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DSC_0275What difference do five books make in the life of a child growing up in the abject poverty of a Ghanaian village? How can five books combat the red dust carried on humid breezes, generations of third grade education at best, and the lethargy brought on by the intensity in of the sun? Do five books make a difference in a country where tribal traditions clash with modern life?

DSCN1210Do two days of teacher training by an American teacher turned priest really have an impact on Ghanaian teachers who have grown up in a culture of strict and archaic teaching methodology?

To these questions I answer an emphatic yes. Culture change is slow. Changing the culture of the children to embrace books and reading as a means to gain knowledge is slow. But after eleven trips to Ghana I am seeing change.

20190809_130338This past week I have seen teachers coming to appreciate the importance of reading, of teachers committing to become life-long learners so they can bring better education to their students.

294c6890-1b01-4b2a-b559-6b0e345cf46dIn the three villages where we are working, we see children loving books and choosing to read over other activities. We see the value of education being celebrated.

2efd3059-e92d-4c45-9030-e31471ecb567In Akramaman, where we have been working the longest, we see education being celebrated by the government with the construction of the first ever public high school in that area.

IMG_1310Reading camp 2019 has come to a close. Our time in Ghana is nearly spent, and our hearts are turning toward home. But there is a part of my heart that remains firmly anchored here.

DSC_0160It is the love of the God who first loved us that compels me to return to Ghana year after year. Jesus went about doing good, and that is his call on my life as well as the lives of all who follow him. In my life, and in the lives of our team and those we serve, he uses five books to make a profound difference.

P1440716I almost didn’t make it back to Ghana this year, but, thank God I did; another year is in the books. This year was the second year for Reading Camp at Boate. Over the week we have seen great growth in the children and in the teachers. P1440717While others were leading classroom activities in reading, I was in the art room leading art projects with my friend Merle. Even in the art room, I could see the gains the children and teachers were making, especially compared to last year.

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This year’s art projects included spotting a leopard, friendship bracelets, painting a bear, elephant stick puppets, toilet paper tube owls, and footprint penguins. Teachers and children enjoyed all the projects, and most especially the owls and penguins.

The Boate teachers joined right into the projects and took initiative in helping the children know what to do.

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My three Ghanaian Art Room Teachers, Michael, Ofori, and Collins

Last year I arrived home very ill. Why did I return? Nothing tops the smiles and giggles of the children as a new art project unfolds. I feel it is my calling to come and to help change the lives of these children and teachers forever,

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IMG_3772One of my favorite things to see is children smiling and playing.  As reading camp comes to an end, I am just recalling all the fun that the children have had and are having. We hear it in the states, keep children engaged and they will excel in the learning process.  However, in Ghana student engagement is minimal.

IMG_3785 2There seems to be an ongoing cycle of repetition, monotony in lessons and a lack of enthusiasm from the teachers.  In such an environment, a student is less than excited about learning or reading.  We come to teach not only children but teachers.

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This week we have had created songs out of poems and added movements.  We have enacted skits during library time.  We have allowed children to be children. They are expected to be perfect, but we as humans are not perfect.  Perfection is only present in God.

P1440587.jpgThis week has made me appreciate the opportunity to leave a lasting impression.  I hope that my students will remember what they have learned.  However, most of all I hope that these sweet children remember my smile and that during our week together, I was their biggest cheerleader and that reading is the key to a better future.

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Jason and Tabitha Wheeler live in northern Virginia and attend Christ Church, Anglican. Jason volunteered in Ghana with Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope in 2012.

Day two

2012 Bruce digging, Jason helping and Ronny adjusting the pole

From Jason:

This is my second Reading Camp in Ghana through Ghanaian Mothers Hope.  When the first trip came to an end, I promised the children “I will be back again soon”.  Well, it took me seven years to keep that promise, but I am so thrilled to be back.   As one of my fellow missioners says, “you will never get the red Ghanaian dirt off your shoes” (in other words, you will always have a piece of it in your heart and a desire to return).

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Jason and Tabitha on the Canopy Walk

This second time around is even more special for me since I’m sharing the experience with my oldest daughter, Tabitha.  She has been longing to participate in these Reading Camps since she was 10-years old, and now Tabitha will be starting her senior year of high school this fall and there was no stopping her from coming.  Tabitha has a big heart for little children and a real gift for teaching, and would like to pursue early childhood education as a career.  What a wonderful opportunity to enrich herself as well as the children of Ghana.  I have no doubt she will learn just as much from them in the process.
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We just completed day 3 of reading camp in Boate, a small farming village approximately 2 hours north of the capital city of Accra.  I am leading the level 1 class along with one of our teen missioners, Carys.  We also have 3 Ghanaian teachers in the classroom who are assisting but also learning about the way grade school children are taught in the U.S.

20190805_095633My level 1 class is for the 2nd graders (who range in ages from about 8 to 14) who are struggling the most with their reading.  On day 1, most knew the alphabet, some knew the sounds of the letters, but few could actually read any words. But where these children lack in their current reading abilities they make up for with their desire, dedication, effort, respect, and eagerness to learn.  These children come from homes with dirt floors, thatched roofs, no electricity, and no running water.  They also have no books to call their own, yet they know that books can open up a door to the bigger world beyond their village.  But the key to unlocking that door is through the ability to read.

IMG_6057I’m very encouraged by the progress so far.  After just three short days of teaching through books, poems, songs and art, we are already seeing improvement in their abilities.  To see their eyes go big and a smile from ear-to-ear as they suddenly realize “Hey! I just read something in this book!” is enough to melt anyone’s heart.  The experience for all of us is beyond magical, it is providential!

From Tabitha:

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I has officially been three days of reading camp, and I am so proud of my class. They went from too nervous to speak to so excited they didn’t want to stay in their seats. They are no longer afraid to laugh or giggle when something is funny. I make sure to always have a smile on my face, that way, if a child looks at me while I’m observing their work, they’ll see a happy face.

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The thing I am most surprised about is their level of confidence. They’ll gladly pop out of their seats to do dance motions with us, where as on the first day, no one would move or even make a sound. Many students still struggle with understanding and remembering the sounds of the letters

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Leading a class can be a bit nerve-wracking, but it makes it easy to see how incredibly far they’ve come in just three short days. I know I won’t be able to hold back the tears when day five comes to a close.

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Day Two by Zach Neumann

A small, dark blue school bus makes its way down a dirt road through the African bush. On either side, the passing scenery is of towering palm trees bending under the weight of coconuts and the dense, green foliage of cocoa trees with their pods hanging from the trunk like fat, green missiles.

P1440732As we ‘round the bend in the road, a small cluster of huts emerges with a group of children waiting with anticipation. When they see the bus bounce into view, they begin to shout and jump with joy. It is time to be picked up for reading camp.

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As I stepped off the bus to open the door for the children, Adjoa, in her purple dress, grabs my hand, smiles and says, “Good morning, Uncle Zach”. As the bus makes its rounds, we stop at four or five other places to collect some of the children who live too far from the school to walk. We laugh and smile as the bus bounces along the road. The children giggle at the goofy, big white guy whose head looks like a boggle head. The sound of children giggling with delight is one of the purest, most uplifting sounds in the world.

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Reading camp. 55 children from this village gather this week for special attention. All of the primary school students have been invited. The US team has brought books, songs, smiles, and hugs. Many of the children struggle to read. During the reading assessment where we determined which class the students should be in, I met several who told me their age of 12 years and that they are in class three, the equivalent of third grade. These are our children. These are the ones who come each day, seeking to read, knowing that without the ability to read, their future is limited, or worse, non-existent. What a burden for such young hearts and minds to bear. In just two days, some of the children have shown improvement. Some, who could not identify letters yesterday, know the whole alphabet today. What will they be able to do tomorrow? Some, who could not read the words, “A happy smile”, can now show their joyous smiles as the read and understand words on a page. What will they be able to read tomorrow? A sign? A job application? A doctor’s directions? A president’s speech?

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Dear readers, pause for a moment and think exactly how much you read every single day. Road signs. Computer screens. Billboards. Directions. Recipes. What if you could not read? How would your life be plunged into darkness? How would you function? Imagine that despite your efforts, you can only pick out a few letters. Now what? Where is your future? That is what we come to Ghana to do. We strive to empower both the Ghanaian teachers and students so that they may have a hope for a future. All students have dreams but not all students have access to those dreams. Day two of reading camp has helped our dear children in Boate take another step towards their dreams. What promises and dreams will day three hold?

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Merle is a retired engineer and former Peace Corps volunteer. Merle has been a long time supporter of Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope. He brought his granddaughter, Carys Cox with him.

From Merle:

Monday, August 5, 2019. Botheau, Ghana.  This is the first day that we have actually worked in the village of Boate at the Reading Camp.

20190805_081147There were many children already in the school compound when we arrived early to organize the materials in the classrooms to do the day’s work.  They all seemed very excited to see us and know that the day ahead would bring new chances to learn and to meet old friends and make new ones.  We are all ready and anxious to help in giving these children a chance to learn to read better, knowing that this can and will help in the future to improve their situations.

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I worked in the Art class room with Bruce Neumann and the Ghanaian teachers to present a visual representation of “How the Leopard Got Its Spots”.  This comprised of having the children come to the front of the room to dip their fingers in black paint and putting their fingerprints on the image of a leopard that Bruce had drawn and cutout for the class.  Some of the classes had not had time to read the story in their class before this, so Bruce summarized to book for them. The children also did “Friendship Bracelets” and played with spiral graphs to make geometric line designs on papers.

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Seeing the children in this village and realizing that there is actually something that we are doing to help them gives a new perspective on the ability to participate in a program like this.  Sometimes the view of all the need in the world for improvement and the feeling of frustration that there is not more that can be done for more people can lead to paralyzing inaction or indifference.  When you actually see what can be done even in a small village with what seems to be a small number of children, it can be a catalyst to realize that we each can only take responsibility as God gives us the ability.  We can change the world one child at a time, knowing that we have done what we can at that particular point in time, and that God will use it to His purposes and in His timing for His good purposes.  We can show the love of Christ to these children even in this way.

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Merle in front center with Carys behind him

From Carys:

Today was my first day at Reading Camp, Boate Village. In the morning while some children were being assessed, the other children played with a large frisbee we brought, while running over loose gravel and large stones. The kids were so excited to be at Reading Camp that many of them waited for two hours in the courtyard before we even came to the school.

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I am very impressed with the dedication of the Boate Teachers. Last week they traveled for three hours all the way to Akramaman to attend the Teacher Training and Reading Camp instructions.

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It is a wonderful thing to see them show up during summer break to help the children in their village and further enhance their skills as teachers.

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Seeing the children’s eagerness to learn is wonderful, however, I am sad knowing there are so resources available to them. They are all so sweet and shy, yet eager to try something new.

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I loved getting to know so many children today and I can’t wait to find out more about their personalities as the week goes on.

This year we are so fortunate to have three parent/grandparent – child pairs traveling with us. Ben Spiker, a long standing board member, brought his son Aiden with him. Aiden has grown up with Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope.

From Ben:

On Saturday, the team had the opportunity to travel a few hours from Accra to Kakum National Park in Cape Coast. It was our chance to visit an African Rainforest.

20190803_104848Though in all honesty, I slept through most of the three-hour travel to the park due to jet lag, the variety of sights, sounds, and smells along the way will stay with me for some time. Wither it was the goats and children playing alongside of the road, or the incongruent dilapidated shanty-like villages with massive, state of the art soccer stadiums, I am constantly struck by the brimming opportunity and work ethic of the Ghanaian people.

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Kakum National Park boasts a wonderful canopy walk that allows visitor to tour the rainforest canopy at a height of nearly 130 feet.

It includes seven rope bridges spanning 1,080 feet. There was a one-mile trek up a hill before entering the canopy walk. Nine team members climbed with me.

IMG_6404We had fun taking photos of one another as we trekked from tree to tree. This allowed us all of feel like part of the rainforest usually only experienced by the birds and monkeys. What a wonderful day.

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Ben and Aiden Spiker

From Aiden:

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We went to the Elmina Castle in the Cape Coast Area. It was a big white fort which looks a bit like a castle originally built by the Portuguese in 1405. It was used to house slaves before shipping them to the Americas. The Dutch won it from the Portuguese and then it was later occupied by the British. Ghana won its independence from Britain in 1957.

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We learned a lot about the mistreatment of slaves. They were tortured, sexually abused, and treated worse than animals. The soldiers would put hundreds of slaves in a small cell with no bathroom and little food for more than three months. Two out of every three slaves died in the cells. They were not buried but decomposed right there in the room. There is over three feet of human remains in the cells.

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Learning about all of these things makes me feel different in many ways. It makes me feel sad for all who suffered, but it also makes me feel mad that any human could do this to another human. I am glad to have learned all of this.

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