It is a scientific fact: when students take a leadership role in their own education rather than blindly swallowing a teacher’s “answers”, these students develop ownership, pride, and confidence in their learning, and the results are rich.
Similarly, in development work for impoverished communities, if the community seeking aid actually helps to diagnose and solve its own needs rather than being spoon-fed an outsider’s “solution”, the resulting projects become more wisely planned and more appreciated.
To this end, in the year 2005, Youth Creating Change of Ghana’s director, John, assigned YCC children to go back to their original communities and research the condition and needs of these villages. When they reported back, YCC would decide upon a development project to tackle as a team.
On the day of his final report to YCC, a young boy from the rural community of Dalive spoke up.
“In the Dalive, Ghana community school,” the boy explained, “there are only two teachers for all the kids in the village, and so all the ages must be grouped together to share. Moreover, there is no building for the kindergarten, and so all the little children are trying to learn while outside under a small patch of trees.” (The photo here is of those actual trees.)
The YCC boy continued his report. “When it is rainy season, the kindergarten teacher cannot hold class, or everyone will get soaked. There are no books. Kids are not coming to school because they feel like there is nothing there for them. The few teachers and staff are losing hope.”
The YCC students and staff shook their heads and wondered: what can we do to help?
By a stroke of cosmic excellence, it was at this time that Mighty Marla’s plane from Connecticut touched down in Accra airport for the first time.
When Marla arrived in Sogakope to begin her work with YCC, the youth and staff of the organization had decided that helping Dalive was a major priority. With Marla in tow, they bumped down the rutted dirt road to visit the village of Dalive in person.
Marla instantly fell in love with the Dalive children. Look at their faces in these photos! How can you NOT fall in love? How can you not want to help provide a roof and four walls to keep those sweet noses out of the rain and blazing sun?
Through major fundraising efforts in America via her newly-created nonprofit, Bright Star Vision, and through the tireless efforts of YCC and its Director, John, the funds and materials for Dalive were slowly put together.
Suddenly, Dalive had its first library and books! The students and staff rejoiced. And then another miracle of fundraising: Dalive received enough funds to hire several more desperately-needed teachers!
YCC began to take standout Dalive students on field trips to reward good attendance and academic work in order to motivate Dalive’s youth to attend school and see its value.
It was a shock for Marla to realize: many of the children from Dalive had never been in a car, nor seen a remote control, nor felt air conditioning. Moreover, many of them had never used a flush toilet, nor set foot in a big city!
Needless to say, the large group field trip to Cape Coast slave castle, six hours West of Dalive, was eye-opening on MANY different levels.
One child was so overwhelmed from the whole experience that she began vomiting! John had to rush her to the hospital and stay with her all night until she was well.
The Dalive students (even the vomiting one, in the end!) were forever changed by finally being shown parts of the world beyond their small village.
But sometimes the most important thing is concrete, literally. In 2007, the ground was broken to erect a permanent, non-tree classroom for the lovely little kindergartners!
When John, Wisdom, Dan (Marla’s son), and I had the stunning experience of visiting Dalive last week, we were welcomed into the classroom with warmth. We gazed around, admiring the sturdy new concrete walls and metal roof.
The children sang and danced for us, raising their little arms to the sky in the shape of the sun. John, Dan, and I gave speeches about the vital importance of education and respect, and John urged the Dalive school staff to make responsible use of donations, to take pride in their school and keep it clean (there are no janitors in the Dalive educational facility, so the teachers and parents must use their own labor), and to seize imitative in their own development and improvement: not just waiting for others to come around and do everything for them.
For us visiting Americans, it was deeply refreshing to hear John’s speech (though we had to wait for him to translate it into English from the Ewe!). Donors want to know that their funds are being used towards real good, and they want to know that there are people on the ground ensuring the efficient and wise use of these funds.
On top of this, all people invested in Development work want to know that aid recipients are proactive, appreciative partners in the process!
We discussed the roof with the headmaster. At present, the corrugated metal covers only about 75% of the classroom, meaning that sun still fries the young foreheads at certain times of day, and once rainy season begins, the science lesson may have a waterfall on hand to discuss the properties of liquids! If you look at the photos, you can see the progress and limitations of the current building.
John vowed to look into helping with the classroom’s completion, and again encouraged the Dalive staff to do as many things for themselves as possible. We all receive assistance in one way or another in our lives, but we must never be passive victims!
I get very emotional now, comparing my years in urban American schools with the school in Dalive. Very, very emotional.
In Dalive, here were children and staff aching for just a few books, for just a little thread to sew together the holes in their faded uniforms, for just a little tin to keep the sun and rain off their heads.
Here was a kindergarten teacher (pictured) who was covering two classes because the other kindergarten teacher was sick and there is no substitute teacher system in the rural Volta region.
Here was a teacher who had to teach dozens and dozens of small children each day while holding her OWN infant in her arms (she even had to breast feed through part of our meeting!) because she had no other daycare option. Look at the photo of her in the red and white patterned dress and imagine carrying out your own job while lugging a baby around all day!
Here is a country where a teacher (including some of our friends in the YCC staff) earns the equivalent of $41 U.S. dollars a MONTH, not including housing, food, or transportation.
Please understand why I get emotional, thinking back to my former 1,200-student school in Boston in which food fights, throwing books out windows and at other students, spending hundreds of dollars on new outfits, trashing pages and pages of notebook paper because of one small smudge, and cussing out teachers occurred with nauseating, heartbreaking regularity.
Please understand why I feel emotional, knowing that these acts of waste and disregard continue to occur, at this very moment, all across America.
Visiting these schools in Ghana is incredible medicine for hardening an educator’s resolve about what student and school expectations should look like. People here in Ghana sometimes talk like America is perfect, but it’s not, it’s not, it’s not!
Oh, we in America have so much to learn from the world! We in America have so much to learn from Ghana, and YCC, and from Dalive!
In an upcoming article, you will read about what it looked like when we handed the Dalive children the clothing that Bright Star Vision had collected from generous donors in America.
Until then, kiss your hole-free ceiling and clean new shirt in gratitude, honor your teachers, read your plentiful books, and remind the children in your life that there is a wide, varied world out there.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!