Leave for Change: Reflections

How to sum up a few of the things I have learned over the past few weeks…

…caring about someone is free – which makes sense, caring is priceless…

…diversity and inclusion are easier in peaceful spaces and peace is built from acceptance…

…no matter the color of our skin, our hearts are all the same color…

…children assume people are good…

…it is easy to make friends…

…smiling helps…

…if you smile at a child, they will smile back…

…you can be half way around this world and still feel like you are at home…

…poverty remains a huge barrier to education.

Lessons in Literacy

Pamoja Ghana, or Ghana REFLECT Practitioners Network, focuses on literacy and works with the most disadvantaged populations who are often in rural areas.  Over this weekend, I have been reading about the practice of REFLECT and must say that I find it eye opening to consider the concepts presented in the REFLECT material and some of the assumptions, beliefs and cultural norms that I associate with literacy. 

What does literacy mean to you?  Consider your definition.  When you think of literacy, do you think of reading and writing skills, perhaps even numeracy skills, or the broader concept of effective communication skills for everyday matters?  Is reading and writing more valued than other forms of literacy in your culture?

How do power relationships play a role in literacy?  Where power positions exist (and they do) how are all voices heard effectively and equally, particularly the voices of the disadvantaged, or those for whom the written word in documents/signs/etc. is in a language that is not their mother tongue?

Think about the concept of power as it relates to literacy.  What do you associate with power that is also associated with literacy?  Consider two different tool sets : pencil and paper or pen and portfolio….which one would you associate with a more powerful position?  The follow-up question of course is, why do we make that association?

How is literacy different than schooling?  How do adult learners who are exploring literacy feel about being being associated with “going back to school” as compared to ‘learning new skills’ and how do we empower adult learners to avoid the stigmas of illiteracy and give themselves their own power as they explore literacy?

My reading so far….and there is more to read….is enlightening for me and allows me to begin to question some of the assumptions, beliefs, and norms of the culture from which I come. 

I find it all very interesting.

When in Ghana….

I totally slept threw my first alarm and was thankful I set a second since we, the volunteers, were meeting for breakfast in the common area before we started our training, met our partners and visited the WUSC offices.  

Today, we had the pleasure of meeting the people we will be working with on our mandate and talk about what we might like to accomplish during our time here.  Millicent from Pamoja Ghana is a very nice woman whom I expect I will learn a lot from.  She shared information about Pamoja Ghana and their work in the non-formal education sector, specifically related to literacy and the work they do in the various regions through their projects.  Like all non profit organizations, they are continually seeking funding, for core costs and for projects on the ground. 

While Pamoja Ghana is at work in the non-formal education sector, what I discovered during our brief conversation is that we face many of the same challenges when it comes to meeting the basic education needs of adult learners and others.  Similarly, I shared with her my desire to learn more about the REFLECT approach that they use since it sounds conceptually similar to appreciative inquiry.  I will start with them on Thursday and can hardly wait to learn more.

For lunch, we ate together and I tried my first Ghanaian dish – Banku.  Banku is made of Maize and Cassava.  It looks a dough ball and is tastey but heavy.  I ate a small portion and felt full and was told that it expands in your stomach once you eat it! The bankyu was served with tilapia and sauces.  They made a special not-so-hot sauce for the Canadians (midase!) since Ghanaian food is very spicy.  The Ghanaians wash their hands and then eat with their fingers (of the right hand).  So, when in Ghana, do as the Ghanaians!  …pick some banku, dip in sauce, and pick up the fish…or something like that!  The banku was very tasty and enjoyable so I expect to eat it again, although I will have to ask for a small portion since portion sizes here are very, very large.  And, of course, the not-so-hot sauce made especially for Canadians!

The Pamoja Ghana office will be a TroTro ride away from where I am staying.  The Suma Court Hotel on Atomic Road in Haatso is perfect.  Family owned and operated with friendly staff who cater to your needs, with self contained rooms (i.e. private bath) and air conditioning in the rooms (not the common areas).  Now, don’t go to Google maps and enter Suma Court on Atomic Road in Haatso and expect to find it, although doing so will lead you in the right direction (as Google maps links addresses in their system to those words).  On a map Atomic Road is not called Atomic Road, it is called Westland Boulevard, which may seem confusing until you realize it is OK since…as we learned in our training today…the roads may have names but no one knows what they are anyway. HaHa!  People use landmarks for direction and so, this is Atomic Road because it is the road that leads to the Atomic Energy plant….seems easier to remember than “Westland Boulevard” anyway.

Her Challenge, Your Challenge

Her Challenge, Your Challenge

Women in African countries continue the struggle to aspire to equality.  With the reading I am doing to prepare for my adventure, I am learning more and more about the plight of girls in schools and women in general in African society.  How is it that some of us in this world get to live is affluent luxury while others live in such abject poverty.  While those of us born as women in North America have equal access and rights to safety and education, women in Africa struggle to support their families and it appears that even attending school is not safe for African girls.  And yet, in North America we take the safety of our girls in schools for granted.  When we send our girls off to school on the bus we do not worry about sexual assaults in a washroom that all in the school share (and by all I mean boys, girls and school staff) nor do we worry about the teachers picking out a girl to take home, nor do we worry about our daughters being suspended from school because of pregnancy.  We are indeed lucky to live such worry free lives.  Truth be told, no mother on this planet should have such worries, and yet they do.

A research paper I was reading yesterday speaks to how mothers will keep their girls at home to keep them safe.  Perhaps we might do the same in similar circumstances.  Unfortunately, as we know, avoidance of a problem is not an effective solution.   Education is the most powerful weapon in effecting change.  And so, I wanted to share this information with you and introduce you to the Her Challenge, Your Challenge program  underway with Uniterra, WUSC and CECI, for those who would like to help

By making a donation to “Her Challenge, Your Challenge,” you will help to carry out projects that give women access to education and quality health services, and ensure that women are economically self-sufficient and their rights are recognized and respected.
www.herchallengeyourchallenge.ca/about.php?lg=en

As we educate girls and women, we change families and futures.  Help with this cause to help change the world one girl, one family, one community at a time.

God Bless,

Maureen

p.s. I am interested in knowing how many people this post encourages to take up this challenge.  If you do, and you are willing to share, please add a comment to this post indicating your support for Her Challenge, Your Challenge.

From Sarah on June 5, 2011:

Maureen and others-
Your assessment of the plight of women and girls in West Africa is accurate. I volunteer with an NGO in Sierra Leone called cdpeace (www.cdpeace.org). We have launched a program of microbusiness support for women making traditional African textiles. In Canada, Fleming College where I work has senior International Trade and Marketing students working on the business, KOMBRA, for a whole semester each year to move the business and marketing of their products along and create a sustainable income for the women. The money goes back into the business, into the women’s immediate communities and helps support scholarships particularly for girl’s education – the daughters of the women in the business. It’s a win-win. We’re just beginning. Our website will be up this month but take a look at the website of cdpeace to see what other initiatives they are doing in the rural communities of Sierra Leone.

About GNECC

…quality basic education for all…a noble mission indeed.  Education is the only thing that is capable of changing the cycle of poverty.  In Canada, we are blessed with access to quality education and perhaps there are times we may even take it for granted.

Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC) is a collaboration of about 200 organizations and in July I will have the opportunity to volunteer with them, assisting in a small way with a piece of their mandate while at the same time learning more than I can even imagine.  To work in another country, on an other country, and one so different in Canada will no doubt be a life impacting experience.  I can hardly wait!   Here is a little bit about GNECC (source www.gnecc.org),

VISION
GNECC envisions a society which provides quality, relevant and enjoyable basic education for all irrespective of age, income levels, gender, physical or other disabilities, geographical location, ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.
MISSION
GNECC mission is to work at changing attitudes and practices and influencing policies of institutions (local, national, and intergovernmental bodies, donors and the general public) towards ensuring quality basic education for all through working with CSOs and communities.

Your fellow volunteer,

Maureen