Accra, Days 3 and 4: CAMFED Scholars and Ashesi University

These last two days in Accra have been busy ones filled with work. Or rather, “work,” because it was all so enjoyable that it felt like anything but.

Yesterday, we presented a workshop to a mixed group of individuals who are all part of CAMFED, which is one of our partners. CAMFED is an organization that is dedicated to providing secondary and tertiary scholarships for girls so that they can attend schools. Girls’ education, especially in more rural parts of the country, is not necessarily seen as a priority for maybe families. CAMFED provides scholarships, uniforms and mentor support to thousands of girls across Ghana so that they can continue on in their education.

We were able to present secondary students, college students, teacher mentors and staff members of CAMFED. I was a little bit worried about this workshop because I hadn’t ever presented it before and there’s an old and, unfortunately, very true adage about the fact that teachers make the worst students. During professional development days, you’re liable to see teachers exhibiting all the worst behaviors of their students – scrolling through their phones, not paying attention, working on other work or talking while you’re talking. I’ve been guilty of it plenty of times myself even as I also try to curb the instinct.

But I think that this adage may only apply to American teachers. The teachers that attended yesterday’s workshop were all lovely – attentive, participatory and open to learning new ideas.

teachers

The lovely teacher-mentors of CAMFED-Ghana

I think we also might’ve gotten a unique population of teachers – those who are mentors to students as well as being teachers. It stands to reason that teachers in this role might be a lot more engaged in learning opportunities in general.

In my previous post, I mentioned how fun traveling can be because of the fact that it makes ordinary things extraordinary. The same goes for new experiences in general. I’ve taught dozens of children hundreds of different times, but, again, I’ve never facilitated with adults. I’m also terrible with small talk and introductions, which is a lot more important in wide group facilitation than it is in teaching. So, I was initially very nervous and it definitely showed, especially as people trickled in little by little and I did my best impression of a normal human being who is not at all shy or anxious.

The impression, unfortunately, wasn’t very good. I mostly just came off as twitchy and awkward.

Luckily, Lisa has a natural charisma and warmth that comes from being extroverted and, I think, hailing from the South. She immediately made people feel comfortable and welcomed, taking sure to ask them about themselves and making them smile as soon as they came in the door. Observing her allowed me to let go of my anxiety some because I realized at least one of us wasn’t going to be a fidgety mess.

The actual facilitation part, which is very much like teaching, came a lot easier to me. First off, my anxiety at teaching teachers faded almost immediately, when I realized that no one in the room saw me as an imposter or incompetent, but actually regarded me as an expert in the subject. Secondly, everyone in the room was so engaged and respectful. Both the secondary and tertiary students showed an initiative at being helpful and useful that I was frankly envious of all the teachers in Ghana; I only had to pick up a stack of papers and a student would jump to pass them out. Finally, once I actually got into the teaching part of it all, I slipped into it quite easily. Even if I didn’t know the material as well as I might’ve liked, and was running on three hours of sleep, some things have just become muscle memory. Facilitation is a bit more involved than teaching, at times, but the basic mechanics are the same. I really enjoyed the day . The workshop as a whole went really well – we had great participation from all involved and I think (hope) that everyone got something useful out of it.

camfed

Notice how cool I am in matching those secondary scholars’ school uniforms.

My favorite part, though, wasn’t so much the workshop itself, but sitting at lunch and talking with those involved in the program. As we broke for lunch, I was tempted to do what I always do and sit next to someone that I know so as to avoid the anxiety of having to make conversation. However, as I went through the buffet line, I realized how much I’d be irritated with myself at missing out on this opportunity to engage with people I’d never met before and learn about an experience that I’m completely ignorant of. So, I made myself sit with a group of people I didn’t really know: two tertiary students – one a junior, the other a freshman – as well as a staff member of CAMFED. I was able to learn so much about the Ghanaian school system (compulsory until 8th grade, at which point you take a, 8 subject! national exam to be placed into a senior high secondary school, then take another national exam to attend college), Ghanaian culture in general (the different ethnic groups and languages- such as the lingering beef between the Ewe and the Akan and ideas about Northern Ghana), the backgrounds of the three ladies I was sitting with, as well as the work that CAMFED does.

One of the fun things to notice, too, were just all the small differences in language. So you don’t major in something, you read something. It’s not college, it’s tertiary school. Instead of grades, it’s forms. Instead of scholarships, it’s bursary or bursar.

I also got some advice one what I absolutely needed to eat in terms of ‘genuine’ Ghanaian food – and was pleased to find that I’d already eaten many of them. Jollof rice, red red, plantain and fufu were all listed. The only one I’m still missing is banku, which I plan on checking off in the coming days.

All in all, a very successful day. Although, unfortunately, that night was not as successful as I did not get any sleep at all. I did, however, finish the Queen of the Tearling series and really quite enjoyed it (review forthcoming), so at least there’s that.

So onto day 4.

Oh! Before I talk about that, I’ve been really enjoying the advertisements and signs that I’ve seen around Ghana. First off, Lisa and I have asked a lot of Ghanaians about what makes them proud to be Ghanaian or what do the like about Ghana, and over and over again we’ve heard a lot about their peaceful elections or the fact that Ghana is a peaceful country. I thought this was so interesting because it definitely shows in the advertisements I’ve seen as we’ve driven around Accra.

There were actually two others that I really liked as well, but unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough in the car to get a photo of them. But they were just regular household products companies – I think one was a paint, the other a cleaning solution – who would advertise their products and the importance of peaceful, clean elections. That truly is something to be proud of, I think.

My other favorite sign I’ve seen around town is this one:

no-hawking

I’m fascinated by the use of “hawking” rather than soliciting or selling. I’m also quite tickled at the fact that these signs are mostly ignored, as you can see from this picture. In many places, there will be stalls and people with wares standing directly in front of this sign hawking their wares.

So, anyway, Day 4 (this morning) dawned and I had literally gotten no sleep. Ah, well, I’d done enough all-nighters in my time to know that I could power through it.

We woke up early and took the long, bumpy road up to Ashesi University. Our driver kept reiterating just how bad the road was and how often his taxi driver friends refuse to take people up it. About thirty minutes later, with a headache and a fair amount of nausea due to the amount of bumps and potholes that we hit in the road, I could see why.

ashesi2

The view from Ashesi’s main entrance. That red dirt road in the distance is what we traveled along to get there. 

However, Ashesi itself is defintely beautiful and unique enough to warrant the trip. It was founded by Patrick Awuah Jr., a man who grew up in Accra but studied in the states. He left a very successful engineering career with Microsoft to come back to his hometown and found this university, with his overall vision being to educate the future leaders of Africa. Walking the grounds of the university, you can really see how much love, care and thought went into it.

img_3876

The view of the main courtyard from the second floor

But the beautiful campus wasn’t the reason we were there – or, at least, it wasn’t the only reason. We met up with two of our former interns from last year – Bridget and Sihle – and got together with a few other Scholars at the university to conduct research interviews on our project. I won’t go over the details here since I’ll write them up in a report on Monday, but again, it was such a great experience to sit down face to face and just talk to Scholars about their experiences. Like I mentioned a few entries ago, I think it’s going to be these conversations that I end up loving the most out of this whole trip. I truly love my job and I love the impact that we’re making and potentially going to make on this group of amazing students. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to feel connected to them when you’re sitting behind a computer screen all day, writing out content. These conversations helped me to get a fuller sense of the users of our project, put faces and personalities to names, and just really provided motivation and inspiration for what we’re doing.

ashesi-scholars

Some of the lovely Ashesi Scholars we got to meet with. Notice that Lisa and I are unwittingly matching. 

Afterwards, we drove back down this treacherous road with Bridget and Sihle and went to eat together and catch up in Accra.

interns2

It was such a great time for both Lisa and I (and hopefully Bridget and Sihle). Managing the interns has probably been one of, if not my most, favorite experiences since starting this job and it was wonderful to catch up and just chat in a way that wasn’t about work or upcoming deadlines or projects.

These were a busy two days but incredibly fun and fulfilling, which you don’t often get hand in hand.

Tomorrow we have a day off, so we’ll be heading down to Cape Coast for the day and hitting up Kakum National Park and Cape Coast Castle. Hopefully I’ll get more sleep tonight!

 

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