Recently, you’ve been reading News Updates about toilets, building renovations, and scholarships in Axim, Ghana. This News Update breaks some new ground!
Four of us have just returned from a trip to Ghana: Maryanne Ward, the head of Ghana Together (GT) who travels to Ghana every year; Susan Hirst, GT supporter who has taught science, been a middle school counselor, and was an AIDS educator on three former trips to Axim; Louise Wilkinson, a board member of GT and retired educator from Boeing who has extensive experience working with adult groups on leadership and cultural diversity and who traveled to Ghana twice with her husband, Tom; and Louise’s 18 year-old granddaughter, Alexis Coats. Alexis just graduated from High School in Vancouver, WA, and is headed for a nursing career.
The three adult women are original “founding mothers” of Ghana Together and have been involved in Axim one way or another for almost nine years.
|Maryanne Ward, Susan Hirst, Louise Wilkinson, Alexis Coats, and James Kainyiah (Chair of partnering organization, Western Heritage Home)|
The purpose of this journey was to work with Ghanaian youth on personal leadership. We had floated the idea for several months among the Head Mistress and teachers of the Axim Girls Senior High School (AGSHS), and to the Director of the Axim Community Vocational Technical Institute (CDVTI) where they teach dress-making, cooking, hair-dressing, electrical work and auto mechanics as well as some academic and entrepreneurial skills.
|Louise and Madame Safiatu Seidu, Director of the Community Development Vocational and Technical Institute in Axim, Ghana. They are planning the Leadership Workshop for the coming week.|
We also proposed the idea to Kathryn Roe of Cape Coast and Bellingham, WA. Kathryn is the Founder and Director of Anansi Education, which provides scholarships to enable good but impoverished students to attend high school in Cape Coast.
All of these leaders responded with a lot of interest so we developed a curriculum and began scheduling several months in advance of the visit. The Ghanaian school administrators suggested we give the Leadership Workshop the first two weeks of the new term, because we would be working with Form 3 (senior) students. The Workshop would be the perfect orientation, launching them into their last year of senior high school with some new skills to figure out their futures.
And so, after considerable planning, we bravely embarked! We were confident! We had all the bases covered for presentations on Leadership Skills to Ghanaian high school students. Of course, it would go smoothly. After all, Louise is a specialist in leadership and multicultural understanding, Susan in junior and senior high students, and Lexy, in being a real teenager! What could possibly go wrong??
|The Axim Girls Senior High School (AGSHS) building---newly opened during the first days we were there|
HA! We had forgotten to take into consideration that we were in Ghana!
Little did we or they know that a changed Ghana Education Service policy required the AGSHS girls who were boarding at the Heritage Building to move out, pronto, never mind they had just arrived on campus hours before!
Computer/science/administrative/teachers’ rooms became instant “dormitories” more or less in one day. Mattresses strewn on the lawn. Bunk beds crammed into rooms. Teachers and students carrying desks, tables, chairs, contents of administrative offices, computers, science materials to a newly-opened classroom building.
|Mattresses on the grass. The "boarding" students had to move quickly with their meagre possessions---a mattress, sheet, two uniforms, probably one other outfit, personal items...|
The school’s electrician, whose Nzema name actually translates as “God the Father” (comforting thought!), had to bravely install the solar panels on the roof of the new two-story classroom building to keep the Internet-In-a-Box and computer lab running, and that only with help with a specialist from Toronto via the shaky internet connection!
Lacking their hastily vacated teacher’s room, which was suddenly filled with bunkbeds, mattresses, and the small bags of personal belongings, teachers were simply sitting in chairs under a tree putting together the new academic year as best they could!
On top of that, there were two national holidays during our two-week window---Kwame Nkrumah’s birthday, and a Muslim Holy Day---that had not been factored in.
But this is Ghana, where everyone somehow manages to cope with grace and dignity, no matter how trying the circumstances.
Headmistress Theodora Appiah, keeping her cool (and demonstrating “leadership under pressure” beautifully!), continued stoically working from her makeshift “office” in one of the classrooms, trying her best to keep some semblance of order and hospitality for her foreign guests.
|The "ever-cheerful-no-matter-what" Madame Theodora Appiah, Headmistress of AGSHS. Her motto is: "I would rather try and fail, then not try at all." An example of leadership right there in front of her students.|
Teacher Jerry Kwofie managed to pull together the rather frazzled students, who, of course, having just arrived on campus hours before after a month’s vacation, had no idea that they were going to be the first-ever participants in Leadership Training in the entire Nzema East District!
And yes! We DID manage to conduct three wonderful workshops in Axim, and another in Cape Coast, with about 100 students total, mostly in groups of around 25.
One of the groups received six hours of class time. Others had four or five hours, and one group had two hours. Not quite as planned; however, we felt that all the groups appreciated the information and learned something from the presentations.
|Leadership Workshop participants at the Axim Girls Senior High School|
Louise led the discussions, as Susan chimed in and Alexis wrote information on the board and provided real life examples.
We started out asking students to name good leaders. They named political figures, local headmistresses, and their local tribal chief. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, was on every list. These leaders all had positions of power. We asked students to list what things made these people “good” leaders and they came up with lists of characteristics befitting these famous leaders.
|Louise working with AGSHS girls in a small group|
We then asked them to list people in their lives who had influenced and helped them. Parents, siblings, and friends made this list, and these were people without fame or titles who were able to influence others.
We pointed out that each student there was a leader because they could use their “leadership” qualities to have influence over themselves and others. We asked them to look at the list of good qualities and think of which qualities they now had and which they would like to get. Alexis said that she was very shy and it was hard to speak in front of a group, so she was using these classes to work on confidence. The students were very impressed with her honesty.
We divided the students into small groups, gave each group a different situation, and asked the groups to report out on what they would do in this situation. For example, one group had to decide what, as leaders, they would do if “You see a friend of yours stealing a computer from the school computer lab.” Another group was challenged with “A younger girl you know starts going home with an older man.” The students really worked on these situations and gave great reports.
|Susan Hirst working with students at AGSHS|
As we worked through the program, Louise introduced the themes of trust, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence, using words and examples that the students could understand. These were presented as leadership skills that provide the foundation for creating good relationships and making good choices, for themselves and others.
Group work followed and the students were again given a variety of situations which related to their larger community: “An oil company opens an office in town. They bring workers from their country. You ask why they don’t hire local people. You are told the local people are not adequately educated and are not reliable or prompt. What would you as a leader do?” And: “Women cut up fish on the beach. The beach is dirty and some people get sick from the fish. You ask why the beach has to be dirty. People say there is nowhere else to go to the toilet. What would you as a leader do?” Again the students really worked together and gave great reports about how they would deal with these problems as leaders in the community.
|AGSHS students. These young woman are probably among the first in their families, and in fact in Ghana itself, to attain a senior high school education. Ghana generally, and Axim specifically, especially through the leadership of Chief Awulae Attibrukusi, has put major emphasis on "girl education." One of the Chief's common sayings is, "Educate a woman. Educate a family."|
At the end of each class, students were encouraged to review and affirm their learning by saying together, “I am a leader, I am a leader of myself, I am a leader of others, I am a good leader…..” adding more qualities and ending with “I am a leader!” There was wonderful energy as the students left the room and then waited outside to take pictures of us, and especially of themselves with Alexis.
|Lexy Coats assisting her Grandmother Louise by capturing concepts on the board. The students had personal notebooks in which to capture the concepts for themselves. Lexy had the opportunity to make friends among her peers in Ghana---we wish every American teenager could have such an experience!|
Adults sat in on some of the courses, helping us communicate well with the students and providing us perspective on how they might be receiving the learning. One adult suggested that we include religion more clearly in the curriculum, noting that prayer is used more than choice when making good decisions. Another said the group exercises were very powerful, enabling students to apply what they had learned. Another, James Kainyiah, told the group that they were very fortunate to have had this leadership learning so early in their lives, and that he wishes he had had this advantage. We felt we had given them some very useful information and, as usual, learned even more from them.
We are working on getting feedback from the students (and adults). These types of class activities---using groups, personal stories, open-ended real-life situations, open discussion, role-playing---are new to them. We’d not only like to know how the classes affected the students, but how they can help us improve! After all, the Municipal Chief Executive (Mayor) of Axim has requested the workshop for his staff! Who knows…???
|The Workshop leaders with some of the AGSHS workshop participants. |
|The Leadership Class at the Community Vocational Institute. This class included young men learning such trades as electrician and auto mechanics. |
Maryanne’s role was basically logistical---seeing to introductions, lodging, meals, taxis, classroom space, etc. She also reviewed a number of Ghana Together projects, including checking up on students on scholarship with Ghana Together, working with the library, computer and science lab people, including delivering a complete half-size human skeleton, visiting old friends in the community and, we understand, giving a very graphic demonstration on how to use the new toilet that had been installed.
|A half-size human skeleton (plastic) given to the AGSHS Science Lab, courtesy of the one and only Jerome Chandler, and somehow carried all the way to Africa by Maryanne. And thank you Ghana Customs for having the sense not to look too closely! And there we are...what we do for science!!|We are grateful to have had this opportunity. We thank our Ghanaian hosts for their welcome, and for encouraging their students to participate wholeheartedly. We hope the Workshop made a positive impact on their lives.
For more information, go to http://ghanatogether.org
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