Acceptance of Differing Abilities by Laura

While visiting Ghana we had the opportunity to visit the New Horizon School and the Autism Center. The acceptance of children with disabilities surpassed my expectations. Although teachers and volunteers often could benefit from additional training, children were welcomed into accepting environments.

Individuals with physical disabilities could be spotted throughout the community despite profound challenges with accessibility. Awareness and acceptance of individuals with disabilities is growing in Ghana. I feel privileged to have been able to see it for myself, to have been able to adapt utensils and create positioning devices, and to assist teachers in helping students with different needs. In short, it was a wonderful and fulfilling experience.

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The End by Caitlyn

So I just finished packing. I can’t believe our time in Ghana has already come to an end. The last 48 hours have really wizzed by. Rather than trying to write detailing all the wonderful things that have happened in the last two days, I’m going to just show you in pictures. This has truly been a magical and life changing experience. Thanks for reading so we all could share some of our experiences with you!

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One of three wheelchair cushions we made for New Horizons

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Transfer training with teachers at New Horizons

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New Horizons, Day 1 by Caitlyn

Today we went to the New Horizons Special School in Accra. This school was created for kids and adults with intellectual disabilities. It is both an educational and vocational training center that stresses the importance of each student reaching their full potential. We really didn’t know what to expect when we walked in but I think we were all blown away by the organization of it all. They way they approach working with kids with disabilities is quite revolutionary considering the readings that we did on disability culture in Ghana. The teachers, staff, and volunteers there are truly doing such incredible work serving the unique needs of their students.

During our school tour, they identified several children who could benefit from some OT framed solutions (mostly children that were having feeding, positioning, and fine motor problems). While one team of us attempted to solve a complex positioning problem for a student with kyphosis, another team worked on servicing some well used wheelchairs.

Sorry this post is short and sweet but we really only got to scratch the surface today compared to the many things we want to use our knowledge to help with. Look for another post tomorrow (hopefully) to share more about what we are able to accomplish there.

New Horizons by Laura

Today we visited New Horizons School, which could not be more appropriately named! Brightly colored bulletin boards chronicled the students’ projects, promoted acceptance of individuals with disabilities, and clearly reflected the wonderful mission of this progressive Ghanian school for individuals with disabilities.

Visual schedules, first/ then schedules, cubbies, and sensory activities were being used in classrooms. The students were welcoming. Two children warmly greeted us before we had even entered the first classroom! A teacher indicated her tables were too high when we visited to ask if she had positioning concerns about specific children. Two of the children I worked with alongside Kate, Anna, and Becky had family members present who stay at school to care for them each day. It was heartwarming to visit this school as an OT student.

It can be easy to lose the forest for the trees during graduate study, but today we were able to impact the lives of several children using simple supplies, problem solving, and teamwork. Becky and I also made our first wheelchair cushion!

The Roach. By Sam

The roaches and I have been at a standoff the last few nights. They appear randomly and cause me to let out “a blood curdling scream as though you are about to be murdered (as described by Becky Hooks) and I freak out until Becky kills it or it runs away so we can’t get it. Tonight as I put things away in my suitcase I saw a roach scurry out from underneath and screamed again. Becky was about to get into the shower so I either had to face the bug or be paranoid about it all night. The roach was too quick and even before I finished screaming he had made it to safety under the bed. Becky called out to ask if I killed it because she knew immediately from my scream what it was. As I told her that he was under the bed he came out again and this time I won. Roaches: 2, Becky:3, Sam:1.

Cape Coast Castle by Becky

On Friday we had a free day, and we visited Kakum National Park and the slave castle at Cape Coast. I’m a history nerd so our visit to the castle was what I was most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. First, the view of the ocean from the castle was gorgeous. And the sea breeze felt amazing after sweating in the park and tro-tro all day. But then the tour of the castle began and right away we went down into the dungeon where hundreds of male slaves were kept before being shipped overseas. One room, which held 2 hundred men, had just 3 tiny windows high on the wall, which provided the only light. Although a trough had been dug for sewer, solid waste had not been accounted for in the design plans, and the troughs quickly became clogged. So much human waste built up and covered the floor inches thick that our guide told us that as we walked along the dungeon floor, we were still walking on human waste.

We also walked through “the door of no return,” which was the door where the slaves exited the castle to board the ship that would carry them overseas and which symbolized their final separation from family, friends, and country. It was hard to believe that door was so ominous during the slave trade because when we walked through, the other side was a beach filled with rows of colorful fishing boats and men hard at work. Turning back to look at the exterior of the door, we saw a new sign hanging over it, “the door of return,” which was placed there in the late 1990s when the human remains of 2 slaves were exhumed. The remains traveled the slave route in reverse and were taken back into the castle through the same doors they had walked out through so long ago.

The most poignant part of the tour for me was when our guide took us into the “room of no return.” This was the room where disobedient slaves were placed to die. It was a smallish-medium sized room (I’m terrible at guessing dimensions) but the 15 or so of us on the tour fit comfortably with some room to move around. The room had no windows and no ventilation and it grew to be uncomfortably stuffy in the 5 minutes or so we were in there, even with the door open. I felt very uneasy going into the space…there was a negative energy as soon as I stepped inside and I felt claustrophobic. Then we were told the room usually held about 70 slaves who were given no food or water, and the guards would just close the door and wait for them all to die.  It took less than 24 hours for the slaves to suffocate to death.  The guide pointed out the markings in the floor and said they were made by the chains of the slaves as they struggled. Hearing all of this made my stomach turn. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like in there at full capacity with the door closed. As it was, I was more than ready to step out of the room and into the fresh air when he directed us back outside.

The castle also has a small museum that tells about the history of the castle and the slave trade. I would definitely recommend a trip to the castle to anyone visiting Accra. It’s a bit of a drive but so worth it!

English Language Development by Laura

Earlier this week we gave the language, fine motor, and gross motor skills sections of the Denver developmental screening to approximately 50 two-year-olds using stations. Jodi, Dr. Ivey, and I administered the language section many times, so that we could begin to gather more information about the suitability of the items for this population.

As expected I encountered some children who teachers indicated were shy. Differences in pronunciation of course arose. However, the performance of several of the children blew me away. Many children only speak English at school and often had begun attending school this year. Yet a 17-month old said, “bird that fly” when I asked him to identify the bird pictured. He was also able to tell me “write” when I asked him, “What is a pencil used for?”

Often children identified the picture of the man as “daddy,” but one or two children said “man.” Although the cat did not resemble Ghanian cats, as it is fluffy, children had little difficulty identifying it, saying “cat,” “bush cat,” or “pussycat.” The dog picture could also be adapted to more closely resemble the short haired brown dogs that appear to be most common in Ghana.

One of the two-year-old teachers indicated that the children had not been taught horse, which explains why most children were unable to identify it. Caitlyn had a wonderful suggestion for a replacement animal– a hen. Its action could be “lays eggs.” Children are familiar with this animal and may be taught the English name earlier in the curriculum.

The counting items were difficult to assess with this population. As I mentioned in an earlier post, children often learn through songs. Young children begin to practice route counting and sing multiplication tables. It seemed that children who passed the ‘count one block’ item did so without a solid understanding of the concept. It will be interesting to learn more about performance on this item overall.

While working as a toddler teacher, I noticed that many children learn parts of the face before those of the body, perhaps because young children are often very fascinated with eyes, ears, noses, and mouths. It seemed that the Ghanian children I assessed tended to learn the parts of the face first. Eyes seemed to be the most often identified body part. However, this is based solely upon my observations.

The items that seemed to be the most difficult for many of the children I screened were ‘use of 2 objects’ and ‘know 2 adjectives.’ Children typically begin mastering these items around 3 years of age (more specific norms are provided by the assessment). While some of the children were within these ranges in age, we only assessed students in the two-year-old class. It will be interesting to learn more about language development as it relates to curriculum through statistical analysis and continued research. I am excited about the prospect of a research group next year that focuses the use and/ adaptation of the Denver II screening for Ghanian children.

The blocks in the kit often proved invaluable for building rapport with children when administering the language section. Often after building towers together children would begin to speak. As I often used play with blocks to build rapport as a toddler teacher in the U.S., this became one of many reminders how our differences are accompanied by similarities. I am happy to have been a part of this wonderful project thus far!

My Horrible Handwriting by Laura

A couple days ago, I was assisting the teacher of a two year old classroom. I was asked to help a girl practice writing the letter ‘C’ using hand over hand. I quickly learned the child was able to write the letter on ‘kindergarten paper’ legibly between the lines. She was also able to write the letter between narrow lines, maintaining a tripod grasp throughout. It appeared a dynamic tripod grasp was emerging.

When I spoke with the child’s teacher, she indicated that the child was behind in handwriting relative to her peers– despite her excellent grasp and control. In fact, my handwriting would most closely resemble that of the fourth grade students. It has been amazing to see the hand skills very young children develop here.

Cape Coast Castle by Laura

Visiting the Cape Coast Castle brought about strong emotions as anticipated. However, The. first was unanticipated…bliss! The view was incredible. I immediately wanted to commit it to memory. The salt air breeze brought with it welcome relief from the heat. Anna Lopez was kind enough to take pictures for our group ( you must pay for each camera), so I hope to add some soon!

The next emotion was humbled. I felt honored to stand in the same place president Obama had been five years earlier. Our tour guide recounted his visit, saying that “he wept bitterly” as he left the sorting room of the male dungeons. We were able to see his families contribution, a wreath, which laid near the altar. My ignorant eyes first saw the altar as what might have been the remains of stairs upon which drink bottles and other goods had been placed. I learned this was in fact an altar the the Gods that had been restored to its original location in the more recent past. It was refreshing to see a piece of African history and heritage had been restored

Down in the male dungeons, I was immediately reminded of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in a literal rather than philosophical sense. Seeing our shadow forms on the walls was disconcerting.

Next I felt surprised. A school was established in town for the children fathered outside of marriage by masters. These children’s mothers may also have been cared for in town before being separated from their babies. While I do not indeed to mislead anyone (the prospects for most slave mothers and children were grim), I had ever heard this before. Our guide indicated this was responsible for greater racial diversity in the area.

Irony and disgust were also pronounced. Despite the gross disconnect between Christian values and the institution of slavery, the church was built on top of the male dungeons. This was in no way a secret. A hole for peeping into the dungeons was in front of the church doors.

Finally I reminisced about a quote by Martin Niemuller, which resonated nicely with the sentiments conveyed by the plaques around the castle:

“First they came for the socialists,
and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me– and
There was no one left to speak for me.”

Visiting the Cape Coast Castle was one of many once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I have been having in Ghana. Although this was particularly solemn, this experience too brought about important reflection and positive emotions.

Childrens’ Songs by Laura

In addition to providing opportunities to play, songs play an important role in education for children in Ghana. Through songs children learn about topics such as counting, body parts, multiplication tables, English language, and faith. Children develop more advanced sequencing skills as they combine increasingly complex movements with lyrics. During our time at the Grace Life International School we heard variations of familiar songs and learned new songs. I have included several verses of these songs below, which provide a glimpse into our wonderful experience thus far.

Jump, jump, jump (x2)
Jumping is an exercise
Jump, jump jump…

My head, my shoulders, my knees, my toes (x2)
They all belong to Jesus.

If you’re happy and you know it say “Amen.”

I know how to dance (x2)
Dancing lalala (x2).

We also heard “Ghana Independence Day” at the Grace Life International School. While visiting the street children today (who prefer to be called another term such as ‘friend’) madam Felicia Annan lead Gospel Hands which is a counting song. Unfortunately I have not yet been able locate lyrics for either yet.