too- even if it’s just advice or encouragement. I don’t want to make this into a charity project in the long or even short term but at this stage it is a struggle to raise funds and I’d welcome even a £1 contribution http://www.nothingistoolittle.com/sankofa

It’s another story but feel free to check out my developing recycled fabrics store http://www.etsy.com/shop/SankofaCrafts

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