actorartathleteauthorbizcrimecrosspostcustomerservicedirectoredufoodgaminghealthjournalistmedicalmilmodpostmunimusicnewsworthynonprofitotherphilpolretailscispecialisedspecializedtechtourismtravelunique

We are staff, students and teachers at a village middle school in Ghana in West Africa. Ask us anything.

May 15th 2013 by spence40 • 40 Questions • 1568 Points

Hi everyone,

My name is Spencer Campbell, I'm a US Peace Corps volunteer and I'm here with some students and teachers from Amos Okrah SDA middle school in Ghana. The school serves a community of about 2000 people and most people in this village make their living weaving Kente cloth.

If you'd like to help our school out, please donate to our School Excursion Project here. https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-641-025

We are hoping to make a trip down to the coast (about a 5 hour trip by bus) to see some of Ghana's famous tourist sites and tour one of Ghana's premier universities. Most of the students here have never been further than a few miles from their hometown and a poor rural school would never be able to pay for a trip like this without outside support.

I'm here with teachers Peter Boateng (IT Teacher) and Emelia Asante (English Teacher) and students Theresa, Sekyere, Isaac, Prince, Gloria, Micheal, Felix, Janet and Juliana.

Ask us Anything!

EDIT Wed 15:55 GMT - Sent the students home for dinner, they'll be back in an hour or so. I'll continue to answer your questions.

EDIT 2 Wed 21:00 GMT - Sorry for the delay, kids are all home for the night but I'll be around for a few more hours answering your questions tonight and a few tomorrow morning (if my power stays on) All who PM'd, I promise responses are coming. Those interested in Peace Corps service, please PM so I can tell you to do it over and over again (and answer your questions). Also, please contribute to my grant so your real life karma can get a boost. You all rock.

Edit 3 Thur 8:52 GMT. Back for a few more questions. Blown away by the staying power of this thing. Thanks everybody for your questions, your kind words and your contributions.Please donate if you can I'll update this thing with pictures from the trip sometime next week.

Q:

I am about to travel to Ghana for the first time this weekend for a study abroad program for the summer partnered with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi.

As a soon to be "Obruni", how does the environment in a classroom in Ghana differ from one in the U.S.?

A:

My friend, we are going to be neighbors. I live just down the road from there. Please send me a PM when you get here and I will buy you a beer.

I don't know about the university level, but where I am corporal punishment is liberally used. The students are beaten daily for any number of reasons. A lot of people are really bothered by this. Besides that, expect it to be spartan. The kids will meticulously copy whatever you write on the board and ask no questions.


Q:

Have any of yourselves ever had to do this (beat a child), or is it a higher authority that gives out this sort of punishment?

A:

Peace Corps forbids us from doing it and I think it is a lazy and ineffective means of discipline. I use other methods. Sometimes a student who is rude or disrespectful to me will be caned by another teacher and I don't intervene. It's not a good situation but it's not something that will change overnight.


Q:

What is the education system like in Africa? Ghana in general?

A:

Students: We have 9 years of basic education (Spencer:called Primary 1- Primary 6 and Junior High School 1,2 and 3). At the end of JHS, we write the BECE (Basic Education Certificate Examination). Those who pass attend SHS for 3 years.

In JHS we study English, Maths, Science, Social, RME (Religious and Moral Education), ICT, Twi (Spencer: the local language), BDT (Basic Design and Technology)


Q:

Could you elaborate more on the curriculum? What do you learn in BDT and RME and Social? and what is ICT?

A:

ICT is Information and Communication Technology.

From my colleague Peter: I teach Word Processing, typing skills, introduction to internet, creating email, sending and replying email. etc.

BDT is a shop class but also includes technical drawings.

Social is Social studies - Ghanaian history and government.

In RME (Religious and Moral Education) the kids learn the fundamentals of Islam, Christianity and the traditional beliefs here. It's also a heavy handed civics class (Obedience to authority is heavily emphasized). I'm not a fan of this.


Q:

Very nice!

Teachers: How long have you been teaching there?

A:

Peter: 4 years

Emelia: 2 years

Spencer: 2 years (my main assignment here is teaching Math)

Unlike in the states (or at least my hometown), teachers are assigned to a particular school rather than applying to work there. It can be hard for rural schools to hold onto teachers for very long.


Q:

What was your biggest surprise about day-to-day life in Ghana? And as a followup, what other interesting places have you been?

For the students, what was their biggest surprise when you showed up? (Anything, honestly.)

A:

For the second question, the students were hesitant to answer. Isaac said he was surprised I left America. Prince said he was surprised at how early I came to school. Isaac said my beard was 'too bushy and long'. (I will try to post pictures).

Honestly, I'm surprised at how modern this place is, especially in the big cities. I thought I would be living in a mud hut, totally cut off from the world back home (The real Peace Corps experience), Ghana just isn't like that. It's a middle income country. I have a decent cellphone. I can get on reddit from my house. Western food is widely available in the cities.

I didn't have a passport before I came to Ghana but I'm planning a trip through a few more West African countries.


Q:

This. My parents are Ghanian and so I've visited many times and when I explain to my friends that I'm going to Africa for the summer they seem stunned. Ghana is awesome it's not all flies and malnourished children.

Also. I hope you've been able to enjoy Fan-Ice!

A:

I fucking love Fan Ice! The vanilla ones taste like frozen twinkie filling which is amazing when you are sitting in a bus in 90 degree weather with 90% humidity.


Q:

What is the best way for people to volunteer part time in Ghana?

A:

There are a ton of organization that place volunteers here - anywhere from a few weeks to months or years. Don't work with any organization that requires thousands of dollars to place you as you can get it done for free. People who are looking for volunteer opportunities in Ghana should PM me and I'll try to link you up with good hosts.


Q:

Do any of you play musical instruments? If so, which ones?

Would you like to visit the USA some day?

A:

For visiting the US, the answer is a universal YES. I get asked on a daily basis by students if I can take them with me when I go.


Q:

How do you answer that?

A:

I ask them if they can fit in my suitcase.


Q:

What's the influence of American culture over there like / general views on America in general vs. other powerful nations?

A:

Peter (one of my Ghanaian colleague) said he heard Germans were a little bit racist. He said Ghanaians who have gone there to work experienced racism. He said those who went to the US didn't experience this as much and this is one of the reasons Ghanaians want to go to the US. (I'm not sure if he's just telling me what he thinks I want to hear.)

In general, I'd say Ghanaians hold a very favorable view of the US and are familiar with American culture (Most American movies make it over here). Most Ghanaians are culturally conservative and disagree with things like gay marriage though.


Q:

Went home for dinner, can you explain that? They go to school then go back home for lunch then go back to school, go home for dinner and go back to school the same day?

A:

Yeah, that was unclear. I kept a few students after school for this AMA. After they finish their afternoon chores and dinner they'll come back to answer a few more questions and a tutoring session in English and Math.


Q:

What is the greatest issues your community faces? Clean water, no electricity?

(I'm uneducated of the region so I'm sorry in advance if I offend anybody by this)

A:

No worries. There are no bad questions!

In my opinion, it's a lack of economic opportunities. There just isn't work in the villages. People tend to small farms and work at their looms weaving but it doesn't generate much income. There's a lot of money being made here (in mining and oil, for example) it just doesn't really trickle down here.


Q:

You should read Schoneveld's research on the jatropha plantations and their lack of effectiveness in transparency and enforcing regulations. Pretty f'ed up how much of a leg up multinationals have in Ghana in terms of biofuel, mining, oil... Safety standards, proper compensation, transparency, and enforcements of already existing regulations are slowly diminishing over the last decade or so

Or I can send you my really mediocre 18 page research paper I did on my sustainable development class. I have a ton of interesting journal articles I would love to throw in a zip and email you if you're interested, most of the good shit is that Schoneveld or by Kwesi Aponsah-Tawiah

A:

Yes to all! Will send PM.


Q:

Disclaimer: Not OP

There is little to no mysticism in Ghana, especially at a younger age, maybe evangelical Christianity but they can still get their education done with that. Ghanaians are pretty intelligent, speak English fluently, and generally embrace other culture with an open mind even if it is just Hollywood or Game of Thrones. I can't tell you how popular internet cafes are there, I met several people who don't even have electricity at their home in the village but can still muster up 1-2 cedis to hang out on Facebook and read message board sites a couple times a week

A:

Pretty much this. There are some strange (to westerners) traditional beliefs (I mentioned a River God in another thread) but people are very open to other cultures. Can also confirm that facebook is huge here (have had current students add me)


Q:

What kind of materials do you teach with? I saw you reference Plants vs Zombies so I assume you have some tablets. What is your resource pool? What do you not have that you desperately need?

What subjects are taught? How are schools in America different from rural African schools (other than the obvious demographic and material differences)- is there more motivation there? American students are lazy (source: I am a student).

A:

I wrote a long response which reddit promptly ate. Here's the jist of it:

My students are definitely more mature and more motivated than I was at that age. They have real family responsiblities - they work on the farm, they care for younger siblings, they regularly prepare the family meal. In many ways, school is a break that is appreciated, not a chore to be suffered through. They still hate homework though.


Q:

They still hate homework though.

A universal part of the human experience, I'd say.

A:

Re: Materials

Although we have a computer lab (with Plants vs Zombies), it's not attached to the school. The school block itself is quite isolated (it's not wired for electricity even though the community is). We have few textbooks - everything I write on the blackboard the students meticulously copy into their notebooks. This is basically the only method of instruction.


Q:

How about those "Buy a Goat for a family" Charity's do they deliver out there?

What Charity's work out in your area? and do they have a donation page?

A:

I don't know if there are any of those in this village but they'd probably work as most people here do keep chicken and goats.

If you are looking to donate, please donate to my grant (https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-641-025) or to other open PCPP grants. These go through a lengthy approval process, are initiated and paid for in part by the community and are all worthy projects.


Q:

Goats are a big part of Ghanaian life. I'm not sure if it's still true (I lived in Ghana a decade ago) but it used to be if you hit a goat with your car you were required to find the owner and pay restitution.

A:

Hey Internet: Some questions from my students. Answer at your leisure. They are about to head home for the night but I will show them the answers in the morning.

Isaac: Who is the most important person in the US?

Felix: Who is the richest person in America? Who invented the computer?

Prince: Who is best football player - Messi or C. Ronaldo?

Micheal: Who is the best keeper in Real Madrid? Who drove the first car in the world?

From All of the Boys: They thank everybody for their contributions and 'the things they have done for us'.


Q:

What about your salary ?

A:

175 bucks a month. I don't pay rent. Beers are $1.50 for a 22 ounce bottle. I ain't even mad.


Q:

Students: what do you like to do when you're not in school? What are your favorite foods and hobbies? After you graduate, what do you want to do?

A:

Hobbies

Prince: Reading

Sekyere: Playing football

All the boys: Playing Plants vs Zombies!

Michael: Listening to songs - Azonto (Spencer: I'm sure you can find a video, my internet is too slow for YouTube)

Foods Felix: The food I like best is jollof rice and chicken (Spencer: Jollof rice is a spicy tomato rice dish prepared with onions and peppers)

Michael: I like fried rice.

Other kids send Ghanaian staples like fufu, banku, and konkonte (all are pounded starch dishes made from tubers like yam and cassava or plantain. Some are fermented. They are all an acquired taste.

Future Plans Micheal wants to be a soldier. Prince a pilot. Isaac says "Armed robber". Sekyere and Felix both want to be doctors.


Q:

Feel like no one noticed armed robber... Hope he was joking.

A:

He was. Everyone had a good laugh. That boy likes to fool around.

Now, he says he wants to be an accountant. Basically, the same thing.


Q:

students: have you seen asians?

teachers: asian students? how do the students react to asians (if they see any?)

A:

No Asians. I do see a lot of Asian foreman working on roads, bridges and other big construction projects in the cities.


Q:

This is because of China's investments in Africa. I wrote a thesis about this - they are extracting resources from the continent at an alarming rate. Their typical model is 'development for resources', wherein they build you bridges, roads, and ports, in exchange for the removal of oil, copper, cobalt, etc. It seems nice, but really, the roads and bridges and ports are to transport the resources to China.

A:

This. I'm still withholding judgement on whether this will be net positive or net negative for Ghana. They desperately need this infrastructure and it doesn't leave after two years. If Ghana can use this investment to kickstart the economy, everybody wins.


Q:

Favorite Drinks/Food?

A:

Coke, Fanta and Sprite are widely available and popular. 'Malt' drinks (non alcoholic) are also really popular here but I hadn't seen them before I came here. I'm not sure what they are made of but to me they taste like your milk after you finish eating raisin bran but Ghanaians go crazy for the stuff.


Q:

Hi Spencer, Fellow Teachers and Students! First off thank you all for doing this. I had a few questions:

  1. Since you are using the internet to do this AMA, I wanted to know what the situation with Internet access was in that area of Ghana and whether students have readily available access or not? If so, has your class ever thought about doing a shared skype lesson with a class in the U.S.?

  2. What are some of your students favorite books to read?

  3. What are some of your students dreams and aspirations for the future?

Thanks again and keep up the great teaching and the great learning we need more of all of you!

A:

Prince: The Adventure of the Shoeshine Boy

Isaac: Bawa the Braveheart

Felix: The Lame Man and the Blind Man

Michael: Anansi and the Story Ring

Dreams

Prince: I want to fly a plane from Ghana to America.

Isaac: I want to be an accountant for Ghana Commercial Bank

Felix: I want to be a doctor in the US

Michael: I want to be soldier and fight for my country


Q:

Is soccer (football) a big part of life for the students? The population in general? Do you have a favorite Ghanian soccer player? What are your thoughts on the next world cup?

A:

Football is hugely popular here. There is a decent football pitch in the village and the staff of the school are trying to clear another one closer to our school. We play regular matches with nearby villages. I don't have a favorite player but some from my students are:

Asamoah Gyan, Dede Ayew, John Bortey, John Pinstil (sp?)


Q:

What inspired you to volunteer ? what has been a life altering experience, that stands out ?

A:

I've always wanted to travel and other options were too expensive/not my cup of tea.

You know your life is going to change when you step off the plane, and the moment still stands out to me after nearly two years. You descend onto the tarmac and the place sounds, smells, and feels so unlike anything you've ever experienced before.

If you think you can stomach time apart from the family, and a completely different way of life, I'd strongly recommend you volunteer. Peace Corps is a big time commitment (27 months) but I think joining has been one of the best decision I've ever made.


Q:

What's the general feeling towards Oprah Winfrey's school that opened in South Africa?

For the uninformed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oprah_Winfrey_Leadership_Academy_for_Girls

A:

Peter says he's heard of Oprah and says she's part of the Illuminati. He Has not heard of the school in South Africa.

Interestingly, one of my Peace Corps colleagues is posted in a village with a school that is also supposedly supported by Oprah. He works at the public school in that same village and says all of the good students go to her school and he gets the rejects at his school.


Q:

For the students: Would you rather fight one horse sized duck, or 100 duck sized horses?

A:

Isaac: 100 duck sized horses. I would run after them and catch them. I would beat them one by one. I would beat them, kill them, and go and eat them.

Felix: I would beat them all at once.


Q:

I have a question and please dont take it the wrong way. I know very little of Africa and only know some common stereotypes which you may shed some light on.

Have you ever had a Caucasian student?

A:

No, I haven't.

There is one other 'Obroni' ('White person' or 'foreigner' in the local language) in this village (She's also a teacher) and even that is quite rare. All of my students have met exactly 3 white people (me, the previous volunteer, and the other white teacher.)


Q:

Do you need more books?

I used to work at the International Book Project, located in Lexington, Kentucky and am still in contact with them. PM me if you need more textbooks, with a rough list of what you need. I'll talk to them about what I can get to you guys.

http://www.intlbookproject.org/

Here's their link for more info. Have a great day!

A:

Thanks a ton. Always looking for more resources. I'll also pass this along to my Peace Corps colleagues.


Q:

how come all the kids there have AWESOME names? also, are girl's as actively encouraged to get an education as boys...or is there an imbalance?

A:

My favorite Ghana name so far: Candylove. Eugenia is a close second.

The gender imbalance comes in at the high school level as far as I can tell. A lot of the girls are kept home to help keep the house and take care of the young children. It is frustrating. You are shooting yourself in the foot by not educating girls.


Q:

Students: When you see pictures or videos from America, how does it make you feel?

A:

Isaac: They are very beautiful.

Michael: I feel proud.

Juliana: I feel like I could go there.

Spencer: Ghanaians, in my experience are very open-fisted. People don't begrudge those who have more than them but they don't hesitate to ask them for help either.


Q:

Two questions:

Are there any wildlands/forestlands near the Village, and if so what is the villagers' relationship to it?

Are the students/villagers aware of climate change, have they seen effects of it, do they discuss it?

A:

I actually taught a Climate Change unit last year in science class. Talked about carbon cycle and greenhouse gasses.I was kind of shocked it was in the curriculum.

There is a fear, respect and reverence here for nature. Traditionalist believe forests, rivers, mountains and caves are inhabited by ancestors and spirits -both good and bad. In one of my colleague's village there is a river where people come from all over Ghana to entreat the River God to curse their enemies and protect themselves from curses.


Q:

Do they ever feel like there government should support them more when it comes to education?

A:

Every day, but it is difficult when you are a broke developing country. I guarantee Ghana spends a bigger proportion of their budget on Education than we do in the States but it just isn't enough because the country is poor. Most elderly people in my village never attended school and are totally illiterate. In this new generation, literacy is near universal. Progress is slow but it is definitely happening.


Q:

I'm an RPCV (Panama 2009-2011, Agriculture)... had a couple of questions for the kids but also just wanted to give you a HI, fellow PCV! And best of luck with your time in Ghana!

For the kiddos:

What do you kids want to do when you grow up?

What are your favorite things to study?

For the teachers:

What are the biggest challenges to being a good teacher in Ghana? (Materials, student interest, student attendance, etc...?)

A:

Heya! I'll be COSing in August, excited to join the RPCV club.

From Peter: Parent support and commitment is very low. For example the parents won't release their children from chores to come and learn.

From the students: The subject we like best is ICT.

The kids answered the other one earlier - doctors, teacher, police. I just want them to get out of the village.


Q:

Waffles or pancakes?

A:

Students: blank stares

Spencer: I tried to explain waffles and how they were superior to pancakes, not sure if I was successful.


Q:

I'm an artist. A friend recently returned from Africa and brought me some beautiful artwork as a souvenir. I know art is an important part of many African cultures and economies (including Ghana), so I'm interested if artwork and/or textile design is taught in school there or is it passed down from family members and others in the community?

A:

A great question! Some of my Peace Corps volunteer colleagues who have an art background and were placed in schools for the deaf to teach art to the younger students and vocational skills to the older ones (probably the most noble thing I've ever heard). Outside of programs like this, I don't believe this stuff is widely taught in schools. I know in my village kente weaving isn't a part of the curriculum at all but basically every boy learns how to do it by the time he graduates from fathers, uncles or older brothers.

www.ourtalkinghands.com if you are interested in buying textiles and other things produced by some of these deaf students.


Q:

Favorite music?

A:

Micheal: Azonto Felix: Hymns from Church The rest of the boys: "Chop my Money"