A Week in the Life: Education Volunteering
Stories and moments shared by CCS volunteers are one of the best ways to learn about the impact of our programs. Today, we're happy to share a story featuring Lamont Thomas in Ghana:.
A slender, wiry, gentle chiseled-faced man with a firm voice, Mr. Stephens, is the level 6B teacher at St Georges Anglican Public Primary School in Ho, Ghana. On my second day teaching as a Cross-Cultural Solutions volunteer (CCS) Mr. Stephens greeted me at his classroom door in clear English and encouraged me to participate. Little did I realize that by the end of the week I would be teaching the entire morning.
My first day at the school had been with another 6th level class where the teacher’s lesson had been, “Neighbors, The Need for Peace in the Family.” There, a small serious teacher Christine, serving out her national service requirement, lead most of the class in Ewe, Ho’s indigenous language.
Finally, her lesson came alive – at least for me – as she switched to English. She blended together neighbors near and far. The lesson apparently called for promoting peaceful relations within the family, including avoiding sexual abuse, and the need for peace with Ghana’s West African neighbors – a well-crafted theme.
The following day I moved to class 6B where Mr. Stevens was expanding “neighbor” to mean political geography. He called a talented student to duplicate a map on the board. Details were added from a table - nations’ names, the colonial power, capital, and date of independence. Along the way, I sprung into action by interjecting my thoughts on Ghana’s leadership role as independent in 1957 under Kwame Nkrumah.
Assured by my avid participation in class, soon the teacher vanished - just wandered off. Students weren’t sure who I was and weren’t at all bothered by this vanishing act. That first day of class sloshed toward noontime without a rudder. I became the learner when, at the same time, I became a volunteer teacher. Teachers unpredictably disappear.
Another lesson I learned was that the government’s lofty pronouncements often fail to fulfill the legal promise that books be provided for every public school student. State guarantees are expendable. This class of 21 students had a single English text and only five social studies books. Consequently, the teacher had to copy every word upon the chalkboard. The students, in turn, did so as well, word-for-word into their notebooks. Rote unison responses followed in lockstep.
Another day Mr. Stephens told me he had been called to speak with the principal. Woosh! Out he went. The lesson was in English. Again, the board became the text, this time for a story copied word for word. Relatively silent, amidst sounds of students dodging in and out the door, they laboriously copied every word.
Ok, I thought, enough of this perfunctory learning. Bring this story alive! I would “tell” the story. The tale came alive for me as I read it for the first time – pausing and repeating keywords.
Uncle Budu lived in the city, a heralded scholar. All knew him as an exemplary man of great learning. One day Uncle Budu returned to his village where learning was limited to the boiling pot and care of the family’s livestock. Young Anane, a boy of about 8 years, was in awe of his uncle, who was poignantly described as “a white black man whose palms were as soft as mushrooms.”
Anane’s mother agreed that Anane could go to the city and follow Uncle Budu. Anane succeeded there. He, too, became a great scholar and was very happy. Villagers now admire those who moved to the city.
Mr. Stephens returned just in time to join the storytelling – lessons on the benefits of village vs city, a little book learning vs big book learning. But what of “palms as soft as mushrooms” and “a white black man”? Again, I became the learner – hard physical labor produces tough palms, not palms “as soft mushrooms” like a scholar’s. Were scholars White? Does learning lead to whiteness? We discussed this for a while between ourselves.
In retrospect, the story was worth its weight in gold, or, worth its salt in gold. Why salt? A perfect question in Ghana, since decades ago slaves and gold were traded for salt along the coast to European slave traders. Up to a million Africans were deported from the Ghana region in the transatlantic slave trade for the Americas.
Mr. Stephens humbly posed two questions to me. Were all Americans able to read or speak English? And do people in the United States move from villages to the city? Great questions! Real learning doesn’t get much better than this!
Teaching with CCS in Ghana with middle school students was a privilege, enjoyable, and memorable. My thanks to teachers and those young scholars. May their palms be soft like mushrooms, defend those whose are hard from physical labor, and may they be black in mind, body, and soul.