BY FRED MUELLER | DECEMBER 8, 2010
An unusual request
In the puzzle of today’s world there are many interesting interlocking pieces, some very exotic and colorful and others very sad and difficult to fit together. Every American citizen need only travel outside our boundaries to realize how fortunate we are. I have traveled extensively since retirement, but this year, for the first time I tried something different: a volunteer vacation. With Global Volunteers, an organization located in Minnesota, I traveled to Ghana in West Africa as a member of a team of thirteen to help in construction and education on a school campus in the village of New Akrade. Like Cave Creek several years back most roads were dirt, many dwellings were meager and the commercial element somewhat limited.
I had the privilege of being assigned as a teacher in the six room junior high. My assigned curriculum consisted of morals and religion and Social Studies. In the later afternoon the entire team returned to the school for tutoring in English reading. Ghana, formerly a British colony called the Gold Coast was the main source of the slave trade to our southern states. The many tribal languages are still taught in the primary grades but they begin to learn English in the third grade. Every afternoon we placed ourselves under the mango trees and listened to the kids read. Ripe mangos were dropping like bombs and exploding on the ground around us! But what a rewarding experience it was to work with such beautiful, intelligent and eager children. Their proud smiles are most remembered!
My classrooms were bare old cement block garage size structures with screenless windows and doors on two sides. Forty students clamored into old wooden desks and politely listened to such topics as circumcision, obedience and commitment. They reasoned that commitment to a job in life meant financial reward. When asked if I had any American money to show them I looked in my wallet and there was a five dollar bill with none other than Abe Lincoln on it. Well, what an opportunity to discuss the slave trade, the Civil War and the freeing of their ancestors on American soil. Obviously they know Obama and his roots on their continent. There are even little package of cookies call “Obama biscuits.”
On other days it was a struggle teaching geography – especially with no maps or a globe. It was also difficult to scribble on the one and only termite infested chalkboard. We had no electricity in the rooms but the students had created some hand made erasers. The scurrying about of chickens and turtles were entertaining as were the many goats standing outside the doors to be educated. Those were the cutest little baby goats!
One day I was tardy letting my class go for a break. Those with some money went to the outdoor makeshift cafeteria. Those penniless remained in the room. I decided to join some of the students who had gone into the woods for lunch. They were all eating rice by hand out of one bowl and dipping it into a red sauce that was so hot and spicy I thought it was equivalent to an African Drano.
Another day one of the teachers I was assisting took me with him into the village looking for two truant female students. What an experience that was! Many homes were nothing more than thatched-roof mud cubicles. There was no answer at one home but we met Grandpa at the other. He had white hair. Only four percent live past age 60 and there is little white hair.
I asked about a barbershop in town and was told my head would be shaved and what was left would be died black! I opted to wait until I returned home to Great Clips. Anyway, Grandpa helped us find the wayward girl, along with two other friends. She did have a uniform and agreed to return to school. Her friends had no money for the required uniform.
Teaching geographical land forms was really a challenge. I had them pretend they were fishing out in the bay and look at the shoreline. I drew, as best I could, a chalk line across the board indicating hills, mountains, lagoons and every other land form I could think of. It worked!
I could go on and on – the ceremonial events with tribal chiefs and the “Queen Mother” were interesting as was a trip to a craft market and the old slave castles along the coast.
The humidity in Ghana made July and August in Cave Creek seem pleasant. Our lodgings were adequate with air conditioning and warm showers when we had electricity and water. The food was tempered down for our tastes but rice twice a day was boring.
The Ghanian people are my most important memories of the puzzle. They are beautiful people with proud happy amber faces – they have no idea what they don’t have! But the kids know they don’t have maps or a globe. I doubt there is any structure in those rooms to support a set of wall maps but I did promise them I’d send a globe to the school. I’m presently looking for an inexpensive or used globe to send them. There must be one somewhere in our foothills. Such a gift to the school in Ghana would complete my puzzle. I can be reached at 480-488-6156.