The Markets by Becky

We were lucky enough to have some free time during our 2 weeks, and many of us took advantage of some of that free time to look around and shop at the local markets. We went to 2 different markets as well as shopped at the New Horizon school, where items made by students are sold.

We’d heard stories ahead of time about how mobbed the markets can be – lots of people and vendors who follow you around, trying to sell their goods, even after you’ve politely declined. We lucked out at the first market we went to, which was out by Grace Life school and up a mountain that provided us with gorgeous views. We pulled into the parking lot and saw the market was practically deserted, except for the vendors. We hopped out and headed to the nearest seller. It wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as I’d expected, and made for a pleasant first Ghanaian shopping experience. Some of the sellers were working on their crafts, and we met some children who were sanding handcarved giraffes. Everything was beautiful and you could tell the crafters took pride in their work. This market also provided a quiet, low stress environment to practice my haggling skills. In Ghana, when you find something you want to buy, the seller states a price, and then you come back with what you want to pay. The back and forth continues until both buyer and seller agrees on a price. At first I was nervous about the process, but it was actually pretty fun.

A few days later we headed to the Accra market. Talk about overstimulation from the moment you step out of the tro-tro! A crowd met us, all wanting to talk to us and show us their wares. I had to be polite but firm in telling them no, and that we’d reach their shop as we walked around. The vendors at this market were noticeably more aggressive, often following us around from shop to shop, putting items in our hands and trying to get us to return to their goods. The haggling continued at the Accra market, although I was more tired on this day and at times didn’t negotiate as much as I would have otherwise. You definitely need energy to shop at the bustling markets!

One afternoon we also made a stop at the store located at the New Horizon school. Going in, I knew I wanted to buy something to support the school, but I was shocked when I saw what items were offered for sale. There were some beautiful woven baskets, intricate dolls, pretty jewelry, and gorgeous batik fabric. You could tell they were all carefully crafted and high quality items. I fell in love with all of the fabrics, but settled on a pretty red with white pattern that I can’t wait to turn into throw pillow covers. This store, and the fact that the students are taught the skills to make such products, was just one more reason why I loved New Horizon school.

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The Markets by Sam

Saturday we went to Grace Life International to help paint some of the classrooms, and Kate and I went around the community with Ms. Felicia conducting interviews. After finishing at the school we went to a market not too far away on a mountain that Eric had recommended to us because it was less expensive and a lot of the stuff was made there. Many of us had travelled previously and gone to markets where people are very pushy getting you to come in to their shops and buy things, and then you have to haggle with them, so from those previous experiences and what Carole had told us about the Accra Market the year before we were preparing ourselves for some chaos, but we were all very surprised by what we found. The market was very open and quiet, and there weren’t many people there. When we got out of the tro-tro the shop owners were very excited to see us, some came up to greet us and others called from their shops to welcome us. We all buddied up, but being in a group of 3 I jumped around a lot between buddy groups, and I felt okay doing that because there were so few people, it was such an open place, and everyone was very nice. Some of the kids came up and showed us where they were working on sanding and painting the wooden sculptures and masks, you could watch people carving and could see how genuinely handmade the majority of the products were. It was really awesome to see how they made these pieces of wood into these beautifully crafted pieces of art. I enjoyed walking around and just getting to look at everything, and I appreciated that I was able to do that without the shop owners constantly trying to get me to buy things. My main goal was to get a drum that I liked and I was happy to find one that was not too big or too small, I also got a couple of masks, some elephant statues, a giraffe, a bowl, and a painting. Everything was so beautifully made that I wished I had had more money with me because I would have loved to buy more things. I got some drum lessons from one of the guys, and continued to walk around enjoying myself. I think everyone was pleased with what they purchased and we were all very glad that Eric recommended that we go to that market because it was such a nice experience.

Kevin playing the beautiful drum.

Kevin playing the beautiful drum.

The detail on this drum was incredible.

The detail on this drum was incredible.

Monday was a holiday in Ghana, so we did not get to go to New Horizons like we had originally planned, so most of us decided instead to go to the Accra Market to see what it was like and probably to get some more stuff. We knew right when we arrived that this was much more of what we were expecting the market to be like compared to the last one we had gone to. It was not very busy with shoppers, probably because of the holiday, but it was busy with people. From the second we got there everyone started to swarm around us trying to get us to come to their shops and break us off from our groups. I had my shopping buddies for this market and I was definitely going to stick with them. They had a lot of interesting things, but much of their merchandise seemed to be more commercially made than at the last market we had gone to. You could tell just from the atmosphere that this was a much more touristy market, prices were higher, people would haggle less, and they were much more aggressive. Since it was a holiday we hadn’t gotten to go to the bank to exchange money and I didn’t have an ATM card to take any out. I didn’t have many cedis left but I was kind of glad because it made me really think about what I was buying and made it easier to walk away when shop owners were handing me random things that I had briefly looked at and asking how much I would pay for it. It was definitely an experience with all of the people trying to get you to come and look at what they had, which was often almost exactly the same as their neighbors. Somehow we made our way through the really chaotic part of the market to the back. We had been told to be careful and not let people lead us far back in the market because it got a little sketchy, but after we got through the front part the back seemed much calmer. We figured if we stayed together and in the main rows we would be fine and we were happy that we did. The people towards the back of the market were much calmer and quieter and weren’t as pushy. The sculptures and artwork also seemed more hand-made or at least less commercially produced as the things in the front of the market. At one shop I played on the floor with a little girl while Becky and Caitlyn looked at all of the beautiful bowls and coasters. Her mom told me that I could take her for free and we all laughed. We enjoyed walking around this part of the market much more, and since we had time to kill we got to talk to some of the shop owners. Walking back to the tro-tro it was interesting to experience all of the noise and chaos of the front part of the market again.

I found it really interesting how different the two markets that we went to were. One being more rural it is fitting that it is more relaxed, but it surprised me how much cheaper it was than the urban market, especially because it would have been so easy for people to say things were more money than they did and we never would have known. It also surprised me how much the Accra market varied in its way of being from one part to the other. While the back part of the market was still loud and people were still a little pushy it was still much more similar in feeling to the rural market that we had gone to on Saturday than it was like the front of the very same market.

Rope Bridges, Castles, and Waves by Sam

On our day off we decided that we wanted to try and make it to both The Cape Coast Slave Castle and Kakum National Park. Both of these places were a couple of hours away from our hotel, but luckily they were in the same general direction. We weren’t sure if we would make it to both but we figured it was worth a try since it was our one day to adventure. Going to both meant it would have to be an early morning, but we were excited and figured we could sleep on the tro-tro. The drive was fairly uneventful, I was surprised that I was able to fall asleep as I was sitting on the folding seat that we had nicknamed “the Busch Gardens Chair” as it reminded us all of being on a rollercoaster. I do remember that we drove through at least 3 police check points which surprised me, but many of them they just waved us through quickly. At one point we stopped for one of our driver’s friends to get in the tro-tro with us so he could give us directions the rest of the way, and we thought we must have been getting close as we were seeing signs for Cape Coast, but when we kept going we realized that we must have been going to the National Park first.

We arrived at Kakum just before a bunch of school groups did, and after getting our passes we walked around in the visitor center reading about the rainforest and the various animals that lived there. We then had a short hike to get to the canopy walkway with our tour guide telling us about the different things that people could do at the park, when the best time to see the animals is (unfortunately the best time was at night), and the history of the conservation project. We climbed up into a big tree house that was the start of the canopy walk and began our adventure atop the trees. The bridges were rope nets with pieces of wood laying on top of ladders to walk across and attached to these tall trees that stuck out through the forest canopy. Around these trees were platforms where you could stop and enjoy the beautiful views. Our whole group made it across the first bridge, but then we split and went separate ways. To the left was a shorter path with less bridges to cross, to the right was the longer path. I went to the right with Jodi, Kate, Caitlyn, Anna, our bus driver and his friend. While I continually got yelled at for purposefully shaking the bridges, I really enjoyed all of the beautiful views that we got to see being up so high above the trees. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any wildlife because of the time that we were there, but it was still an amazing experience. After we crossed all of the bridges we met up with the rest of our group that went the other way and made our way back down to the visitor center and gift shops.

Aikens and I on the bridge

Aikens and I on the bridge

Rope bridges!

Rope bridges!

Beautiful view from the canopy walk

Beautiful view from the canopy walk

Proud of these two for facing their fears (and grateful that they didn't throw me over for shaking it)

Proud of these two for facing their fears (and grateful that they didn’t throw me over for shaking it)

Next we started our journey to Cape Coast Castle. The castle was right along the beach so there were beautiful views and a cool breeze coming off the ocean when we got there. Before our tour started we went to the museum to read about the history of Ghana and the Slave Trade. It was an interesting perspective to learn about because it was a part of the story that we are never really told about in public school in the US. Europeans went to Africa to trade for gold, and built the castles for these purposes after buying the land from the African tribes. The castles changed ownership many times finally coming into the hands of the British. What I found interesting about the history was that the slaves that were kept in the dungeons of the castles before being transported to The Americas were actually sold to the Europeans by the chiefs of the various African tribes. In school it always seemed that the Europeans went into Africa and captured people arbitrarily to then sell as slaves, so it was interesting to learn that the people were actually traded to the Europeans to become slaves for other goods. The conditions of the slave dungeons were terrible, pitch black with hundreds of people crammed into a small area with nowhere to go to the bathroom other than where they stood, and the cool breeze from the ocean was not able to be felt. On top of one of the rooms of the dungeons was the church, and there was a whole in the ground near the entrance to the church where people could check in on their slaves as they went in.

After our tour of the Cape Coast Castle, we went to a restaurant nearby and enjoyed an early dinner overlooking the beach. As we watched the waves crash into the ocean, and all of the kids playing, we all laughed when we saw pigs walking around as well. Many of us were eager to stick our feet in the water after we ate, but when we did so we realized that the pigs that we had seen were eating out of a sewer drain that was, of course, leaking onto the beach and right into the water where we had been walking. We tried not to let this bother us too much, laughed about it, took some pictures, and headed back to the tro-tro to make our way home. It was a great day exploring tourist spots in Ghana, seeing more of the country, and learning a lot about the history and culture of the country that we came to do work in.

View of the Castle from the beach

View of the Castle from the beach

Beach from the restaurant.

Beach from the restaurant.

Waves

Waves

Becky carrying plantain chips

Becky learning how to carry plantain chips on her head!

We learned how to carry things on our heads

Plantain Chips!

 

New Horizon Day 2: Power Tools! by Becky

Our second day at New Horizon was just as amazing as our first, if not more so.  We wanted to check on the positioning changes we’d made the day before to see how they held up and check on some of the other kids we hadn’t been able to see.  We started out by making new seat cushions for some students.  The school has a woodworking shop, so we started there looking for pieces of wood we could use as the base for the cushions.  Without something hard like wood to place the cushion on, it won’t provide even support for the user.

We were in luck! The shop had a large piece of wood that was a little more than an inch thick that worked perfectly.  They also had a jigsaw we could use to cut it.  After assuring the school staff multiple times that she knew how to use it, Carole cut the first piece of wood.  Another student and myself also got the chance to cut out pieces with Carole supervising.  We then handed the wood off to another group to find foam to fit the boards and duct tape everything together.  If I learned nothing else on this trip, its that duct tape is an OT’s best friend and you can never have too much.  The cushions came together perfectly and the kids were super excited to have them.

After we gave one boy his new cushion, we noticed his leg rests were too long. We tried to shorten them but even at the shortest setting his feet still dangled.  So back to the wood shop we went to fashion footrests out of wooden blocks.  We found a piece of wood that had the right thickness, cut 2 squares from it, and went back inside.  In addition to black and gray duct tape, someone had brought some sparkly, brightly colored duct tape rolls as well, so we let the boy choose what color he wanted, and I (with his help) attached the squares to his chair.  With the new cushion and foot rests, not only was he was sitting much straighter in his chair, which will allow him to perform better while at his desk, but he had some fun colorful flair to show off.  So glad we could help out such a cool, sweet boy!

New Horizon School – Day 1 by Becky

The second school we visited in Accra was New Horizon Special School.  From the moment I stepped inside I was impressed.  Pictures and posters lined the hallways.  As we walked down the hall we even passed a computer lab! And inside the PT room where we spent the majority of our time our first day there, stood a stationary bike, treadmill, and weight machine.  We then toured the school and visited each classroom.  There were visual schedules hanging on the wall, artwork and colorful pictures around the room, and lots of toys and learning aides.  This was not at all what I had expected to see at a school for individuals with disabilities in Ghana. We had talked so much before the trip about how disability was largely stigmatized in Ghana, so seeing this school was refreshing.

We split up into 2 groups to start working with the kids.  My group went into a class to observe a boy as he ate lunch.  His mother fed him with a spoon using hand over hand because he was unable to grasp the spoon handle.  In response, we adapted his spoon to make the handle larger by duct taping pipe insulation foam around it so he could more easily hold it.  His mom was so appreciative that she hugged us and repeatedly thanked us for what we did.

The rest of the afternoon we spent working with a student to improve her positioning in her wheelchair.  She had severe kyphosis on one side of her body, was slumped to the left, and had difficulty holding up her head.  We had brought large pieces of foam on the trip, which we then used as seat cushioning and supports.  For this particular girl, we played around with the different sizes and shapes of the foam to see what combination would provide the best support.  Laura measured the seat and cut a large piece of foam to use as a thick seat cushion.  This both provided support and raised the student up in her chair a few inches because she was sitting too low in it.  We also fashioned a small piece of foam into a pillow in an effort to support her head.

This was an exciting day because we all felt like we were doing real OT work! And the changes we made to positioning and feeding were relatively quick and easy to make, but they provided such a difference in how these students could function.

The 3 C’s by Sam

The 3 C’s

The first day we visited Grace Life International School we sat down to talk with Reverend Eric for a while. He told us about the school and about Ghana, including cultural differences between Ghana and the US. One thing that he told us about that really stood out in my mind throughout the rest of the trip was the 3 C’s that Ghanaians believed in for parenting. They stood for Control, Compromise, and Choices. Family plays a huge role in Ghanaian life and many parents seemed to believe in following these 3 C’s. From birth until the child is 18 years old children should be under their parents’ full control; from 18 to 25 years old children should be allowed to think about what they want and get their parents’ input and opinions, finally coming to a compromise; after 25 years children can make their own choices. In addition, Eric told us that Ghanaians believe in corporal punishment for children both in the home and in school. Children should not talk back to or disobey their parents and the best way for a child to learn that something is wrong is through the infliction of pain. However, he did clarify that they should not hit a child if they do something wrong that they did not know is wrong. When helping Kate with her interviews these beliefs seemed to be fairly consistent throughout the communities that we saw in and around Accra.

I thought these were interesting cultural concepts when compared to the US. In the states, corporal punishment is a huge topic of debate both in the homes and in schools, and is outlawed in public schools in 31 states. Additionally, I found it interesting that where parents in the US typically begin to listen to and compromise with their children early in their teens, compromising doesn’t start until 18 in Ghana, according to Eric. Further, at 18 in the US, children can go off and do what they want apart from their parents’ beliefs or views, this doesn’t seem to occur until much later in Ghanaian culture. At 25 many Americans have graduated from college and ideally begun their own families and lives apart from their parents. In listening to some of the interviews that Kate conducted it does not seem that children will generally get married and start their own families until 25 or 30 years of age. After hearing about these 3 C’s from Eric, I was interested in how much of an impact they had on the culture and how much they were aligned with legal restrictions. I asked our driver how old you had to be in Ghana to drive and he said 25, I couldn’t image not being able to drive until 25, in fact I still wouldn’t be allowed to drive if that were the case in the US. When I looked into it further after getting home I found that the legal driving age in Ghana was actually 18 and that it was 25 for driving a commercial vehicle, so it is likely that our driver misunderstood the question and was responding for how old you have to be to drive a commercial vehicle like he was doing at the time. In finding this information, I also came across information about other legal ages in Ghana: you are legally considered an adult, can drink, and get married at 18. Finding this information made me curious as to how much people followed the ages that Eric gave us for the 3 C’s and how often children when off and made their own choices at 18. In the US, children often continue to live with their parents and be financially dependent on them (at least to some extent) until their early 20’s, either after completing college or becoming more financially secure.

I would be interested in looking further into the 3 C’s and how much a part of Ghanaian culture they really are, how much they may just be the beliefs of one person or one community, and how much variability in these parenting beliefs exists throughout the country.

 

Wheelchair Maintenance by Sam

New Horizon Special School in Accra is a school for kids and adults with intellectual disabilities. The school provides both educational and vocational training as well as employment opportunities, and aims to help each child reach their full potential and lead a productive and satisfying life. When we got to New Horizons last Tuesday we were given a tour of the facility and were all blown away with what we saw. All of the teachers and staff were doing incredible work, trying to meet each child’s individual needs as best as they could. Everyone seemed very receptive and excited to have us there to provide some additional help. Throughout the tour, several children were identified that they wanted us to work with on various things, such as feeding, positioning, and fine motor skills. Afterwards we regrouped and got to work, with some people going into the classrooms to work with certain children and others working on cleaning up and repairing some wheelchairs.

While I would have liked to be hands-on with the children, I was cleaning up wheelchairs. Sanding off rust, oiling brakes, and making sure wheels spun properly. It wasn’t very exciting work to start, but once the staff realized that we could work on wheelchairs they were excited and kept sending us more to look at. Tuesday night we got more tools from Rick after the Volta group returned, which was hugely beneficial so that we could actually loosen the brakes so they would work, and weren’t all trying to share 1 crescent wrench. We knew that we had a lot to do on Wednesday as it was our last full day at the school, so we broke up into multiple groups to get everything done. While all of my peers went off to be more hands-on with the kids, I was happy to be working on the wheelchairs as I could see how important it was and how much the students and teachers appreciated it. I had an awesome partner in Carole’s son, Kevin, and together we got a lot accomplished. We replaced some broken armrests with foam – so the kids wouldn’t hurt themselves and could be more comfortable – and when we knew who used which chair we could adjust the leg rests so they could be better positioned. We fixed all of the brakes so they were easier to use and actually functioned as brakes, and made them less painful to use by wrapping them in rubber bands and duct tape. Kevin came up with some great ideas, including using Velcro to secure the brake on a stroller that one of the children used, so that it could be strapped down tight when the brake needed to be on and could still be released easily. One group was also able to make seat cushions out of wood and foam to help support the children more appropriately in their wheelchairs. Kevin and I managed to finish all of the major wheelchair maintenance done by lunch time on Wednesday, so I still got a chance to be hands-on with the kids, and then we would help out with some minor adjustments after children were positioned.

I was happy with the wheelchair maintenance that we accomplished at New Horizon, especially because I felt like it was something that we could do for those two days and then have it continue to benefit the students until we could come back again next year to work on them again. I knew we had done work that was very appreciated, but didn’t understand how much it was until Stacey told us on Thursday that the school had been trying to find somewhere that could service the wheelchairs for them, and that the only place they found was hours away. Between the huge expense it would have been to get a van that could take all of the wheelchairs and get them serviced, plus the amount of time it would have taken to bus them all the way there and back on top of the time it would take them to get repaired, and the fact that the students would be left without their wheelchairs for as long as this took, we really saved them so much and were so very helpful to them. I never imagined that servicing old and well-used wheelchairs could be so satisfying.

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Me and my awesome partner.

Sunday Feeding Program by Becky

Last Sunday morning we attended church at Shepherd Baptist Church, where Rev Eric Annan preaches. Afterward, we drove out to where Mrs Annan leads a weekly feeding program for street children living in the area. Children who attend this program are told bible stories and learn bible verses. They also sing songs. After the bible lessons, the children are fed lunch. Sunday’s lunch consisted of mainly rice with some sauce along with noodles. We were there to fit the kids with donated shoes, but we also hung out and played with them.

Similar to the kids we met at Grace Life International School, the kids were thrilled to have us there. They ran to hold our hands and fell over themselves to have their picture taken when we took out our cameras. I tended to be drawn often to the quieter, younger kids, because they could so easily be overshadowed by their more outgoing peers and I didn’t want anyone to feel left out. Their smiles melted my heart.

It was tougher than I expected to see the conditions in which the kids on Sunday live.  Many of them showed up with broken flip flops and dirty or torn clothes. There was trash everywhere, a big puddle of sludge that I assume is sewer waste that one little boy was urinating into, and a powerful smell that hit you as soon as you pulled into the courtyard. 

As cliche as it might sound, throughout this trip I’ve been struck by how little these kids have, and how happy and appreciative they are to have us there.  This experience has made me feel very lucky to have everything that I do (food, shelter, resources) and I hope I will remember that when I’m home and complaining about something trivial like Comcast increasing my wireless Internet bill.

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.

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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