On February 25 I went to Alta Vista Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, with Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope Board Member Fr. Nana Ellis for a cultural book exchange. The students at Alta Vista had been given The Ghanaian Goldilocks, about a little boy named Kofi who lives in Ghana, West Africa. I am not telling you all of the story because I don’t want to spoil it for you.
This is the second year I have visited with second graders at Alta Vista, thanks to the 2018 Giving Challenge donors and The Patterson Foundation, which provided the funds for the Cultural Book Exchange between Alta Vista and schools in Ghana
Students at Alta Vista learned new words and new things about the culture of Ghana. I took them on a virtual excursion to this faraway country. We flew in a plane over the ocean, rode in a very, very bumpy, very crowded “tro-tro” (a large bus), saw a home, and finally arrived at a Ghanaian school. Students compared their classroom to the one in Ghana. Quite a difference. They laughed and asked many questions.
Each student wrote a letter to a new friend in Ghana to go with the book Clifford at the Circus; because, after all, Sarasota is still a circus town!
Later that week I began my journey to Ghana with letters and books in hand. On March 5, everything came together and melted my heart for the children of both schools once more. It was like Christmas as I handed out the letters and books along with pencils donated by Alta Vista.
St. Augustine’s is a public school owned and operated by the Anglican Church. Notice the blue uniforms. The classroom we occupied showed much wear and tear; in fact, several of the classrooms have since been torn down. There are 70-90 children per classroom. The partitions between the classrooms are made of thin plywood, and the noise is deafening. To that noise you and the hustle and bustle of vendors selling food and children milling around the open courtyard, I had to shout just to be heard and even then, only a few could actually hear me.
After a quick review of Clifford,
we went on a virtual tour to Sarasota: we flew over the ocean, got on a school bus, crossed the Skyway Bridge, saw an alligator, some turtles, and a bald eagle, and finally arrived at Alta Vista. Wow, look at that sparkly clean classroom!
We put on our red noses!
We were ready! I borrowed a 32″ flat screen TV and hooked it to my laptop to do a Skype chat. I hired two young tech guys to help me. We connected everything. The TV looked great and…suddenly. . . the power went off! T.I.A., as we say: This Is Africa. Now we had no lights, no fan, and no TV. But wait! My able-bodied tech guys had brought a battery-operated back-up projector and a Bluetooth speaker, thereby saving the day!
We moved to a new classroom with less light. Aaaah, minimal change in lighting. The “white” board is more like a gray board. I began to wash the board, but the effort had minimal effect because of all of the light in the room. My little 13″ laptop is easier to see than the board. The Skype call began. Everyone was so excited.
A few students asked questions of one another. Then the Circus Arts Conservatory of Sarasota, thanks to Karen Bell, showed the Ghana students a mesmerizing clown act.
The Ghana class hospitably returned the gesture with drumming and dancing.
After another half hour of children asking and answering questions, our day was finished, and we sadly said good-bye. It was 3 p.m. in Ghana; 10 a.m. in Sarasota.
Thanks to all the incredible donors who chose to Be The One in 2018 and donate during the Giving Challenge to change so many lives. I have had the pleasure of watching joy in the eyes of excited children who could hardly imagine talking with someone 10,000 miles away. Thanks to The Patterson Foundation who matched those donations 320 children have a new friend in a faraway place.
When we expose children to other children who do not look the same but have similar wants and needs, we help them to focus on our similarities and less on our differences. Those children will never forget this experience.
With letters in hand, some mango lollypops, drum key chains, and a heart overflowing with love, I made the journey back to Sarasota. Before schools were shut down for the summer in Sarasota and in Ghana, children were given hope for a different future. Plans are already being made to continue this program next year.
Debi Frock, Founder/Executive Director