Establishing Crucial Relationships and Learning More About Child Development in Ghana by Macy

A lot of our time in Ghana was dedicated to establishing critical relationships for future trips to Ghana.  We had the opportunity to visit a couple schools to form connections including the Volta School for the Deaf and the Autism school in Accra.  The Volta school for the Deaf was impressive because it was like a mini campus.  The children stay there throughout the year for 3 months at a time, and then go home to their families for a couple weeks between sessions.  At this school, they have a vocational area where the students make really cool crafts—we were able to see and buy these crafts at their store in the market called “Our Talking Hands”.  During our visit at the school, the children were out of session so it was difficult to see how we could be most helpful to them.  We talked about possibly focusing on ergonomics in the vocational area or tackling communication barriers between children and their families.  We learned that most children struggle when they go home because their parents do not know sign language and have no way of communicating with them.  It made me wonder why they have to be sent home if both the child and parent are not happy with the situation.  However, since this is a requirement of the school, I think that we could help with this communication barrier.

The Autism school was overwhelming for me.  As a former ABA therapist, I couldn’t help but notice how much these teachers could benefit from ABA training.  I think a major part of our role at this school could be through teacher education.  There was sensory overload from the time we walked in including a loud TV, drumming, and singing very loudly.  The teachers could benefit from an understanding of sensory integration because it was clear that some children had sensory processing difficulties.

We were lucky to have Yvonne (the daughter of mama from the orphanage) help us get in touch with the autism school.  She is a wealth of knowledge and I enjoyed having the opportunity to talk to her.  She and Bless, one of the older guys from the orphanage, have a lot of connections in Ghana, making it important for us to keep good relationships with them for future visits.

I enjoyed learning more about child development in Ghana by administering Denver II screenings and interviewing mothers in the local villages.  Bless was helpful in finding mothers to interview, and also helped with interpreting.  We conducted these interviews to get a better idea of typical child development in Ghana in hopes of eventually creating a screening tool for Ghanaian children.  A few of my observations included: people did not seem to think a child’s age was very important, children do not have access to toys or feeding utensils, and parents will seek medical attention mainly for children who are overheated.  I also thought that the animal identification list should be changed to include more common animals in Ghana (such as goats).

We were only able to administer Denver II screenings on a couple children from the orphanage.  I helped administer the screening on two young girls, but it was difficult to get a true idea of their skills because of the language barrier (they speak Ewe to them).  They were also feeling sick and were not comfortable with us, which might of also skewed our results.  We noticed that they did not move around much and had a flat affect, but this could have been due to the heat and/or their sickness.  Hopefully next year we can continue this research and get more Denver screenings in the Volta region.

Forming relationships is essential when traveling to a foreign country to provide services.  We were lucky to have pre-established relationships to assist us during our trip this time, and hopefully the relationships we formed this year will continue throughout the following years.  This trip was completely life changing and I am so blessed I had this opportunity. Not only did I learn about a completely different culture then my own, but I also realized how much we take for granted on a daily basis.  I feel very fortunate for all that we have here in the US and hope to someday have another opportunity to travel abroad again (maybe to go pick up Prosper :)).

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One of my favorite pictures from the trip 🙂

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How We Provided OT Services by Macy

As mentioned in a previous blog, I was assigned to co-lead handwriting and after school activities with the children at the orphanage.  I was most nervous about co-teaching handwriting because of my lack of experience in this area.  We were fortunate to use a curriculum called “handwriting without tears” which provided us with ideas for working with children at all stages of handwriting.  I spent a lot of time reading the teachers manuals, which were really helpful, but the uncertainty of how it would actually work in Ghana made it a bit more complicated.

The first day we spent at the orphanage, we introduced handwriting to the kids.  The lack of structure and table space made it difficult for the kids to pay attention.  However, after having each child take a quick handwriting assessment, we were able to split the kids up into reasonable groups by skill level.  Overall, the kids were decent at writing their letters, but there was a wide range of skill level.  Some of us worked on chalkboards, others with wooden blocks, and a few in workbooks.

The next day we were able to teach handwriting in school which was a little better since each child had a desk, and we had access to the blackboard.  I was really glad to provide each child with their own workbook with the letters in the correct teaching order (based on difficulty level and groupings of letters).  While working with the kids, we noticed that they had difficulty making the connection between letters and their sounds.  They could usually tell you what the letter was, but most could not tell you the name of something that started with the letter.  Based on this observation, it seems like the teachers are more concerned with memorization of the letters alone versus usage of letters in words.  Maybe this could be something to look into in the future, followed by providing feedback to the teachers.  Overall, I thought the handwriting went pretty well.  Most of the kids benefited from learning the correct way of writing letters, which will help them in the future when they learn to write words.  I would have liked to have more time for handwriting so we could of worked on lower-case and cursive letters (for the more advanced kids).  We did leave some materials and the curriculum for the teacher, so hopefully he will take advantage of that information.  Writing is a critical skill that will benefit these children for the rest of their lives and I was happy to take part in the learning process.

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The biggest success for after school activities was making the rainbow loom bracelets.  The kids had never seen them before so they were very interested.   When we brought out the rubber bands, the kids all swarmed around to learn how to make them.  We taught them how to make them on their fingers since they wouldn’t have access to a “loom” (which most kids in the US use to make them).  I was impressed with how quickly they caught on—even the younger ones. They even asked for us to send them more rubber bands so they could sell bracelets at the market!  The friendship bracelets out of string did not interest the kids as much, but some of them really liked it.  They were able to tie the string to their toe to make these—improvising at its finest!

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During our last day, we had the opportunity to meet with the University of Ghana OT students.  I really enjoyed working through case studies and learning more about them and their program.  The students we met are the first OT class and they are in their second year of undergraduate studies.  They haven’t had much exposure to OT yet and have taken mainly general education courses.  They will only need a four-year degree to practice as an OT in Ghana, but we are not sure how it will work since there are only a couple OT’s in Ghana.  However, working through case studies was a cool experience because we were able to help them begin to think like OT’s.  This experience made me realize that I know more than I think.  I think that our pediatric course this past semester helped prepare me for working through the case studies.  It made me feel good that I could help them with their critical reasoning skills and helped me see that I am starting to think more like an OT!

I also enjoyed providing transfer training to the teachers of New Horizon’s and The University of Ghana students.  I was glad we were able to do this because so many people get hurt while trying to transfer others.  I hope we at least helped them understand the safety concerns for both people during transfers to help reduce injury in each person.

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What I learned most during these OT related projects was that most learning usually comes from uncomfortable situations. Before each of these activities, I did not feel competent since I am not yet an OT.  However, I learned so much from each of these experiences, and realized that I knew more than I thought!

What Was Different in Ghana by Macy

While in Ghana, there were certain parts of the culture and environment that took some getting used to.  People in Ghana are so friendly and almost every person that saw us would tell us “you are welcome”.  I am not used to people being so welcoming and it was a nice change!  The part of Ghana that I had the hardest time with was the heat and humidity.  I had never been so sweaty and dirty in my life, so it was a hard adjustment for me—I even sweat through my “sweat proof” pants!  Another difficult adjustment was waiting such a long time for meals—in the US, we are spoiled and food is prepared quickly, and all food is served at the same time.  In Ghana, everyone gets his or her meals at different times and it could take a couple hours for it to be ready.  Also, there are not nearly as many choices as we have in the US.  While in Ghana, someone asked me what kind of food we have in the US and the only answer I could come up with is “everything!”  It can get overwhelming with the amount of choices we have here, but it is better then having only a few of the same choices at every restaurant. Another part of meals that was different was that most people eat meals with their hands instead of utensils.  Before a meal, the server would bring out a bowl of water and soap to wash your right hand with before eating a meal. Here is a Ghanaian dish called “Banku” that we tried which was actually pretty good (although I was a little freaked out by the fish in the soup), Melodee washing her hands in a bowl, and Prosper eating his lunch with his hands:

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The older boys from the orphanage informed us that some people in Ghana eat cats and dogs—this news was a bit disturbing and steered me away from eating meat the rest of the trip.  They also found it very amusing that people in the US have cats and dogs as pets and take them to the doctor—it is kind of ridiculous if you think about it. It is so common in the US that I never really thought about it that way.  People in Ghana hardly have access to medical professionals and we are taking our pets to a doctor!

Something that I found interesting that I have never really experienced before is sometimes babies were afraid of us—I hadn’t really thought about the fact that some babies there may have never seen a white person before!  This would happen mostly in the villages while we were doing interviews with families.  At the orphanage, most of the kids were used to white people because volunteers visit the orphanage throughout the year.  I also noticed that at the orphanage, the kids clothing and shoes were not gender specific.  The kids were just happy to have something to wear— in the US, this would probably be shamed upon.  But is it really that big of a deal? Here is a picture of one of the outfits Prosper wore while we were there:

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I did not enjoy hand washing my clothes in the sink—I felt that I could not get them clean enough and we did not have a stopper for the sink which made it extra difficult!  I respect the people in Ghana (like the older girls at the orphanage) who hand wash clothes on a daily basis—it is not fun and hard work!

One of the biggest differences I noticed in the children at the orphanage versus children in the US is their independence level.  The kids in Ghana have to learn from a young age to look after themselves versus kids in the US who are “babied” for a good portion of their childhood.  It was hard for me to accept this because I just wanted to make sure the kids were okay! For example, when we took the kids to the waterfall, I was scared about the younger kids running ahead on the trail.  The “US caretaker” in me was thinking I didn’t want them to get lost or taken.  However, I realized quickly that they knew their limits and I had to just let them go!

My favorite difference about Ghana was the true happiness expressed in the people there.  I feel like here in the US we don’t even know what true happiness is because we are always looking for happiness through “things”.  In Ghana, they don’t have much, but seem to be happier with the little they do have.  They seem much more appreciative for what they have and rely on their tremendous faith each day.  I only hope to one day be as spiritually sound as the people in Ghana.  One of the major things I learned on this trip is that less really is more because without all the materialistic things is where to find true happiness.

Our Adventures in Ghana by Macy

During our time in Ghana, we had the opportunity to go on a few adventures to explore more of the beautiful country.  Before arriving at our hotel in Hohoe, we stopped at the monkey sanctuary. At the sanctuary, we walked down a trail where we met a family of monkeys in the surrounding trees.  They were smaller then I was expecting, but it made sense when we saw what was going to happen.  The first jump was startling to all of us because we did not realize that multiple monkeys would spring from the high trees above and onto all parts of our bodies to retrieve bananas out of our hand! They came swarming from all of the trees to peel back the banana like a champ and eat them within seconds!  I love monkeys so I was really happy we had the opportunity to do this.  One of my group members has the pictures of each of us with the monkeys, so hopefully she will post some of those on the blog! 

Another adventure we went on was hiking Mount Afadjato, the highest mountain in Ghana.  I am not a big hiker, and was dreading this day since stepping off the plane and feeling the humidity in the air.  But most of the group enjoys hiking and couldn’t wait for this day, so I sucked it up and went along for the trip!  The actual hike didn’t fall short of my preconceived thoughts about it—the hike without the humidity is difficult, so the heat and stickiness made it that much harder!  I was lucky to have my classmate, Jouette, and my professor, Rick, trail behind with me, stopping every few minutes for water breaks.  When we finally made it to the top, I felt accomplished and was glad I didn’t give up along the way.  The scenery was beautiful and the breeze was incredible!  This view gave me a new appreciation for how beautiful Ghana is.  The hike down was much easier, and I even met a friend along the way 🙂

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My favorite adventure was taking the kids from the orphanage to the Wli Waterfall.  The kids aren’t able to leave the orphanage much so it was a nice treat for them! They were all so happy and loved being with us.  The waterfall was beautiful—here are a couple pictures of our time there:

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I enjoyed going out under the falls with Samantha—I could tell it made her really happy and it was a special moment that we shared together!  The walk to the falls was about a mile long, which was nice quality time talking with the kids.  At the end of the trail, we did some shopping from local artists of various carvings and accessories.

What I Loved at Eugemot Orphanage by Macy

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We spent most of our days at the Eugemot orphanage while in Hohoe (the area where we stayed in the Volta region).  The night we arrived, we stopped at the orphanage to say hello and the kids immediately ran up to us and wanted attention and love.  At the orphanage, there are about 35 children ranging from age 1 all the way up to 22.  Prosper, a 6-year-old who was the first little boy to greet me when I got off the tro-tro, became my favorite during our time there.  He asked to take a picture together, and every day after when we drove up to the house, he would be out on the porch yelling “Macy!!” which would just melt my heart!

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I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the orphanage was smaller then I anticipated.  There were only a few rooms in the house with many children sleeping in each room (a few to each bunk bed and some on the floor).  There were 3 adult caregivers, including “mama” who is in charge, who didn’t seem to interact much with the kids (maybe they interact more when volunteers aren’t there). During our time at the orphanage, I was impressed with how much it felt like a family there—the older kids looked after the younger ones, and everyone seemed to get along well.  The kids were very respectful and obedient, much different then a lot of children in the US!  Both boys and girls had their heads shaved (except for a couple of the girls who had braids) and they were clean and looked healthy.  However, a lot of the children looked younger then their age, although most ages were indefinite.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was coming back to the orphanage each night.  This time was so special because we were able to spend quality time and really get to know the kids.  We were honored to take part in their traditional praise and worship where they sing and dance to drumming performed by the older boys.  Holding and loving on the kids was the most meaningful part of the trip because it is clear that they do not get much affection.  I also enjoyed talking to the older girls, particularly Samantha and Judith.  Samantha came up to me the night of the praise and worship and told me that she was so happy I was there and that she did not usually dance, but danced that night because we made her so happy!  Judith was always so patient and caring—when we made the rainbow loom bracelets, she was helping all of the younger ones and gave me a bracelet she had made.  The older girls (starting at age 8) are responsible for cooking, hand washing laundry in the river, and caring for the younger ones, and never complained about any of it!  Keep in mind this was all after a long day at school and in Ghanaian humidity!

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It was really hard to leave the orphanage and it made me really sad to know that most of the beautiful, caring, respectful, loving children will never know what it is like to have a “typical” family (no family is really normal!).  Some of the children’s parents are alive, but I learned that most people in Ghana do not believe in blended families.  This means that if a parent passes away, the child is most likely sent to the orphanage if the living parent re-marries.  It makes it even harder knowing that there is a ban on adoptions out of Ghana right now which makes it even less likely that these children will be able to get adopted.  However, I think that the family style of the orphanage is the next best option for these children and they are fortunate to have a place like this to live– most of them don’t know life any differently and are happy even with the little they do have.  And hopefully within the next few years, I can come back for Prosper 🙂

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I was so sad to leave Prosper! I fell in love with his sweet, loving, mischievous personality and heartwarming smile!

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I love how happy he looks here 🙂 I hope to bring you home someday sweet Prosper!

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Arriving in Ghana by Macy

For the final hour on the plane before arriving in Ghana, I could not sleep– I was too anxious and excited for what the next two weeks had in store for us.  I had no idea what I was about to walk into but I knew I could expect an experience of a lifetime.  When we finally landed and were getting off the plane, the humidity hit me and felt like a sauna—I knew I wasn’t home anymore! Driving from the airport, I was surprised by how much I was reminded of Richmond—to me it didn’t look much different then a typical city, but it was also at night. The roads were paved with some potholes (like I said, not any different then Richmond).  Even from the hotel window, buildings were lit up, and we had what looked like a city view.  But when we woke up the next morning, it was a whole new world.  We saw the unfinished and worn down buildings and the random animals roaming around (including goats, some roosters, and stray dogs).  We could hear the constant honking (which is apparently the way drivers communicate their presence endlessly while driving).  But it was loud with a lot of people, and restaurants and convenience stores were within walking distance from the hotel, just like a typical city in the US.  But half of us were leaving today to travel to the Volta region of Ghana, which is very rural and what I would soon realize seems like a different country then in the city of Accra.

The drive to Volta was a sweaty six hours, but was a chance to soak in the new culture we would be a part of these next couple weeks. We rode in our own personal “trotro” which is a big van and the way most people get around in Ghana– a much less organized, less safe, and less comfortable city bus system.  At most stop lights, locals were selling various foods and other items on the side of the road including snails, plantain chips (which were delicious), cell phone minutes, and toilet paper.  Many women would be carrying these items on their head and carrying a baby on their back!  At first, we were impressed with the roads– we we warned about how terrible they were so we thought they were better then expected– until we reached the dirt roads as we were leaving the city. It was a constant battle with the huge craters in the road and with drivers on the opposite side– to us it looked like a very scary game of “chicken” when we were about to hit head on with another car.  We passed many villages, took a ferry over lake Volta, drove through markets, and witnessed many school children in their uniforms walking home on the side of the highway.  I learned a lot about the Ghanaian culture and loved the beautiful scenery on the drive from Accra to Volta and I am grateful for that experience– however, I was relieved to get to our hotel to clean up in a hot shower!

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Last Minute Prep by Macy

It seems unreal that the time is already here—this week has been a hectic one to say the least! Finishing up the first year of OT school with finals in each class, moving out of my place in Richmond and back home to Northern VA, and now leaving tomorrow for a life-changing trip—I thought this day would never come!  Tonight is about organizing and determining if I need to pick anything up tomorrow.  As much as I like to be prepared, I know I will get there and have forgotten something—at least there are other women on the trip and between all of us, we should have everything we need!

Today I went to Wal-Mart and have spent the last couple days picking up stuff here and there, collecting last minute things (including a spontaneous, costly trip to Eddie Baur, a store I never really knew about but fell in love with for Ghana attire).  When I went to check out at Wal-Mart, my mom started talking to the cashier, telling her about my trip and how nervous she was.  It turns out, this nice lady is actually from the Volta region in Ghana (in a town called Ho), and moved to the US only 3 years ago!  It made me happy because she eased my moms mind about the trip, and made me even more excited to have the opportunity to go there!

I met with my co-leaders this week regarding our projects—I will be co-leading handwriting and after-school activities at the Eugemot orphanage.  I am nervous about handwriting since I have never taught it before, but I am looking forward to learning a lot and challenging myself to think on the fly.  It will be good to have some background in handwriting when we learn more about it next fall.  After school activities should be fun as we are planning to teach how to make friendship and rainbow loom bracelets, and play active games such as red rover.  We are hoping to find a ball at the market when we get there so we can play other games such as four square and kickball.  I am lucky to be traveling with such an awesome group and I know that we will work well together to get everything accomplished and have a lot of fun, too!

I am mostly looking forward to getting to know the children and the culture in Ghana, and providing to them in any way that I can in the short time we are there.  I should be able to call a few times on our group phone, so I will call either my mom or my boyfriend, Marcus, and they will update others to let them know I am OK!  I am so fortunate for this incredible opportunity and I am grateful for the many people who supported me through my fundraising page.  Because of all my awesome friends and family, I will not need to pay much out of pocket which is such a blessing to me!  I will be blogging throughout the trip if we have access, but if not, I will after the trip.  Thanks for all the support and I cannot wait to share my amazing experiences!

Appreciating Ghanaian Culture by Macy

Reality has set in—I just received a confirmation email that my ticket has been purchased!  I am feeling a mix of emotions about leaving the country, but mostly excitement about seeing a new part of the world and making a difference in Ghanaian children’s lives.  I have always had the desire to study abroad and never followed through with the process, but I knew the time was right.  To me, this is my last opportunity and I refused to pass it up.  I am nervous that I will not be prepared for the different lifestyle that we will experience, but I am ready to be flexible and learn so much from Ghanaian culture.  My family is nervous for me to take this trip, mainly because nobody in my family has ever done anything like this before and they are worried about my safety.  But it makes me feel better that my professors are bringing their children along too—they would never take their own children if they felt it was unsafe!

Reading about Ghanaian culture makes me appreciate all that we have available to us, and I am realizing that we take a lot for granted.  For example, many children in the US complain about going to school, but in Ghana it is a privilege to receive an education, and they will walk miles each day to get to school.  I was surprised to find out that students in Ghana are required to wear uniforms, but they have to purchase them on their own, along with books and other needed supplies. I am so excited to help these amazing children that are so appreciative and hard working!

During our talk with Randi Buerlein, I found it interesting learning about some of Ghanaian culture “do’s and don’ts”.  Things that we do subconsciously in the US, such as crossing your legs and using the left hand, are offensive in Ghana.  These are things that I need to train myself to consciously think about to avoid offending the Ghanaians.

The projects I will co-lead while at the Eugemot orphanage in the Volta region include handwriting programs and after school games.  I am planning to meet with my co-leaders within the next couple weeks to start planning, and will be sure to keep you up to date on our progress!

The date of departure will arrive before I know it, but there is still so much to learn and prepare beforehand. However, I am very grateful for this opportunity and will continue to soak in as much as I can during our discussions each week to prepare the best I can for this amazing adventure!