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.

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!

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.

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.

Akwaaba to the Rich Cultural Heritage of Ghana by Laura

In a few days we arrive in Ghana. We’ll be doing lots of “snapping” (with permission of course) from the individuals whose pictures we are taking. Although primarily English is spoken there, “Akwaaba,” which means “welcome,” is a common greeting (Ghana Tourism: http://www.touringghana.com/default.asp) we will soon be hearing. I’ve been practicing several other Akan greetings suggested by Ghana tourism:

Medaase: Thank you

Mepaokyew: Please

Maakye: Good morning

Maa ha: Good afternoon

Maa-Adjo: Good evening

Da-Yie: Good night

Nantee-Yie: Farwell

The family to which you are born and/or the day of the week on which you were born are of great significance to many ethnic groups within Ghana. GhanaWeb has a detailed article about Ga birthing rituals and naming traditions, which can be accessed with this link. After giving a present to all individuals who assisted in the birth, which is typically washing rum, the father sends one of his cloths, which is used as a pillow the newborn. This is described as ‘absolutely necessary’ as it is formal recognition by the father that the baby is his child. Eight days after the child is born the mother and father’s families meet at the paternal grandfather or father’s home in the wee hours of the night. Although this does not do the ritual justice, it involves an individual in good standing sprinkling water onto the baby, the father’s family naming the child, and the eldest person present saying a blessing for the child and his or her family.

Children are often given family names. Naming traditions for the Ankrahs, Ama, Kwate or Kpakpa, and Damte families are discussed, in addition to stool names. Stool names are given to children of families who occupy stools and are described as “the greatest of all names.” The article indicates that some Gas may also go by the day of the week on which he or she was born. This practice originated among the Twis and uses Twi language of the Akan people. As I was born on a Friday, if I had born in Ghana and received a birthday name, I might be called Afua. This site  provides a great chart of birthday names for males and females with audio clips to aid in proper pronunciation.

I’ve also learned that we will be in country on African Union Day, which is May 25th. This year will be the 51st celebration of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which became the African Union (AU). This multi-national organization “seeks to promote ‘an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena” (http://summits.au.int/50th/about). It may also be referred to as African Liberation Day since this day marked the end of colonialism. Unity, solidarity, Pan-Africanism, and Renaissance are celebrated. Ghana’s Headlines Educational Center (2012) indicates that throughout the African Union children wear traditional African clothing to school. Also, a Ghana Armed Forces’ (2012) news article suggests traditional celebrations include a flag raising ceremony in Accra. It will be a privilege to be present on this day.

Great Expectations by Laura

In 2011, I traveled to Zimbabwe. I have been strolling down memory lane, perusing my journal from the trip and thinking about what to expect upon my return to Africa next week! One thing that always stood out to me about my trip to Zimbabwe was how it was as unpredictable as it was beautiful. I never dreamed of sitting beneath 150-year-old aloe trees or crabwalking my way to cave paintings that had been miraculously untouched for the last 5,000- 10,000 years. On some level, it felt like a very contradictory place. Beauty and despair, poverty and promise, hardship and contentment all seemed to co-exist effortlessly there.

In less than a month I’d learned more about the beauty of simplicity and the meaning of the word “enough” than I had in the last 20 years at home. Even the expected trips to landmarks surprised me. Although I read travel books,  you cannot anticipate that your tour guide will describe the tower in the Great Enclosure of Great Zimbabwe as intentionally phallic. On a more serious note, I remember being humbled by the resilience and faith of the people I encountered. In Gokwe, I discussed the developmental theorists Piaget and Erickson with a librarian. He steered the conversation toward the topics of faith and brotherhood, sharing that “God will never fail us.” I’m excited to learn more about the role of faith in Ghanaian culture by attending service(s) during our trip.

The pronounced influence of Western culture on Zimbabwean culture was one of the bigger surprises. While visiting an orphanage I met Brenda, a teen with a phenomenal voice of her own, who idolized Justin Bieber. She had no memories of her parents and had not known another home, so Brenda had decided her last name was Bieber. Cell phones were ubiquitous. Families that often shared one cup of water at dinner while seated on the ground around the fire often had at least one cell phone, which was recharged using an old car battery. So, I expect to be surprised by the ways in which Western culture has influenced Ghanaian culture.

I hope this trip is as unpredictable as it is beautiful, to be able to teach and to learn, to feel humbled on a daily basis, and not to return home exactly the same person I was before. Despite my ‘Type A’ personality, stagnation became scarier than change when I visited Zimbabwe. I am excited to pursue my dreams as an aspiring pediatric OT and to grow as an individual through service learning in Ghana.