My name is Julianna Akrong. I was a classroom teacher in Ghana for twenty-two years. I taught at all levels from basic class one to high school. I became a Headmaster of a school and then Director in Charge of School Management and Supervision for Basic and Secondary Schools in Ghana. This is my first year as a volunteer here in Ghana for Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope.
On the first day of GMH Reading Camp at Boate, I was assigned to class one. I had eighteen children in my class from the ages of 5-13. Since I am a Ghanaian and can speak Twi as well as the local language for Boate, the children did not feel as shy with me as they might have with the Americans on the team. Class one children are non-readers, some don’t know the letter names or the sounds. It’s like being a Grandma to 18 children.
Two local teachers were assigned to help in my class. Dorcas is new to this village school and will be starting as a teacher in September. She has had some experience with kindergarten children and is very comfortable with the little ones. She is young and very pleasant.
Samuel is also young and a teacher at the school. He is very tall. I hear that he was one of the teachers who helped teach Reading Camp at Twerebo last summer. He teaches class six and was uncomfortable with the little ones at first but now he is having fun.
Today’s book was “How the zebra got it’s stripes.” When I was packing to come on this reading adventure, I read through the materials and saw the name of this book. I thought “Ah, I have just the right dress. It has stripes, like a zebra but they are black, brown, and red so it will be a good example of stripes.” The children loved it.
Each book has a poem the class learns to read before even knowing what the book will be. The poem helps to give children a clue about the story. We can also use the words in the poem to help the students to recognize letters. I have a large copy of the poem taped on the board and point to each word as we read.
I’m a little zebra white and black
With a bushy tail going down my back.
I like to gallop, run, and play
Out on the African plains all day.
I could hear other classes singing the poem but I am not familiar with the tune. I asked Auntie Debi to come sing the song with the class. She says the tune is from “I’m a little teapot,” but we don’t sing that song here in Ghana.
I then had the children paste the poem in their notebook. I asked the children to draw what they think the Zebra looks like. A zebra is like a horse with stripes like my dress. The children just could not imagine this zebra so we brought out a few of the storybooks to help them.
Dorcas had the children sit on the floor as she read the story. The children grew very excited. The story has a baboon, a giraffe, an elephant, and a zebra. These children have never seen any of these animals. They have never even seen a picture of these animals. We do have elephants and baboons here in Ghana but not near where the children live.
In art, everyone drew animals and painted them with watercolors.
After lunch we had library time. I was so happy to see the matching game. I would show a child a card with a picture of an object and ask them to find the word for that object. For some it was a challenge but helping them recognize the sound for the first letter of the word helped. I could see as each child made the connection between the sound and the letter and then to the word. The children loved playing this game. The two Ghanaian teachers who help Bruce in the art class were now helping in the library. They became just as excited about this game as the children. The children are learning when they are playing.
The day ended with Auntie Becki teaching the class to play a game called Red Rover. Dorcas and Samuel helped with the fun. Tomorrow we will give each child a letter of the alphabet and use that to play the game.
If you were to ask me why these Reading Camps should continue, I would tell you the this. It is a change in the life of the children. They learn a different way of doing things, making learning fun. It changes of attitude of the teachers in many ways including knowing that every child has the potential to learn. It show us that there are many methods to help each type of learner become a reader.
Most of all, I would tell you that it builds strong relationships in learning. Often teachers distance themselves from the children, making the children frightened and shy. In the GMH Reading Camps the children are not afraid and want to come and share a book with the teachers or read for them.
All of these children are now like my grandchildren and I want them to learn to love to read.
P.S. Every night Julie takes any food we cannot eat and saves it for the children who don’t get breakfast. We each give her our sausages and bread from breakfast as well. She asks each child “who has not eaten breakfast?” Julie then escorts them outside and feeds them the left overs. Thank you, Auntie Julie for helping us.