Friday, April 22, 2011

Ghana Mission

Ghana Mission March 11 to April 1, 2011
Library and Learning Center, Kumasi, Ghana
My 5th and last African mission visit.

I arrived in Accra, Ghana airport from Abuja, Nigeria. I was met at the airport with the smiles of Sr. Laurene, and Sr. Irene. Cindy a lovely Ghanaian young woman who assists the sisters with housekeeping and cooking joined in my welcome, too. We stayed overnight in Accra. The next day we journeyed by car (hired driver) about a 4 hour drive to the Cape Coast of Ghana. It was a “mini vacation” for two days before going to Kumasi. It was a real treat for all of us to relax along the Cape Coast area on the Atlantic Ocean. We walked the lovely sandy beaches and enjoyed this special part of the world. Our cottage was facing the ocean so we heard the sounds of the ocean day and night. This area of Ghana reminds me of Costa Rica. Very tropical with lots of trees and plants.

I did a tour of the Elmina It was very hard to see the rooms where slaves were kept before being put on ships. The Cape Coast is known for its very sweet and juicy pineapples. We bought some from a fruit stand to take back with us to Kumasi. Kumasi was about a 5 hour bus ride from the Cape Coast.
Kumasi will be my home with the sisters for the remainder of my stay in Africa. It is my 5thand last mission that I visited in Africa. The sisters live in an apartment on the 2nd floor. The land lady has done little maintenance on the building but the sisters make do. It has a nice patio and lots of windows. There is no hot water, so you take cool showers. The weather in Ghana is hot and humid, typical of a tropical climate. There is no air conditioning but we do have fans. Unfortunately the electricity is not reliable but better than the electric service in Nigeria. The sisters walk or use a shared taxi service. They are about 20 minute walk/cab ride away from the Library.
Ghana is a much cleaner country than Nigeria. There is trash and litter but not near as much as in Nigeria. In Kumasi their is garbage pick up service available by private companies. It was good to see a few but at least some garbage cans put out on the curb for pick up. Most trash in Africa is just burned where ever any one once to have a burn pile.
Sr. Laurene and Sr. Irene head up the Library and Literacy mission in Kumasi. Sr. Laurene and I have a long Sisters of Charity, BVM history. Sr. Laurene was assigned to Mt. Carmel Academy in Wichita for her first year of teaching in 1959 when I was a freshman boarding student there. We lived in the same dormitory. We did not remember each other, but our ties with Mt. Carmel Academy brought us together after 52 years. I feel privileged to have been educated by the BVM’s. The Sisters of Charity, BVM are well known for being outstanding educators. And their legacy continues in Kumasi at the library and learning center. The library is an outstanding project. It was a “dream” of Sr. Laurene’s to build a library. Sr. Laurene and Sr. Irene had a make shift library and literacy center working out of a room at the Diocesan Spiritual Retreat Center and a classroom part time at St. Hubert’s Seminary and Secondary School. It was a makeshift “mobile” library. They saw the need for a library and learning center. The Sisters of Charity, BVM Congregation gave their blessings to building a library. It was a two year project. The Diocese of Kumasi donated the land to build the library. They worked with a local architect and general contractor to put their dream into reality. With the wonderful BVM donors’ funding the project, the library was opened on January 15, 2011; the official name is Archbishop Mensah Learning Center. To get this project from an idea into a building in such a short time is really a mini miracle when you see how slow construction projects take in Africa. The library is on the Diocesan Campus next to St. Hubert’s Seminary and Secondary School in a wooded area. It is a beautifully designed one level stucco building painted in cream and green colors setting it off from the typical white or brown buildings. When I went to the library on my first day I thought as we were walking and walking and walking, “where in the world” are we going? It is approximately ¾ mile from the main street. It is “off the beaten path” but it doesn‘t prevent the children from finding the library.
They have registered over 900 children as library users since they opened in January. The children are required to have a form filled out and signed by their parents and a teacher before a library card is issued. Each card holder is given a library number as their identification system then cross filed with their name. This is the first time that most of the children have ever been to a library. And to think they can actually check out two books at a time, take the books home with them and then return them is a whole new experience. What we take for granted in the USA is a luxury in Ghana. It was so much fun to ask them what their library number was and each one could immediately tell me without any hesitation. The smiles on the children’s faces were priceless.
Most of the primary and secondary students do not have what we would considerto be text books. They have exercise books which are notebooks. The teacher writes on the blackboard and the students copy the information in their notebook and that becomes their “book”. Wow, they come to the library and they see, touch, read and check out “real books”.The children start coming about 2:00 - 3:00 pm after school has adjourned. Some of St. Hubert’s secondary students come in the morning to use the library as a quiet place to study and read books. All the children walk to the library (most parents would not have a car) with back packs. Every child has a back pack to keep their exercise books and pencils in them. They don’t keep any of their personal things at the schools. They put everything in their backpacks. I never saw any lockers or personal desks in a “home room” where they can leave their pencils, notebooks etc.
The library also has books for adults. Presently very few adults use the library but the future plans are to get more adults involved in the library; hopefully start a book club where they can meet at the library. The future plans of the library and learning center is to have a computer room with a computer, TV with DVD for educational materials, like National Geographic DVD’s and some fun DVD’s for the little kids and movies. Most of these students do not have a computer or availability of a TV in their home. This will be a complete new learning experience for them.
Just to watch the students open up picture books and see their happy faces is amazing. Having colorful children’s books in English is like a gift from heaven. Can you imagine seeing pictures of words you have been taught but have never seen what it looks like? For instance seeing a picture of a whale, tulips, fire engine for the first time. All the children are required to learn English. The subjects are taught in English however, most revert back to their local dialect which is Twi, when they talk to each other. Some of the schools will have big signs posted on the grounds, Speak English. There is a big emphasis to have the students be fluent in English. All the library books are in English.
I had the opportunity to do “story times” with a small group of students. A donor sent the library large picture books that could be used by a teacher to read and discuss a story with a group of children sitting on the floor. I took the children outside in an area that we could sit and read together. They really enjoyed the opportunity to read to me. I then would ask them questions about the story to see what level of comprehension they had about the story. Many of the children’s parents would not have the English skills to read with their children. To have adult or older students sit with them and listen to them read is so important and can make the difference in getting past the rote learning.
Sr. Laurene does individual tutoring for adults in English and Math. Some of the adults have not attended primary school so they have to start by learning the ABC’s. All the tutoring students are working, a seamstress, a young man who works at an appliance center, a woman who sells produce; another is a carpenter and many more. All these adults have a desire to learn English and Math skills to improve themselves. Some come as early as 7:30 am before they go to work.
I went to the library most everyday, helped repair books, straighten out shelves. relocate books, sort books, check in books, restock books and visit/read with the children. The most favorite part of the library day was seeing the joy and smiles on children checking out books and reading books.

I had an opportunity to do a market day with Cindy. We went to the downtown area of Kumasi where there is a huge open market area, like a flea market. Everything imaginable to man is there, live chickens, dead rats, fruits, vegetables, fish, largest snails I‘ve ever seen, butcher chopping up legs of cows, clothes, kiosks of all types of household wares… It is very crowded with narrow dirt paths to walk with lots of people buying and selling. I had to walk fast to keep Cindy in sight; thank heaven she wore a bright scarf on her head that I could see easily. I had a fear I might loose her and be lost in this maze. It was a “wild” shopping trip. Cindy bought most of the fresh vegetables and fruit that we needed for several days. Another day Cindy took me to a small business of an entrepreneurial woman who started a small bread bakery, a mushroom “farm” (a building) where she grows delicious mushrooms plus she also packages water to sell. The locals buy small plastic bags of filtered water. I’d say about 2 cups of water in the bag. Unfortunately what is happening is that the bags are thrown on the ground and becomes litter. You very seldom will see a trash can. Presently they do not have a recycle program. It was great to see how one person in such small working spaces could develop money making businesses.

Cindy taught me how to make a local dish called It is cooked plantains and cassava mashed with a giant wooden mortar and pestle. I took part in pounding/mashing the mixture the consistency of mash potatoes that are real smooth and sticky. You take a portion size like a large dumpling of the fufu put it into a bowl then pour over it a groundnut stew made with chicken and peanut butter. I had never eaten fufu or groundnut stew before. It was tasty and interesting. Cindy is an excellent cook. I taught her how to make a mushroom quiche and a honey mustard chicken dish. We had fun cooking together. Sr. Laurene is tutoring Cindy in English and Math. She did not have an opportunity to attend primary school. She speaks English very well and is very sharp. And a very joyful person.
Sr. Laurene invited me to accompany her to a near by primary school called The Martyrs. Many of their students use the library. They have 1500 students grades K-8th. It is spotless. The students are well behaved, teachers organized and the students do have some textbooks. The classrooms were bright and cheerful. It is a private school so the parents are responsible to pay tuition fees which would be about $600 US dollars for the school year. This would be a considerable amount of money. I met the principal who is a dynamic Ghanaian nun. It was amazing to see her leadership skills at work. I can see why the parents will scrape together the fees any way they can to send their children to the Martyrs school. They will all have a good chance in being admitted to a good secondary school.

Sr. Laurene and Sr. Irene are true missionaries and educators.
Thank you Sr. Laurene and Sr. Irene for sharing your home with me and the unforgettable experience of being in Ghana. Thank you for introducing me to Father Michael, Father Mathias, Abby, Olivia, Eric, Amos, Julie, Juliana, Agnes, Alta, May belle, Cindy, Samuel, Stephen, Christian, Theresa and many other lovely Ghanaians. And THANK YOU FOR YOUR VISION OF THE LIBRARY AND LEARNING CENTER AND MAKING IT A REALITY.
I am in awe of their dedication. The thousands of children, youth and adults who will use the library will have new “worlds” open up for them. This new learning experience would never have been possible without the library.