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On Thursday afternoon as the children of Boate village were leaving Reading Camp, they called out, “See you tomorrow,” and we Americans were calling back, “See you tomorrow!” And then it hit me, I would not be saying that tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. At best, I will get to say it next year. And the tears started. And even as I type these words, the tears gather in my eyes. Why?

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It is because I will miss the bright, shy smiles, and the quiet and somber voices that grow through the week to giggles and sparkling eyes. I will miss seeing the reluctant readers who are fearful becoming excited and enthusiastic as they try. I will miss the seeing the teachers who use archaic methods that teach the mechanics of reading trying modern, scientifically proven methods that encourage the love of reading. I will miss hearing the strict tones being transformed into encouraging voices. In other words, I will miss seeing visible and real… TRANSFORMATION!

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But even all of that is not why I’m writing this on my birthday, the day after the closing of two of our three reading camps for 2018, from Ghana. At Debi’s invitation 10 trips go, I came to Ghana for the first time, and I came reluctantly.

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So, why do I return? Because the love of Christ compels me… and you, to love and bless and care for those whom he loves, which is everyone in the WHOLE WORLD, including those who are often forgotten, who have no voice, who live in remote places with minimal resources. What does the love of God look like? It looks like sharing our resources, our knowledge and material wealth. It looks like loving a village child and helping them to understand that they matter, that to God there is no such thing as being “just a village child.” The gospel mandate is to incarnate the love of God, just as Jesus became the incarnate Word of God for us.

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Our incarnate word is HOPE. Jesus never gives up hope on us. We never give up hope of his love transforming lives, ours and those of the people he calls us to serve. What difference do five books make? They give hope, hope that all children can learn, that all teachers want to grow and learn, hope that these children we serve matter, they really matter, to us and to God. Five books and an American team willing to put God and others first translate into hope… and love. Is it possible that Jesus wants to speak hope and love through you to the children and teachers of Ghana? Never say never, I did that in 2006, and in the last decade I’ve had more birthdays in Ghana than in the US.

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Becki and Bruce have traveled to Ghana more than twenty times to help children

”So now faith… HOPE… and LOVE abide, these three…” (1 Corinthians 13:13a)

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What a remarkable experience my first summer reading camp in Ghana has been.  I find it enriching to my soul to find a world so different from my own, yet so the same.  Ghanaians have the same needs, the same emotions, joys and hardships as we do. Children behave as children all over the world, playing and laughing, and at this camp practicing their reading in English.  There are many languages in Ghana, so English is a universal language that binds the nation.

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We begin our morning at 9:00 AM with a hymn of the blessed trinity, the Lord’s prayer, and singing for fun. The children are always eager to learn new songs and sing with gusto! One girl is able to attend the camp only if she brings her toddler cousin.  Hannah is much the camp mascot, joining in song, coloring in the art room, and lunching with the children. She is a future reading camp member!

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After opening exercises, the three classes return to their classrooms. I teach class 2, a group of children who are already readers, knowing letters and sounds, capable of reading the lower level books. I begin our opening activities with reading and singing the songs and poems that we have already learned. Then I teach the song of the day, which today is “Five Little Ducks”.  Children take turns being the teacher and pointing to the words on the chart as we sing. The children find and underline vocabulary words, look at words with the same beginning sound, make rhyming word families, and more reading activities.

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The children return to their seats and receive a personal copy of the day’s song to glue into their exercise book. They write and draw words and pictures that relate to the song. One of the challenges for the camp teachers is to instill confidence in the children about their drawing abilities. In Ghanaian schools, perfection is required, so I find that the children will draw and erase, draw and erase, draw again, and erase again!  If I model how to draw a duck, they will strive to make their ducks look exactly like mine, and continually drawing and erasing! I want this to be fun! So I have learned not to show them how, and to let them discover on their own.

Every day each student receives a story book of their own. Five books in five days to keep. They will also take home pencils, crayons, glue sticks, and a sharpener in a brand new bag while wearing a brand new t-shirt.

For each story I do a picture walk first, using the pictures to find out what the story is about.  Then I read the story aloud together, then in small groups. The children hunt for vocabulary words in the stories.

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Today I taught my class the game of “Around the World” using all of the vocabulary words we’ve had over the last four days.  This was definitely a highlight of the day.  Once the children caught on to trying to be the first to say the word and so continue around the world, they were full of laughter and pride. I was pleased to note that every child at one time or another was a winner, though of course some do better than others. It didn’t take long for me to step aside a sleader and have that role filled by some of the children.

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Every day includes library time for children to read for fun and complete word puzzles and games. We have an art period where we draw, color, cut and paint. Some of the children want to leave their art projects at school so little brothers or sisters don’t get their hands on them!

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My name is Joanna Haslem, a joyful first-timer reading camp teacher. My heart is filled with gratitude that the Lord has led me to this mission and has given me the gifts needed to bring a love of reading to the Ghanaian children

DSC_0198My 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Zebra

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

DSC_0183A new year, a new village. Once again, I am leading art with my two Ghanaian Teachers, Auntie Yvonne and Uncle Collins, in the newest of Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope Reading Camps in Boate.

DSC_0190On Monday the children made friendship crowns to go with the poem, ‘Friends,” which says, “Friends, friends, 1, 2, 3; all my friends are here with me.” This wasn’t the first year I taught this craft, and I always have the children draw their friends in the middle of the band of the crown, keeping the round tops open for jewels.

dsc_0203.jpgThe class two teacher, Joanna Haslim, who helped to cut out the sixty crowns, drew the faces of friends on the round portion of the crown, the way it was supposed to be done. I had been having the children put jewels in the round sections. Now I realize I have been doing it wrong all these years! Even though they weren’t as intended, the children loved them! Some of the children took them home but others wanted to keep them at the school so they could wear them for the balance of reading camp.

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On Tuesday morning most of the children had their crowns on when we arrived, ready for another day of discovery!

Tuesday’s book was The Three Little Pigs, and the children were to make a pig with a curly-q tail. During teacher training, Uncle Collins perfected twisting a pink pipe cleaner around a pencil and taught the children to make tails for their pigs.

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In previous years I have taken spin-art machines to Ghana. This year, prior to leaving for Ghana, Becki+ and I discussed whether to take spin art machines again, or Spirograph Travel, and we decided to take several Spirographs as a new and exciting art project. Each child got to make several patterns, and the amazement on their faces was priceless.

Since I was done with art before lunch, I went to the library to help. Not knowing what to do, I was given alphabet / sound puzzle pieces. I sorted the letters from the sound pictures. I then called one of the children over to match them, by the time he got to the letter D, a half a dozen children came over to see what he was doing and joined him. I had to explain about pears and quarters, (Ps&Qs). By the time they left, I believe they had a better understanding of beginning letter sounds.

I come back to Ghana each year because I enjoy continuing to help the children develop their reading, art, and thinking skills. I have been a part of Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope since it began in 2005 because I believe they are making a difference in small remote villages.

The first village where GMH built a preschool, Akramaman, has grown from preschool, to primary, then Junior High. Now, 11 years later, the government is building a high school.

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Because GMH runs reading camps the children know they are involved in something special, and that they are special. Children who are not part of the camp look on longingly. I know they are thinking, “I want some of that!”

DSC_0108Day one of reading camp for me was both familiar and yet, new.  In past years, as the bus with Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope volunteers drives up to a school, smiling children would come running.  I love seeing the children waving and calling out “Auntie Janet, Auntie Janet.”

This year my greeting was much quieter, which was to be expected since this is a brand-new camp in a different Region of Ghana, the Eastern Region. This region is quite long reaching from the Volta river area to the Central Region. It is very agricultural. I loved seeing lush green vegetation. Most of the families in this part of the region are farmers.

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Some children from the Botae village came to our camp in Twerebo last year so I was ecstatic to see three familiar faces. As we began getting situated, we could see many eager, smiling and happy children.  You could tell they were so excited about us being there and camp to start.

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The team began by assessing our space for the week; this school was unlike the schools we had been to before.  The camp we were in two years ago at Twerebo consisted of four, dusty walls, and NO roof.  This was a change! A school that was in good condition.  It was dingy looking but you could tell that this building was cared for.  How we treat things shows how we value them. This building was treated with love so education and learning was valued and respected here.  The teachers from the village that were there to teach with us were smiling and ready to lend a helping hand.

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As we started picking classrooms, I found a room that was perfect except it was filled with buckets, dust, roofing tins, “stuff”, that honestly would appear as trash to us in the U.S.  I asked some teachers for help and before I knew it, little children came rushing in and began taking out things piece by piece. The teachers helped navigate and the children did the moving, it appeared as an assembly line. Soon, all the extra “stuff” was gone, and in its place was a beautiful classroom, full of potential.

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Anything could become possible in this space. I thought to myself, it isn’t that I come here to do, I come to create possibilities.  As I saw these children so willing to learn and help, my heart was filled with joy, these little children understood.  They understood that school was important.

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This is my 5th year and I keep coming back because I know the time I spend here makes a difference.  Anything is possible with the right intentions. Understanding that education will open up avenues and whole new world, creates incredible possibilities.  I love that I get to share my love of learning with these children and simultaneously empower them, one child at a time.

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P.S.  This is our first year at Botae. We have 40 children, five US volunteers, one Ghanaian, and nine Ghanaian Teachers.

There is another camp at Twerebo being running by a team of nine Ghanaian teachers. They also have 40 children.

Our third camp will run at Akramaman next week. That camp will have 100 children, two U.S. volunteers, seven Ghanaian teen assistants, and eight Ghanaian teachers.

Please send us a comment about this post to encourage us.

Have you ever moved and had to endure that first day in a new school? Do you remember the butterflies jumping around in your stomach?

DSC_0001I am sure that is the feeling many of these teachers had on Friday as we facilitated the teacher training here in Ghana. Each year as we prepare for our reading camps we invite the Ghanaian teachers to a day long training session. Part of the day is spent going over the reading camp materials so everyone will be ready, but most of the day is spent in talking about teaching young children.

Becki Neumann, former teacher and teacher trainer, facilitated most of the day giving helpful suggestions on how to handle early learners, ways of encouraging reading, things a teacher should never do, and many other topics. The group was engaged though a little shy about opening up.

DSC_0009I have recently been trained as a Mind in the Making facilitator. Mind in the Making is a program by Ellen Galinsky designed to teach the seven essential life skills that children need to succeed in learning. Skill #1 is focus and self-control. The game Simon Says is used as a teaching tool. You need to stay focused to determine if Simon Says the command and you need self-control not to do something if Simon did not say it.

I learned that game as a child and you probably learned it too. Well, not one Ghanaian teacher had ever played Simon Says. What ever the command I gave, even if Simon did not say it, was obeyed. Then we would all laugh. It took many, many tries before most of the teachers caught on.

DSC_0034This is our ninth year of reading camps and teacher training. I expected this year’s training to be good, no actually, I expected it to be excellent. I often worry about being disappointed about expectations, especially when working in Ghana, but there was no disappointment in this day.

Reading Camps at Twerebo and Boteah start on Monday. The following week we will host camp at Akramaman for over 100 children.  Stay tuned for updates.

Happy Birthday, Auntie Becki. A little gift from Herbitina. Welcome Joanna Haslem from Sarsota, FL. Joanna will be helping at Boteah and Akramaman.

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Fourteen years ago I prayed that I could help to empower a few girls in small villages, like Akramaman, to go to school. At that time, only 40% of girls finished third grade. 2015 statistics show that 95% of girls finished 6th grade. What a difference. This shirt is now the Junior High School Uniform for girls in Ga West, the area of Akramaman.

As Mercia drove us to St. Paul’s Preschool for their Graduation ceremony on the incredibly bumpy, dusty road, I wondered if I would still be welcomed by the children. My visits are only once per year and now that I work in other villages, Akramaman children only see me three or four days each summer.

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As we drove through the village women and girls began to wave at our car and shout with affection “Naa Aku”, part of my name as a Queen Mother in this village. Holding back the tears, I smiled and waved to them, not quite like Queen Elizabeth’s slight side to side wave but rather a full arm out the window hand wave.

The school grounds were filled with children, all of whom came rushing towards the car. The teachers had to hold them back so we could drive into the compound. My smile increased as the intensity of the crowd escalated, all waiting for me to step from the car.

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Many of preschooler had never met me, but they were eager to touch my hand and offer a smile. My heart raced as I saw so many of the former students who had already graduated to the primary school. They are growing up so quickly and they are all in school.

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Christiana

Not only are they in school but they are, for the most part, healthy. Christiana is a twin and has always been the smaller of the two. She is bright eyed, meaning less malaria, and her English has improved 200%.

There are now over 550 children enrolled in the Akramaman school system going from nursery to middle school, which has three years. There is a new Headmaster and a new male Kindergarten teacher. The classrooms are filled with posters and artwork.

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This is a big deal. Recently there have been articles in the Ghana news about the ineffectiveness of preschools, but the system at Akramaman is thriving. Many other school system teachers were at the Graduation to see just what are they doing at this school to make it so successful.

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During the festivities, the little ones sang songs and the older ones recited poems and bible verses. There were two fabulous skits. The first one involved Mama Africa and the regions of Ghana. Each child represented one of the ten regions in costume and dance. The second skit was two reports at the Anglican Television Station reporting on the success of the school with a local reporter giving the audience a look at the festivities. Pretty innovative for a village preschool.

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Forty-five children put on their caps and gowns and walked across the platform to receive a certificate, new school bag, new uniform for primary school, and new socks and shoes. Most were smiling. One threw up and I cried, but all of them will go to school in the fall. 

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As I left, I thought about the last eleven years since we first handed over the keys to the school for public education. There have been many challenges in finding ways to “empower” the school, the teachers, and eventually the girls, but today, I can walk away knowing they are moving forward.

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And someday, she may even be The President of Ghana.

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