Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Community Observed

In 2 weeks time I shall celebrate 1 year of residency in Ghana. Despite observing a million differences between life in England and that of Ghanaians I continue to find it fascinating to watch groups of people here carrying out their everyday roles. Things that are an issue here are not at home and visa versa. The values and cultures differ hugely in so many ways. This week we were asked to take our laptops to a very rural village school an hour away down rough, sandy tracks. The Deputy Head phoned me the evening prior to the visit to check I had remembered. I had, of course, as I was looking forward to spending time in a classroom showing children what a computer looked like and what it could do. They have only seen pictures of them in books until now.

As we pulled onto the school site from a hot and challenging ride, we could tell this wasn’t an ordinary day. Most of the classroom furniture had been carried out and arranged in an “L” shape under a couple of Nim trees. A few adults had wedged themselves into the wooden desk seats which, believe me from experience, are only designed for small bottoms and short legs! Clearly, a PTA meeting was imminent. Having extricated ourselves from helmets, jackets etc under the watchful gaze of a group of parents we approached the headteacher’s office. He was in conversation with someone so we sat on a step and waited. They both emerged a few minutes later, the head in a rain jacket zipped to the neck. His visitor had obviously come straight from the fields as he was covered from head to toe in thick dust and minus any footwear. I shook his proffered hand and was introduced to the PTA Chairman
There was no sign of an apology or explanation as to the change in our itinerary. Following the PTA meeting we would work with P5 & 6. In the meantime I was expected to speak to the assembled parents. I asked what the head would like me to say and he replied that anything that would encourage them to send their children to school regularly and try to make a financial contribution would be good. The men sat on one side and the women on the other. The men were addressed and the women, who were wearing cloths wrapped around their bodies and heads of every colour, many feeding infants, were ignored even though they were the largest group. The head was alone with the PTA Chairman for the first 20 minutes until a few members of his skeleton staff drifted into school and joined us. He insisted we sat at the Top Table and a teacher wrote the minutes.

Meanwhile, the many, many children, some young ones “backing” siblings, a few in items of torn and grubby uniform, found a variety of ways to pass the time. Toddlers, one in Barack Obama underpants, played happily in the dust. I noticed one was playing with a large pair of scissors, bizarrely, as I have never seen scissors anywhere but the seamstresses and unimaginable in a school that clearly has no resources at all. They wandered through the meeting from time to time, as did families of dogs and goats. Blossom fell on us from the Nim trees even though the leaves had an Autumnal appearance. An impromptu football match was taking place in a cloud of dust nearby, the players very skilful in flipflops and bare feet. Once in a while a mother stood up, picked up a stick from the ground and ineffectually whacked some small child with it for a reason not at all obvious.

The meeting progressed in Dagaare for almost 2 hours and occasionally we would have a moment of translation to relieve the tedium. Apparently, the meeting was called to impress upon the parent body that they must make their termly contributions towards the feeding programme. This school is one of 55 in the district that receives funding to feed the pupils each day. These funds pay for the ingredients and the cook. However, cooking pots, bowls and washing soap have to be purchased. Parents are not paying the 50 peshwas (20p) a term that is asked of them. Exchanges of opinion and explanation ensued between the fathers, the head and PTA Chairman. We knew the meeting was closing when everyone stood to pray. I have no idea what was decided or whether anyone understood my words of encouragement.

Finally, we got to a classroom and were just unpacking laptops when the whole school and a group of interested parents were ushered in. This wasn’t quite what we had agreed and were expecting to work with groups of pupils using the computers for the first time. As it was we demonstrated what they could do whilst the children pushed closer and closer. After a while it was obvious that this wasn’t going to work and, in order to preserve the laptops & everyone’s safety, we were compelled to put them away. The classteacher, who had fallen asleep behind us, was obviously disappointed as he probably thought we would entertain the whole school until “home time”. Bad Luck…….we had had enough. 

I explained to the head what we needed to do on another occasion. I think he got the point. We will surely see! There were hundreds of photos I could have taken here but there is never a good reaction to a camera from adults. The children crowd around and it can all be rather dangerous so I took just the one to show them how pictures can be uploaded onto computers. I'll try harder another time. Until then, use your imagination and my description!

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