Volunteer Work at VSD

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

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Flag of Ghana  , Volta Region,
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

During my volunteer time, I had decided to videotape Lydia's Primary 1 class in different educational projects.  I learned a great deal dat the students obviously did not have prior experience in bein' in the videocamera, actin', signin' ASL, usin' facial expression, and sustainin' their patience for retakes in the first of several projects.  It's funny to see how the students tried to show anger or happiness in their facial expression.  I showed 'em how and they didn't seem to get used to usin' the facial expression.  In the Deaf culture, lots (no, I meant mostly) of deaf and hard-on-hearin' peeps (even interpreters for the Deaf and hearing children of deaf adults, or CODA) do use facial expression.  It helps convey the meaning of the message and to help get it crossed.  It gives the degree of expression with the facial expression such as disappointed, upset, mad, very angry, blow-up, or the person wudda think they look fine when they are really mad.  So, I taught my students how to use their facial expression and to embrace their culture

In addition, when I observed Lydia's class, I noticed dat they students copied exercises from the chalkboard and wrote 'em in their notebook.  Their teacher did teach 'em lessons and the students finished the exercises.  They brought their notebook to the teacher's desk and have her checked their work.  That's it.  Normally teachers at TSD, where I work, present their lessons to class:  state the objective or goal for learning, give them instruction, the students are given a chance to practice and apply the skills taught them through direct instruction, they do independent practice, and lastly teacher assesses their comprehension.  I didn't see the students have their chance for one-on-one instruction, interaction w/ other students, hand-on activities, cooperative learning stations, interactive assignments from the Internet, and sharin' their work w/ others.  I also didn't see the curriculum bein' modified to meet the students' needs.  The students were taught in the same way.  It made me wonder how much teachers at VSD are trained.

Back to the videotapin' projects, I spent a lot of time decidin' how to make the projects, instructin' my students, showin' 'em how to act, sign, use facial expression, and not to say the least alot of time was spent in editing.  The followin' weeks where I worked on the videotapin', I kept returnin' to VSD after lunch to continue workin' on the projects.  Not only dat, I wanted to be w/ the students for interaction, socialization, chattin', and just simply spendin' time w/ 'em.  I felt it's important to use my quality of time to be w/ the students who needed me.  They expected my return when I told 'em dat I'd after lunch.  Most of the other volunteers returned to the home-based for lunch and stayed there in the afternoon, go on excursions, or to town. I wuz the only deaf volunteer out of 36 volunteers, and one of 'em knew lil' of sign language.  So, it wuz kindly difficult for me to be alone while I don't talk or read lips very well.  I only can gesture and write English w/ 'em.  Some of 'em learned sign language from Mawusi, my interpreter, and me.  I sometimes needed to correct him on some signs.  Don't get wrong, the volunteers were a great group...like I said earlier...a good-natured group.  I know dat my 'deafness' taught 'em a lot and helped 'em understand my language, culture, needs, & frustrations; and dat sign language is a beautiful language.  I wuz told by one of the volunteers dat he admired me.  Some of 'em stated when they return to the U.S., they intend to take a sign language class.  I hope they will!  :-)

The first video was to have all 17 students in Lydia's class stated their name by fingerspellin' and name signin'.  It's not easy for me to remember their Ghanaian names such as Tsigbe, Azaglo, and Semakor.  So, I asked each of the students to fingerspell their name and sign their name to help me remember individually.   After I stopped rollin' my videocamera, they wanted to see how they looked, so I showed 'em.  The students huddled around me tryin' to see the videocamera 'cos it wuz small for the 17 students to see it.  They laughed excitedly and some of 'em covered their mouth w/ the hand as if it's their first time to see themselves in the video.  After showin' 'em twice, I told 'em to wait 'till they see it on the screen of my laptop after I edited it.  I even videtaped my teacher, Lydia, and her teacher's aide, George. 

I later learned dat George has a side job where he sews and makes clothes.  He proudly showed me his sewin' machine next to Lydia's classroom.  He said he mostly makes uniforms for VSD and other skools as well as any clothes made out of fabric.  He works in town after skool.   I asked him if he'd fix my sundress by addin' two straps so it won't drag down to my boobs and shorts by narrowin' 'em in my thighs.  He said he can, so I brought 'em to skool next day and he finished 'em easily.  He did a great job and I paid him in Cedi.  If I knew before, I'd have bought more fabric and have him made me out of sumthan' nice.

Sometimes I needed to hide my camera wherever I go at VSD 'cos students wudda come up to me and ask me to take photos of 'em, or have 'em in the video camera.  I sometimes told 'em dat they're already in the pictures and I wanted to teach 'em not to have the photos taken so often.  Many of junior high skool students (mostly boys) helped me by tellin' primary students to move, go away, or tellin' 'em what to do when I worked on my video camera.  They saw me struggle and I wuz grateful to have 'em by my side wherever I went.

The students at VSD were VERY polite.  They greeted and smiled w/ their white teeth wherever I passed by.  They signed, "Hello.  Welcome.  Good morning.  How are ya?  I'm fine.  Thank ya."  If they see me carryin' my backpack or holdin' materials, they offer me for help.  I don't know if it's because I'm yevu ( a white person), or the cultural thing.  Sometimes they just walked by my side.  I need to show examples to my students at TSD.  My students normally walk and pass me without greetin' or sayin' anything as if I am invisible.

When new words were introduced, students drew pictures for the words from their workbook in their notebook to help 'em remember.  It gave me an idea to videotape the students w/ the vocabulary.  I asked 'em to write the word on the index card and draw a picture of it on the back.  They took turn signing the word to my video camera.  They reviewed all the words more than once 'cos they didn't seem to have a good retention. 

Before I forget, last week I asked Mensah Kwabena (or Emmanuel as he calls himself) to help me videotape different buildings at VSD, and to explain what they're.  It's difficult for me to narrate in the videotape myself.  He wuz more than delighted.  The students followed us to everywhere we went but Mensah reminded 'em to stay away and to not interfere us.  After I edited the videotape, it ran up to about lil' more than 14 minutes long and when I posted it on Facebook later, many peeps left me positive comments and thanked me for sharin' it w/ 'em.  Ya can find it in the title of 'VSD in Ghana, West Africa" in my YouTube under my usernname, bodynsoul2.   There are other videos dat I made, too, for ya to view, if ya wish.  My video of VSD is educational and it's good for peeps to distinguish between  the Deaf skool in Ghana and U.S.

I shared my American Sign Language w/ Lydia's students, Lydia, and George.  In exchange, they showed me their Ghanaian Sign Language.  The first week of my volunteer work, I admittedly got lost in understand their language.  Sometimes when Mawusi, my interpreter, was present, I asked him to interpret what they were sayin'.  After gettin' used to GSL, I started using some of it to communicate w/ the students.  When I didn't get what they were sayin', they gladly repeated for me 'cos I think they really wanted me to understand.  So, I thought why don't we exchange our language in the videotape to share it to my colleagues, friends, and family.  Each of the students had an opportunity to feature in the 'tape of the difference in both languages.  They wanted to be in the 'tape more than once and started to argue with each other.  I had to rewind my 'tape to check if they had more than twice as I wanted 'em to be fair w/ each other.  They signed words in both GSL & ASL such as pineapple, sheep, and soccer.  I know dat my students at TSD want to learn GSL, so I'll show the video to 'em.

I decided to find a book of a Ghanaian folktale or story.  I remember I read one story in Austin but I cudda not remember the title.  I stubbornly Googled for the right title with a great deal of my patience 'cos the Internet in Ghana wuz REALly slow.  I believe I spent an hour searchin' for it 'till 'Ananse and the Pot of Wisdom' appeared.  Yes!  Dat's what I wuz lookin' for!  I read the story again and wondered if Lydia's students have ever read about folktales of Ghana.  The story wuz too good to pass and it has a morale for them to learn and to embrace it.  I asked Lydia about it.  She said she knew about the story and told her dat I planned to adapt it into a videotape acted by the students.   She said to go ahead to do whatever I think is best for 'em. 

I had to plan how to adapt the story 'Ananse and the Pot of Wisdom', translate it into ASL, assign students a role, find props and materials, list different scenes & places to be filmed, and teach the students how to act, which wuz pretty difficult.  I found the project enjoyable and I think the students really enjoyed entertainin'.  I selected a boy, who looked older than others, for the big role as Ananse.  The little boy wuz assigned as Ananse's son.  Some students were assigned to be monkeys, toucans, and elephants w/ masks on their faces.  I taught 'em how to make the masks out of the papers and they colored 'em.  Other roles were 2 farmers, 2 weavers, a cook, a seamstress, and 2 carpenters.  I chose one student to narrate the story in ASL w/ my assistance. The parts of the story narrated by the student were inserted in between of scenes to help viewers understand.  We had many retakes of different scenes.  There was one time when two students (Ananse and his son) started to lose their patience 'cos I asked 'em to start it over 'till they got it right.  I decided to give 'em a break.  When I finished videotapin' 'Ananse and the Pot of Wisdom', I spent time editin' it in MacBook's iMovie all night at the home-based. The more I spent time on editing, I became more comfortable w/ editing.  Thanks to TSD students who taught me how before I came to Ghana.  I thought it looked great & cute, and the tape is almost 10 minutes long.  Then, I burned it onto the DVD as it wuz my first time doin' it.  Piece of cake. I bought the DVD back to VSD to show my students.  I loved watchin' their reaction:  laughin', gigglin', starin', and students pickin' on each other.  They wanted to watch it once again, so I allowed.  I asked the skoolmaster to have all students watch it and he said he needed to see it first before he approved it.  He called one of teachers to watch it for him, so Mawusi and I found a DVD player in the cafeteria and played it for her.  She thought it wuz wonderful, and told me to go ahead and show it to the students. 

There was a 27 inch TV in the cafeteria, which wuz not big enough for about 200 students to see the DVD clearly.  They sat together closely to the TV.  They seemed to enjoy watchin' 'Ananse and Pot of Wisdom' as well as other iMovies dat I made.  Some of my students were embarrassed to watch it in front of other students.  Some of 'em mocked in a good way.  Timin' was perfect 'cos durin' dat time students were takin' final exams and their teachers allowed 'em to free up afterwards.  And besides it wuz one week left before the students went home for the summer.  July 27 wuz the last day of skool, which wuz considered late as opposin' to our skool in the U.S. which ended in late May or early June.  I wondered what deaf Ghanaian children do durin' their time off.  Back to help their family in the village?  Work on the farm?  Any interaction among deaf  folks?  Travel or go out of town?  I know some of 'em planned to go to leadership camp up in north Ghana and I shudda be there w/ 'em but I had to return to America, dammit! 

I felt my volunteer work was accomplished and enjoyable.  I planned to add caption in all videos for signing-impaired folks or hearies 'cos I think they're worthy to show 'em.  I didn't realize dat I came to Volta Skool f/t Deaf 5 weeks before it closed for the rest of skool year.  The last 2 weeks before it closed, all students took final exams, so takin' over Lydia's Primary 1 class wuz pretty easy in transition.  Lydia seemed flexible w/ what plans I had for her classes.  If I arrived there much earlier or in the beginnin' of skool year, I wudda have done differently.  Lydia wudda probably require me to follow strictly skool curriculums and if I do, I still wudda plan to add various activities and make lessons more meaningful and not to teach 'em in traditional ways dat mostly teachers, based on my observation, did.  I cudda see students tryin' to stay alert and be active listeners for their lessons 'cos and if they didn't, the cane wudda meet 'em in no time.  Staff development trainings, content area teacher meetings, and observations from other teachers' classroom have taught me how to try to make my classes in Austin and at VSD relevant and applicable.  I know four-week volunteer is short and I wudda have done more for my VSD students. I don't regret w/ the length of my stay and the experience I had was profound and positive.  At least it gave me an overview and reflection of what I wudda do differently, if I stayed there longer. It also will give me more time to assess students, prepare lessons, teach, and evaluate.   I wudda LOVE to return to Ghana to volunteer again and visit other deaf skools in Ghana.  I know I will.

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