On our last day in Hohoe we were able to visit the Volta School for the Deaf (VSD) for a quick talk with the headmistress and a tour. As we drove up to the school, I felt like I was on the set of the show Lost. The architecture and design were very original, with the academic part of the campus arranged as a five hexagonal rings of rooms that were raised off of the ground on a platform. We made our way through the school to the office where we sat and talked with the headmistress about the structure of the school and the children they serve. VSD is the only school of its kind in the region. It is a residential school supported by the government and serves 302 students ages four and up in kindergarten, primary, junior, and vocational school. These students come mostly from the Volta region, but some come from as far away as Accra. The school calendar operates around three, three-month terms with breaks in between. My understanding was that all the students are educated using the same core curriculum as students in typical Ghanaian schools. On our tour of the campus we looked in primary level classrooms, the computer lab, and vocational areas of the school. Students in the vocational school can specialize in areas such as batik, woodworking, and weaving. The school also has it’s own pig barn, but I’m not entirely sure of all of its purposes.
(Inside the academic area of campus)
From what we saw, the school seemed to be very well organized and structured, but we also weren’t able to experience the school with the children present. The headmistresses explained that students were not allowed to come back to VSD for the start of the new term because the government hadn’t given them enough money to pay for the children’s food. A quick Google search shows that the government had actually withheld grants to all special schools in Ghana for the term because it wanted the schools to pay for their own supplies and utilities. The impact for the children is drastic. The deaf community is still marginalized by stigma in Ghana. The headmistresses explained that, in many cases, children’s parents and family members at home don’t know sign language and may not be eager to learn. Students who are lucky enough to be placed in a residential school like VSD may end up developing their entire social network around the school. This leaves them without an easy way to communicate when they’re at home, so all of the students look forward to their time in school. Besides the lack of social connection, a disruption like this one obviously affects the quality of education. If this situation had occurred in the US, there would be a public outcry, but unfortunately, the headmistress’s tone didn’t make it sound unusual for Ghana. Luckily, according to another Google news search, the government board in charge of special school education held an emergency meeting soon after we left Ghana and decided to grant funding for the children to return and finish the term.
On a more positive note, when the school is up and running, it helps to support itself through the work of students in the vocational school. A Peace Corps volunteer helped VSD open the “Our Talking Hands” store on the main road running through Hohoe. They sell the students’ work and even have an online Etsy store (https://www.etsy.com/shop/OurTalkingHands) where you can find pillowcases, batiks, table runners, purses, wood carvings, and even some Guinness bottle cap earrings.
(Murals on the walls in the academic area)
(Thanks to Meghan for all the pictures!)