Volunteerin' & Tour at VSD

Trip Start Jun 21, 2012
Trip End Jul 21, 2012

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Flag of Ghana  , Volta Region,
Friday, July 6, 2012

Let ya know I'm takin' a risk to send photos on this blog but I feel it's vital for my family, friends, and teachers to understand and learn about VSD, and to distinguish between deaf skools in the U.S. and VSD.  I hope this blog will open your eyes, get ya inspired, and make you want to volunteer there in the near future.  Enjoy my blog!

I had the 1st week of observation trying to decide which class I teach. I visited different classrooms of junior high school and primary school. The average of number of students in each of classes is 15-20. My class size is between 3-8 in Austin. Often I see the students help their teacher and with each other, and they don't have behavior problems 'cos of infamy stick dat their teachers hold. It reminds 'em "Be good, or I will..." Some teachers have their teacher aide to help 'em but mostly don't. After I observed the class, the students already knew about my visit when they asked me if my name sign is 'Fingerspells of MC on the chin' and if I'm from America. I smiled sayin' yes.  It's as if it spread fast like fire.  After wrestlin' w/ my decision, I chose Lydia's Primary 1 class.  Why?  The younger kiddos have better chance of learnin' at early age and I liked their teacher, Lydia.  Besides, Lydia is one of friendly teachers and signin' better.  They also have a teacher's aide named George.  To be honest, my decision wuz not easy 'cos I wanna teach all students as well as help their teachers.  I even feel bad when other students than my Primary 1 class asked me if I teach 'em.  :-(  I told 'em they can join us to play games and activities durin' recess.

In Lydia's classroom, there are few teacher-made posters such as 'Parts of the Body' and 'Number Chart', and they are laminated w/ clear duct tape.  To have the posters laminated by machine, it costs a lot of money.  There are posters of HIV awareness called 'Alert and Proud'.  That's about it.  The classroom seems to be tidy and in order but it looks very old rather quickly and not remodeled nor innovated since the skool wuz established in 1961, I think.  Student desks are wooden and lined up in rows in a vertical way facin' the chalkboard as opposed to my classroom where students sit in a semi-circle so they can see each other easily.   I planned to change 'em but it's impossible since the space of classroom is limited to move 'em around.  Each of students has a pencil but most of the erasers are out.  They borrow the erasers from each other.  They sometimes grab 'em out of their hands and I instructed 'em to ask 'em politely and say 'Please".  Apparently she allows her students to use the razor to sharpen their pencil.  Yes, I'm not kiddin'!  It's so disturbin'.  But I realized dat students do get creative and try to get things done.  My home-based has many leftover skool supplies dat volunteers donated or left behind, so I brought two small sharpeners, many pencils with the erasers, glue sticks, and erasers to class.  When I showed 'em to Lydia and she said she has the pencil sharpener but rarely gives it out to the students 'cos she said they use it for a long time 'till they break the pencil.  Despite what she said, I taught students how to use it wisely for a short time.   She didn't even know what the glue stick was.  I showed her how to use it w/ the paper and she went, 'Ah!'.  I teased her I use it as a lipstick to seal my lips together.  She laughed and shook her head no no no!

Lydia teaches English Language, Mathematics, Science, and Religion.  She has the teacher aide who helps her write exercises from student's workbook on the chalkboard, which takes long and makes students wait for him to finish.  The students don't have their own workbook and I think the skool budget is limited by the government.  No computer, ELMO, LCD project, copyin' machine, or any technology to make teacher and students' lives convenient.  I helped remove their boredom by talkin' and askin' 'em questions.  Just make conversation w/ 'em.  One example of while students awaited, I gave a card to each of 'em and asked 'em to write their name on it.  They are asked to tape it on their desk to help me remember their name.  I need to memorize 16 names and mostly their names are Ghanaian, which are hard to remember.  I even took individual pictures of them w/ their name signs.  Their name signs are different and common in VSD (Volta School f/t Deaf).  The kiddos LOVE to be in the pictures and want to see 'em what they look like.  They want to use my digital camera, but I’m not ready to let 'em. They'd take snapshots as many as they want to. One day, I will allow ‘em under my watchful eyes.
Whatever I need for Lydia’s class, I go to the market to buy supplies such as posters and rolls of clear duct tapes.  Skool will be out in three weeks, so they ran out of the materials and supplies.   I asked Gerard to print and make copies for my class at the office in town and he didn’t submit ‘em to me in time.  I asked ‘em what happened and he said he had to convert the Microsoft Word program into his format ‘cos his computer is PC.  So, ya see my volunteerin’ is a challengin’ and learnin’ experience.  It also tests my patience. 

In Lydia’s lesson of Religion, I read one of passages about three major religions (Christianity, Muslim, and African Traditional) in Ghana.  Each of the religion is explained:  term of a person of the religion, his belief, what they practice, name of place they go, name of religion leader, & when they go.  Her students have limited vocabulary and it’s too much for ‘em to understand and remember all aspects of each of the religions, so I made a chart on a poster to help ‘em understand better.  I don’t know (I doubt) if the teacher does more on the lesson, elaborates it, make visual aides, or use technology for students to learn.  No learnin’ stations, cooperative learnin’, or interaction.  Four weeks of volunteerin’ is not enough and I wish I’d stay longer and help more. There is a deaf Muslim girl who comes visitin' my classroom and meetin' me whenever she sees me.  I asked her about her Islam religion dat I learned from the passage I read.  Yes, she prays 5 times a day and goes to Mosque.  I don't see her wear a burqa.  Her lookin' is unique and she resembles an Ethiopian.  She is pretty, light-skinned, adorable, & helpful.  Indeed, a fascinatin' student.

Students’ class schedule is different.  The first thing in the morning, they pledge to the Ghanaian flag.  And the Bible study is followed by.  Then, the mathematics class starts at 9:00 am and lasts for an hour but sometimes it ends earlier dat leaves the students to idle.  I teach English Language which is at 10:30, after 30 minutes of recess but sometimes it doesn’t start until later.  Ya can say the schedule is not rigidly fixed.  When I see the students idle, I get involved by helpin’ ‘em.  For instance, in the math lesson, the girl cudda not add.  I asked for manipulative so she’d use it to help w/ the addition.  The teacher aide brought a bag of caps from soda & beer bottles.  Other students can add independently but the manipulative actually helped her.  All students’ ability level are not the same.  Their ages range from 11 to 16 years old.  Quite variety in the students!  I don’t see the teacher offers one-on-one instruction for students who struggle in learnin’, however, they do have extra time to complete assignments.  I don’t know if the students get a formal assessment to place in an appropriate class.  The last class ends at two o’clock & dat’s when they go to dorm.  All teachers n staff, except dorm staff, go home at 4pm.

The teacher has been usin’ the English Language workbook before my arrival, so I took over where she stopped.  The students has been learnin’ words in alphabetical order and I started w/ ‘i’ words. Before I started w/ ‘em, I reviewed alphabetical letters w/ the class.  Half of the students know.  I don’t see the print of the ABC letters on the poster.  They need more environmental prints in classroom.  Anyhoo, they learned how to write only 4 words w/ ‘i’ and practiced spellin’ ‘I’ and ‘i’ 10 times before they move on to the next ‘j’ words.  The lesson wuz pretty dry and not meaningful.  I went back to my home-based after class and found many flashcards of words on the shelves for the volunteers to use.  There are many good materials & I’m delighted I don’t have to buy ‘em in town, or I’ll probably not find ‘em there.  I use my laptop to make more words w/ pictures and make worksheets for the students to use the words and apply ‘em in sentences.  I also added pictures of ASL to write sentences in English.  Soon, I will have the students sign the sentences in ASL in video.  I bet $100 Cedi dat they’ll be thrilled to see ‘emselves in the video.  There are many ideas dat I want to use for my class and I know time is not sufficient durin’ my volunteerin’ stay.  Makin’ a video of ‘em tellin’ a story in ASL or actin’ in skits is one of my goals.  In summary, the curriculum is clearly not modified for the deaf students to meet their needs.  The teacher is open to my suggestions and said I do whatever I think is best for our students.  She even participates in learnin’ sign language w/ us.  She solely uses ‘The Joy of Signing’. I don’t think she is lazy or lackin’ motivation.   Like I mentioned before, I don’t think she takes training in staff development nor is trained in Deaf Education.  Maybe some.

My teacher always offers me to join her for lunch.  I politely thanked her and said I’m not hungry.  Usually I see other teachers share their foods with each other.  In Ghana people eat with their right hand only (some of ‘em use a fork).  The left hand is considered dirty and if I use it, it’s insultin’.  Just today the strong aroma of the ginger roots and shallots was filled in the room when I went back to the classroom.  I asked Lydia what it’s for (I thought it’s for cookin’ class) when I saw two girls helped choppin’ ‘em w/ knives while other kiddos went outside to play.   "Oh, they’re helpin’ me.  I’m sellin’ foods."  Must be a cultural thing.

During my break, I wandered around in skool.  I’ve been at skool mostly but I haven’t gotten a chance to see other parts of skool.  Of course, the young boys saw me w/ my digital camera and pointed at it.  I told ‘em I gotta take pictures of different places dat I’ve not seen.  I pointed to one of the buildings and asked ‘em what it’s.  They signed ‘T’ under the chin.  I puzzled and didn’t comprehend their sign, so they led me to the building.  I first smelled like animal farm.  Guess what?  It wuz a pig pen!  There were cute piglets, medium-sized pigs, and one BIG pig!  I held my breath as I scanned inside the pen.  Why pig pen?  Later, I learned from the older student sayin’ in April and December the big pig gets slaughtered for food.  Whew, it’s July and glad I’ll not be there to witness it!  I haven’t eaten any pork or beef since my arrival except chicken and fish.

The boys happily showed me more buildings.  They were about to lead me to the cafeteria but I told ‘em dat I went there before.  They still nudged me to the behind of the cafeteria where I saw a group of cooks outside.  I thought they had a kitchen inside the cafeteria.  There was a big boilin’ pot under the fire and smoke.  It blew my mind.  I greeted the cooks by wavin’ my hand and politely asked ‘em if it’s OK for me to take the pictures.  Come here, they gestured.  They showed what inside the boilin’ pot wuz.  It wuz beans.  The cook pointed to the other big bowl containin’ kenkey.  I finally saw what the kenkey wuz after Scott mentioned it as his fave dish.  The kenkey is spicy and ya can add it in tomato sauce w/ your hand.  I’ve not tried it yet.  I may try it before I return to Austin.  There was a cart outside the cafeteria where the cooks put all cooked foods in and wheel it to inside of the cafeteria to serve 300 or 400 students.  There were many wooden tables along w/ long benches.  The last building I visited for the day was boys’ dorm.  I asked the boys if the dorm is open and they nodded.  Open durin’ school hours?  I didn’t see dorm staff there.  Where is the supervision?   There were made beds and some of ‘em are covered w/ mosquito nets.  The boys pointed to the posters of their idols of soccer players of Ghana.  The soccer is popular in Ghana.  One of boys in my class is star of the soccer team and he’s small.  Gerard said he even can play well against adults!  On Tuesdays they play soccer game, so I gotta watch him play.

Back to skool, I took a picture of only one Deaf teacher in his computer lab.  All computers are outdated and not upgraded w/ new versions.  Next to his lab, there’s a room of art supplies where Scott works.  I saw students workin’ on the weavin’ loom and sewin’ machine.  They make great kentes with the weavin’ loom and different items w/ the sewin’ machine.  When all the projects are finalized, they go to ‘Our Talkin’ Hands’ shop in town.

Dat’s not all of my tour and teachin’ at VSD.  I’m still behind w/ other tales for my blog as there are so many to tell.  More to come…

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Carla Holmes on

Mary, what a gift you have of sharing your experiences in such a meaningful and interesting way. The school situation (the desks, etc.) reminded me of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. I am amazed the children learn with so little. You must be such a joy to them and you make learning FUN. Seems to me the school needs some care packages filled with basic supplies for the students from the states. Good idea?
God bless - YOU are making a difference.

Patty Hetzer on

Hi Mary,
This is so very interesting. As a lay person and a senior I'm touched by the "kiddo's" as you call them. There seems to be a great need where they are for many things. Learning materials, teachers, etc. I also admire the people in their own culture who do their best to educate. Carla's suggestion of goody bags from the States is a good one. I for one would be eager to help. Patty

bodynsoul2 on

Hi sisters,
Yes, they need many things for class, like Patty mentioned learning materials. Visual aides, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, notebook papers, velcro tapes (for hangin' posters), easel pads, & more. When I return to the States, I will try to find businesses to make donations to them. I will personally send 'em to Scott whom I trust dat he will take a good care of 'em. I'll ask him for his address. Thanks for readin' my blog. Peace. :-)

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