How poignant Gibran’s words are for a hot- but breezy- day in Ghana. Today is our first time to be in the classroom at RC Mixed Primary but the students have known we are coming. In the 6B classroom the students seem a little reserved at first. Kelvin does his usual translating which seems to put them more at ease. Sometimes we make a short statement but Kelvin’s translation seems to take much more time in Ewe. The students laugh often while he speaks and we wonder what he is adding to what we have said. We are wondering if we need a translator for our translator? J As we gather in the circle, students from neighboring classes crowd around outside the windows to watch and are soon scattered by Kelvin. In this class the boys and girls segregate themselves more in the circle than we have seen before and it seems there may be some issue with hand holding as well. However, everyone finally settles down and we start. After hearing the students names and their favorite things in nature we begin to discuss why it is important to care for the environment and ways that we can do this. Good answers receive the customary clap: pick up rubbish, don’t cut down trees, don’t bend bushes, and don’t use harmful chemicals for fishing. As we begin to share the mandalas from Mrs. Blakslee’s class at Vail Mountain School (VMS) the students seem entranced. They look carefully as we hold each one up and make quiet sounds to each other. It gets noisier as we pass out the materials for them to create theirs. Despite some talking and giggling the students get to work and color carefully. Some students have taken blank templates, while others enjoy creating their own. As the students work, the fabulous breeze bangs the wooden shutters of the windows closed and we rush to open them to let the light and air back in. While they work, we begin to hand out letters. The students whose names are on letters are called out first and they receive them with shy pride. They pause in their coloring to read and share their letters; smiles and giggling commence again.
While these students work we notice some others outside the classroom who are carrying buckets or large metal bowls filled with chipped rocks on their heads. As we watch they dump them onto a growing pile of rock that will be used in the mortar for a new building, the cinderblock looking bricks of which are stacked to one side of the play area. Students who are finished coloring eagerly get to work on their return letters. Some enjoy writing in a variety of colors of markers or colored pencils and add drawings and Adrinka symbols. They hold the letters in their laps as they write and respond directly to each statement Mrs. Blakslee’s students have written. They tell about their favorite things to eat and what they like to do, just as the VMS students did. They work diligently for almost two hours, working into their break time, and it seems they would like to spend even more time coloring and writing, if they could. Several ask for blank paper or more templates to take with them for later. We leave these and will check back with them next week to see if they have anything else for us to deliver to their friends at VMS.
Break is a free-for-all on Ghana campuses, with added energy on a Friday with games in the afternoons. Six B students are in the classroom before it is time to start- running wild. Some of this is their natural exuberance, and some is because they know it is their turn next! Their voracious curiousity leads to sneak peeks of 6B’s projects, the Mandala book, Adrinka symbols and a calendar that Kathee has brought as a gift for the Headmaster. Coincidentally, this calendar is called Mountain Majesty and has gorgeous pictures of the Rocky Mountains. The smell of food wafts into the classroom; perhaps beans or spagetti, or something else, unknown to us? Younger children run into the classroom and the older children chase them out. The girls gather around Leslie who is drawing portraits and showing them how to blend colors using the colored pencils. The boys are gathered around Kelvin, laughing and talking.
When class begins these students settle down quickly. They form a circle holding hands without the segregation we noticed in 6B. As we go from person to person in the circle, students share their names and things they love in nature. As before we hear some that match American students, as well as some new ones: monkey, hen, mango and rice. There is some giggling when one student says “pig” is his favorite. As we have in each class, we discuss the importance of taking care of our natural environment. These students have a good understanding of the concept and are able to name ways to do it. “Don’t have brush fires”, “Empty standing water” and “Don’t defecate in the river” are some of the new ones we hear. It is the application of these concepts we hope this generation will apply!
Lessons plans now complete, the moment they have really been waiting for finally arrives- projects now in their hands from VMS! Again, there is pointing and gasps of delight when they see the lovely colored mandalas. Those students who have letters addressed directly to them rise with shy smiles when their names are called. Two students who had letters written to them are no longer in the class and eager volunteers compete to write back to the senders. They read their letters with exclamations of delight and show them to their friends. When all the letters have been read it gets quiet again and the students color carefully or get started on their return letters. Then at noon, the church bells chime and students rise or kneel to pray. Their eyes are closed and they recite a prayer in Ewe as the church bells continue to ring. After praying the students get back to work. As they finish their coloring they get started on their letters with no prompting from us. It seems they believe that they must write in pencil and are delighted to learn that we don’t care if they use markers or pens. Again we see VMS letters in Ghanaian students laps as they carefully answer their friends’ questions and undoubtedly ask some of their own. And soon, it is time to go. Letters and mandalas are turned in and we offer some of the extra mandala patterns to students for later. They thank us politely and then proudly brag to their friends. We are sure we will see these when we return next week.