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Eleven 50 pound bags later

144 pounds of materials x 3 villages = 432 pounds: all purchased, packed, delivered, and now consumed by children and teachers who are hungry for knowledge, for books, for reading, for encouragement, for the love of a loving God poured out for them. This is GMH’s Reading Camp, which in now completed for 2021.

AKRAMAMAN, TWEREBO, BOATE

What does it mean to grow up poor? Not American poor, but dirt poor… dirt floors, baked dirt walls, dirt roads, dirt for toys, dirt coatings on trees and papers and desks and chairs. Poor enough to need to skip meals, to skip school, to skip learning, to skip childhood, to skip hope? It means that you do not know what a zoo is, even though you live in a land of wild birds and animals. It means that there is no library, no available internet, no way to gain a knowledge of the global society that is humming around the world but not around you.

After a year away due to Covid, Reading Camp 2021 happened. Smiles happened, learning happened, encouragement happened, love happened, hope happened. Love and hope, two powerful, transformative words. 432 pounds of material make a small difference. 432 pounds of materials multiplied by human love and hope multiply that difference tenfold. 432 pounds of materials multiplied by human love and hope, and the love of God, make an exponentially multiplied difference. 

The last day of Reading Camp has come and is now fading fast toward midnight. But the thanks of the teachers, the smiles of the children, the hope and the love are not fading, and they will not fade. For me, they will sustain me until next year, the next camp, the next group of children and teachers, the next opportunity to once again purchase, pack, and carry 144 pounds of material per village as a way of bringing the hope and love of Jesus to these dear people, these children who are starving for want of books, and these dedicated teachers who are longing for training and attention so they may improve their craft and the lives of every child they teach.

Becki Neumann+

Welcome to Reading Camp 2021

It is always exciting each year as we begin our week of three village Reading Camps running simultaneously. Our prayer is to empower each village to run their Reading Camp without our assistance once they have completed three camps with us. Right now we have Akramaman and Twerebo running on their own while we have helped at Boate for the last three Reading Camps.

Every day has a different book and a different theme. At the end of camp, every camper receives the books they have worked with all week. Most years it is five books. Due to COVID, the Ghana school system ended late and we needed to cut out one day of camp so children received four books this year. Every child leaves happy and yet sad knowing the next week they will not be in camp. Here is a view of our camps.

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Akramaman photo Solomon Worlako

TWEREBO

TWEREBO
TWEREBO THANK YOU

BOATE

BOATE

Today is the first day that I have had sufficient internet service and I am in Dubai waiting to catch a plane home. My heart is full. The joy of watching students and teachers, find a love for reading is beyond mere words or photos. Thank you for sharing your love and resources to those who need a little hope.

Blessings, Debi

30 Ghanaian teachers, many very new to the profession.

How do you add value to 30 teaches who have spent most of the last year unemployed or just graduating from high school? Believe me, this was a challenging year, however, thanks to COVID, Zach Neumann had time to finish his Masters Degree, Administration and Personal Development. Part of his thesis was developing a teacher training guide for our Ghanaian Reading Camp Teachers. I’ll let Becki and Zach Neumann tell you more about our training.

Becki Neumann

What does it mean to train teachers who teach in a culture and in an education system that are significantly different from what we experience in America? It means building respect, building on what is known, and honoring traditions and methods here while teaching new methods. Most of all, it means honoring these people who lay their lives on the line day by day to bring the best education possible to the students they are charged to educate. It means seeing the hope of Christ at work in them and trying to make the hope of Christ visible in what we do and how we do it. Our goal is not simply increased professionalism and technique for teachers. Our goal is to reveal the glory of God at work in and through the very human hands of people who dedicate themselves to children.

Day one of training

For many years I (Becki) have brought teacher training to Ghana. I have focused on child development, positivity, skills for beginning readers, and our reading camp curriculum. This year, however, we have worked to deepen and broaden our training. In a phrase, we wanted to take it to the next level. Enter Zach, who worked to provide a deeper, richer training that will help sustain these dedicated men and women.

Zach Neumann

Teaching is hard. Very hard. It is one of the most difficult, challenging professions on Earth, no matter where you are. I (Zach) work with teachers in the US, where we have abundant resources, are paid even when school is out during a pandemic, and the practices used in classrooms are modern and based in research. So what do you do when you are not paid during a pandemic? What do you do when you have no resources? How can you grow in your profession if there is no quality professional learning available? You keep on doing what you have been doing, over and over. This is my 11th trip to Ghana to assist with reading camp. This is my first trip where part of the focus is to provide professional learning for the proud, dedicated teachers with whom we work.

Moses Asare asks questions. Moses has a Masters Degree in Business and can only find a job reaching English and Math

During our teacher training, which was roughly one and a half days, I wanted the teachers to experience what it was like to be a student again. We explored several activities and strategies that can be used in any classroom to enhance the students’ learning experience. We modeled Think, Pair, Share. We discussed how memorization is the beginning of learning and how to help students move beyond simple recall to true understanding. The teachers shared why reading is an essential life skill we and explored some ways to increase and support literacy in the classroom, both for reading camp and for their regular classes.

There are two ideas we talked about that I feel truly hit home for this talented group of teachers. The first is when we were talking about how to build and maintain positive relationships with students. Each teacher was able to share ways that he or she currently do and, in the future, will work to have good relationships with their students. It was evident that they care deeply for their students. Some of the ideas presented were familiar while some were quite new but all of the teachers were willing to consider trying something new for the sake of their students because, as we all said at the beginning, being a teacher is all about the students.

Relating as a child

The second idea (or ideas) that I believe rang true was the three foundational beliefs for teachers that I share. These are that relationships matter, every student is worthy of love and effort every day, and the teachers are ultimately servant-leaders. They shared what came to mind when they heard the words SERVANT and LEADER separately. And then, we put some thoughts together about what makes a servant-leader: humble, leads, serves, cares, inspires, encourages, sacrifice, listens, focused, and respects. It was a powerful moment when, after these words were written under the title SERVANT LEADER, I then wrote TEACHER in the title. Many of these dear teachers have not seen themselves as leaders and some have not seen themselves as servants but they could all see themselves as servant-leaders. That is how a good teacher begins to become a great teacher.

Debi Frock

For me,(Debi), I was an observer on day one, adding comments when appropriate. On the second day of training, I taught from the book Mind in the Making, thanks to The Patterson Foundation. This training has been a true blessing for these teachers who have not been exposed the science behind Executive Function and the seven essential life skills needed to develop children into Self-Directed, Engaged Learners. I so enjoyed watching their eyes grow wide as we played Simon Says and they realized how games like this help their students work on focus and self-control. Teachers are often given educational training but not developmental science.

There were many new teachers this year. Some new teachers had just graduated from high school and had only been teaching for three months. They took copious notes, asked difficult questions, and cried with me as I told them they were the ones to create change that will impact the future of Ghana. I told the starfish story and let them know that if I can impact one life of a teacher or child, that is all that is needed. One impacts one who impacts one, etc., and that is how change happens. God’s blessings on all of the teachers who are embarking on this journey.

Happy Teachers

6,574 miles later!!!

For me the trip started last Monday with a trip to Baltimore, my home town. I was delighted to have dinner with my friend Eileen McGrow. I always try to see her before heading to Ghana. Pappas restaurant on Taylor Avenue and they have amazing crab cakes.

Pappas Restaurant

After a short night in a hotel, 4 am arrives too quickly, and dropping off my rental car, on to the airport by rental car bus with my 15 pound back pack and four fifty pound suitcases. I planned to have a porter take my two-hundred pounds of suitcases with books and camp supplies, but God knew I would be sitting for 14 hours on the plane and could use a workout. If you have never been to Dulles Airport in VA/DC area, let me set the scene. Rental car buses do not drop you off up at the departure gates. Instead you are dropped off in the ground floor. You enter the building and are immediately faced with a giant 60 degree ramp that you must walk for what seemed like an eternity. By now my backpack was strapped tight to my back and all four suitcases were piled on a dinky cart. With my arms stretched out and my feet trudging one step at a time, Mask On, I lumbered up the never ending hill. I found breathing very difficult. Thankfully there was an elevator on level one to take me to level three.

Two hours later I paid for my extra bags. I had two. Becki and Zach had four extra bags. Boarding was relatively easy. I was flying Emirates Airbus. Unfortunately business class was out of reach. Again, God is so good. I had a window seat and both the seats next to me were empty. I could put my legs up. Six movies, two meals, and a snack later I arrived in Dubai at 8:05 am. Emirates gave me a beautiful hotel room with wifi but all I cared about was the bed. After a five hour nap, I prepared to meet my niece who happens to be teaching in Dubai.

Unfortunately, before leaving the states I began having issues with reflux. It seemed like everything I ate sent acid shooting into my esophagus, leaving my throat raw. I have had this before. It happens quickly but the cure takes a long time. Small meals, no alcohol, chocolate, tomatoes, onions, spice of any kind. Rice and graham crackers work the best.

We found a nice restaurant downtown and afterward we walked to a pharmacy where I could purchase over the counter meds. My throat was on fire and my head was splitting. On top of that, my sinuses kept dripping causing me to cough. That turns heads in this COVID world. Yes, I had a negative test before I left and a negative test when I got here. I know my body well.

I won’t bore you with the miserable night and the 4 movie flight to Accra. Upon arrival I was whisked away to COVID testing. Not too bad. Results arrived in 20 minutes. I once again drug four 50 pound suitcases onto a cart and headed to Customs. I explained about our camp supplies and the nice agent wished me God’s best on my trip.

Mercia met me outside the terminal and off we schlepped with suitcases in tow to the car. After a stop at Foreign Exchange to exchange money, I was safely in my room unpacking my meager personal belongings. After a great bucket bath, I was in bed by 9 and slept on and off for 6 hours. I am sure the house enjoyed my hacking up fur balls all night.

Becki and Zach arrived by 5 pm safely. With 8 suitcases, and four carry-ons, we hired a tro-tro, local broken down van used as a bus. Tomorrow we start our first teacher workshop. To be continued.

Accra traffic, women selling food, caskets, Mercia’s road.

Blessings, Debi

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A Ghanaian Easter

As Easter approaches our U.S. stores are filled with artificial grass, baskets, and chocolate Easter bunnies. People shop for new clothes and for traditional Easter dinner foods. Churches mark the approach to Easter with Palm Sunday services, Holy week services that walk participants through the last days of Jesus’ life and death, leading to the glorious celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, his triumph over death and the grave. These weeks leading to Easter are a mixture of secular spring celebrations, and reflection upon the central events that define the Christian faith.

What is it like in Ghana? As a country that is predominately Christian, (their government census from 2010, the latest available, lists 71% of the population as Christian), there is wide focus on the same religious events one finds in the U.S. Palm Sunday is widely celebrated with processions of palm and handkerchief waving worshippers in the streets. God Friday church services command good attendance as worshippers lay down their sins at the cross of Christ. Easter results in joyous music, dancing, and shouts of “Alleluia.” Easter Monday is a state holiday, and a day for families to enjoy time together picnicking or traveling to touristy attractions. Special foods are prepared and shared within the family.

There is a secular side to Easter in Ghana as well, and this facet is growing. In the Eastern Region some tribal peoples see Easter as time of returning home for celebration with family. For some the secularization of the holiday means it is a time for beach binging and merry making. ModernGhana.com reports, “The Kwahu Mountains now divert attention from church activities to the National Paragliding Festival site. The paragliding festival has become the center of attraction for Easter festivities as people across the globe troop to the Kwahu Mountains to participate or observe the extraordinary event.”

As missioners who work in Ghana, we encourage our friends there to follow in the steps of Jesus, going with him to his death, and into the promise of new and resurrected life. Making merry along the way is fine, but we dare not let that replace true Easter joy which is found in celebrating Jesus defeating death, and rising to new life, a life to which we are all invited.

Faithfully,

The Rev. Becki Neumann

When your heart is overflowing

 

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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.

The Ghanaian Goldilocks

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!

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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.

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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,

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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!

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We put on our red noses!

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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!

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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.

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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

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Groundnut paste and strawberry jam, yum!

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Today I had so much fun with the children of Children of Mary Preschool. These dear ones range from just a few months old to age 6 years. I only scared one child. One is not bad out of 60.

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This is part of new programing aimed at helping children across the globe get to know one another. Thanks to Angel of Hope, a non profit in Tarpon Springs, FL, we were able to partner a preschool in Michigan with Children of Mary.

The Michigan preschool studied Ghana, pounded fufu, and fried plantains to have a taste of Ghana food. The Ghana children ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and canned cherries for a taste of children’s food in Michigan. The cherries were a bust. They had seeds and were not very tasty at all.

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The children have written letters to the Michigan school. They received letters from that school already and now have new friends in a far away land. I love my job. Here are just a few of my favorite faces today.

 

 

 

 

What difference do five books make? by Rev. Becki Neumann

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.

Why do I keep coming back by Bruce Neumann

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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Everyone Smiles in the Same Language by Janet Neumann

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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