Students Innovate in Ghana

Posted on Fri, Oct-10-2014
By Erin Foster Bowser

2014 IOM Ghana summer interns. ©Joanna Kitts

Ghana - IOM Ghana held its annual summer internship programme (June and July 2014), fostering humanitarian and development knowledge for future aid workers. Six students (Carly, Joanna, Julia, Maddi, Sara, and Whitney) journeyed to Ghana from Syracuse University, in upstate New York, determined to take their classroom work and put it to the ultimate field test.

The aim of the summer programme is to educate students to the workings of an international organization in an engaging manner. The students first participated in a one-week orientation to IOM programmes and the Ghanaian language and culture. This was followed by a six-week field assignment whereby the students assisted teachers at the local school, facilitated lessons which culminated in the implementation of a community development project.

The student teaching assignment was summarized by Whitney: “We each chose which subjects and age groups we would like to work with at the school. For example, I worked in the two kindergarten classrooms teaching English. It was great to have the opportunity to work with an age group that I was comfortable with, and also to teach a subject that I’m interested in. It was also very interesting to work in a Ghanaian classroom and to get experience teaching on my own.”

The community development projects were carefully chosen by each student after consultation with community members, teachers and leaders. Not only did the students have to source all their materials from local markets, but they were each only able to spend USD 200 on their projects. This encouraged some of the students to pair up and maximize their resources and manpower to achieve a great outcome. Thanks to the innovation and determination of the students and the vast support of the community there is now a shaded pavilion on the school grounds for children to eat under and play; a larger water reservoir for students and teachers; a refurbished community library; and a collection of traditional musical instruments to reinforce the teaching music and culture at school.

To fully capture the students’ experiences and allow them to reflect on such an intense cultural exchange, they wrote a weekly blog entry featuring their most memorable interactions, reactions and perceptions. The following is a series of excerpts from the weekly blog.

Maddi building a water harvester for her community development project. © Maddi Durbin 2014

Week 1
“This week we travelled to Immuna, to begin our time in a village community. Immuna is about two hours west of Accra on the coast, and it is the definition of a pure, village community. We drove on a paved, one lane highway for most of the trip, when we suddenly turned off the side of the road and stopped at the front of a small community called Esuehyia (pronounced Ess-uay-shia), […] we went through this small community on a dirt road, and followed that dirt road for thirty minutes through the hills of rural Ghana until we reached the hidden community of Immuna. Immuna is so far in the middle of nowhere that it blew my mind.” –Maddi

Whitney (middle) and Carly (second from right) and the workers who built a shaded pavilion for the children. © Whitney Baillie 2014

Week 2
“The area is quaint and everyone seems exceedingly friendly. We have already learned how to ask “How are you?” in Fanti; “Otse den?” (sounds like Oxy den) I’m still unclear about the meaning of the responses, but it seems that both “Boko!” and “Memenadum!” are common and have a positive connotation. Although the experience is a little bit out of my comfort zone, the community is very welcoming, and I’m looking forward to the next 6 weeks.” – Whitney

Children enjoying the newly refurbished library, part of Joanna and Julia’s community development project. © Joanna Kitts 2014

Week 3
“This weekend we took a much needed break and headed to spend the 4th of July in Accra. […]I was a little bit on the fence about heading back to Accra but I’m so glad that I did. It was such a relief to get hot showers, wifi, AC, and good food. […]I realized while I was there that even though I’m not used to big cities, I could totally see myself living in a place like Accra. I don’t think I could handle living in a rural village like Immuna for any longer than we are here but the city is a completely different story. It made me kind of relieved to discover this. For a while I have been contemplating the prospect of living and working for an organization abroad after graduating; however, I’m not sure how long I could live without many of the amenities I’m used to. That may sound selfish especially when wanting to work for a humanitarian organization but practically speaking, I think you need to know what yo ur limits are. I’m so thankful to have this experience and I’m cherishing every moment; however, until you are in a situation like this you don’t realize exactly what it entails or the physical and emotional toll it takes on you. It was nice to realize though, that I could still work for a humanitarian organization abroad and be comfortable with my living conditions.” - Joanna

Julia teaching primary school students. © Julia Watson 2014

Week 4
A weekend excursion had an unexpected outcome. “During dinner in Cape Coast, I spotted a man finger-spelling to a group of American students at an adjacent table, and after watching him for a moment my curiosity got the better of me. I beckoned him over and signed, “Are you deaf?” His whole face lit up, and he immediately grabbed a nearby chair and settled in at our table, signing enthusiasti cally. His name was Julius, and after the usual preliminaries I asked how it was that he, a Ghanaian, knows American Sign Language so well – apparently he has a friend that taught him the basics, and he now prefers it in general. He did, however, teach me some basics in Ghanaian Sign Language as well, which was incredibly cool. The encounter left me feeling elated for hours – it’s thes e types of experiences that make you feel like everything in your life, every place you are for every second, happens for a reason.” - Julia

Construction of the water collection system. © Maddi Durbin 2014

Week 5
Reflecting on her project to connect the school’s cement reservoir to the rain collection tank, “The teachers did tell me, however, that instead of connecting the tank and the reservoir, they would rather connect the reservoir to the roof to collect runoff, because then they would have the tanks AND the reservoir, so in essence more water in supply. That works just fine for me! I was happy they told me exactly what they wanted, because that is he purpose of this project, to provide what the community wants, and not just what we think they want or need.” - Maddi

Children enjoy the new pavilion to play and eat, as part of Carly and Whitney’s community development project. © Carly Rasiewicz 2014

Week 6
“This week was our final one in Immuna. We put the finishing touches on our community projects at the school, said our farewells to the students and teachers and the kids from the community waved to us as we drove away toward Accra. It was wonderful to see all of our projects fully completed and to end our time at the school with music, snacks, and games with the kids. Headmaster Jacob formally thanked us in front of an assembly of the students at attention. […] Maddi was dubbed the Queen of Europe and Whitney and I apparently did what Napoleon could not. Dan Sam (IOM Field Manager) told us the following week that it is an expression meant to indicate someone ‘went above and beyond.’” - Carly

And so, instead of the usual conclusion about the life changing experience these students had and the impact they made on the community, which were immeasurable, let us consider this eloquent poem about Ghana penned by Sara.

Embracing the Ghana experience. © Sara Potocsny 2014

Ghana is like a moon
An unexplored, undiscovered entity
Full of plenty of type of thing

Ghana is like a moon
Already imperfectly perfect
Like me or you before it

I’ll begin with the end
So you know what they mean
By here once before

This country, like a bunch
Hasn’t seen what it’s capable of

And by God’s grace we will keep it that way
Cool in its friend group
Like me or you
But landed

On the moon and the air thicker than before
We landed.

Since 2010, the IOM office in Ghana has welcomed students for an eight-week summer practicum, bridging the gap between the academic and professional divide. Forged as part of a partnership with Syracuse University, located in upstate New York, USA, this study abroad programme allows the next generation of aid workers to take classroom principles and apply them in a field setting, with guidance from seasoned IOM staff members.

“We definitely had our ups and downs, successes and difficulties, but overall it was an amazing experience. I felt like I learned as much from the kids as we taught them and am incredibly thankful to the teachers and community members who welcomed us with open arms.” - Joanna © Joanna Kitts

“I will never forget the six weeks I spent in Immuna. The community was incredibly poor, and the people struggled to find food, clean water, and jobs. Despite all of these hardships, however, they were some of the kindest and friendliest people I’ve ever met in my life.” – Maddi. © Maddi Durbin