On the very first day of my volunteer project, I found myself experiencing billion waves of emotions: glad, amazed, shocked, heartbroken, angry, loved, exhausted…
I was glad that the director gave us a 1-hour car ride from busy Medina to rural Taiffa. As a first time European traveller to a 3rd world country back then, I was immobilized.
Beside being grateful for surviving the craziest traffic on earth, I was amazed. Nearly 100 little babies, in their cute blue uniforms were standing in line, singing the national anthem of Ghana and impressively repeating from memory the oat of the nation. We don’t pay attention to teach things like that for little ones. Moreover, doing that every single day is not a habit in Hungary.
Unlike me, some kids didn’t find this daily routine amusing, and were trying to run towards their best friends or just talk to them, when the teachers rigorously interrupted to train them for the order. Sometimes with scary facial expressions, they even whipped with canes.
I had a flashback to my primary school. Back in the 1990’s barely post-communist Hungary, my music teacher grabbed my hair to turn me towards the board to stop me talking to my bestie behind me. That was the order. Face the board, and learn what they say no matter if you like it or not.
Regulations have changed the last 3 decades, and today we prefer not to use physical disciplines on our kids across the Western World. So my eyes and my soul were no longer used to see these kind of scenes. Being abused at school or on the streets – where mothers used to try instantly reward their kids with a slap for swearing or being disrespectful or anything like that – are almost entirely extinct today.
To me, as a first picture of educating the next generation in Ghana wasn’t coming across quite well. Being in that school only for 5 minutes, I was already afraid of the 6 upcoming weeks.
And the students knew it well. They were well aware that I am different and I am afraid of harsh actions. So they fooled me on my very first class.
At the classroom, I was left alone with 35 infants age between 4-5. Antie Nina did everything to introduce me and establish my authority, she even left me with placing the cane in my hand.
Street smart kids, they don’t fall for this…
Shortly after Little Kaziah came up to ask for excuse her short leave to the bathroom: “Madam, I need to wee-wee” I surely let her walk out of the classroom door which opens straight into the inside garden; the place where we gathered for the morning routine on my arrival. Then I started the lecture.
When I asked the rest to get some papers to fold a few basic shapes, I noticed some students don’t have anything to work with. I quickly took several pages out of my notebook and allocated those among them.
In my country it wasn’t a big deal. Nobody would even notice it, but in Taiffa district; where kids need to walk hours to school between the rusty, old cars on a mud road with gigantic potholes, circumstances are making a difference in a meaning of every single thing.
All kids stood up to see what the other have received. They seemed like they are not really used to anyone giving out anything freely. But then I realized later that if one gets something, all should receive.
After quickly getting them back to the seats, in order, John raised his hand: “Madam, I need to wee-wee” so I let him go. A few more kids wanted to go too, so I let 3 more go and asked the 4th one to wait for Kaziah’s return.
We have been halfway into how to fold the page into a square, when I realized the toilet-break-kids are still out seemingly way too long in the garden. I stared out of the door, as we always kept them wide open, and I saw my pupils playing in the dust together with stones. I smiled because I noticed how smart they are to realize opportunities.
The headteacher was temporarily in the kitchen to assist other teachers in cooking lunch for the entire school. They could not afford a separate crew member for duties like that. If Madam Gloria have been sitting in her usual place in the garden, she would have made the kids return instantly. Or actually kids would never even thought to do otherwise.
I was just smiling at myself, and shout out to call the kids back. They waited till I held up the cane.. then with a huge smile and giggles the little group run back to find their seats and finally listen to the lecture.
You got to love how smart and cute they are.. But also how nasty it is to keep all those energies in order. By break time I was already exhausted even if the teacher were coming to the classroom for a view every 15 minutes to keep the kids’ voices down.
Snack time was always around 10am. I was ordered to go to assist with feeding the smallest kids who were aging between a few months old to 2 years old. I noticed the teacher took everyone’s bag off the little shelves and searched for their snacks. Some got nice bottles for their water, some had biscuits, others were sent off to school with a piece of bread. A few only had their change of clothes with them in an empty bag.
Teachers were told to feed everyone with what they brought from home, but explain me how it could be ever possible to serve food to one and not giving to the next one?
So we usually put everyone’s food together to reallocate a little bit less unfairly. At least one bit everyone received and therefore all shared their owns with the community.
I loved feeding the kids. They were not picky at all. Rice in tomato sauce and fish bits in it was one of the favorite. I spooned it in tiny portions to the bigger ones, and they took it even with fish bones in it. They already knew how to separate it. Unlike our toddlers. We have so many rules with them. Not to feed them certain foods like beans, or fish, especially not with the bones as they can potentially suffocate.
After returning to my class, the teacher came with me. Kids were still playing with the folded flowers I made to each of them – for which by the way all rewarded me with millions of hugs -, when I heard Antie Nina shouting at them. She didn’t really like the idea of “wasting” paper. Later on I realized the kids mostly skip all art classes due to lack of resources and mainly focus on learning the basics of reading, writing and counting instead.
Going back home, tired, dirty, overwhelmed made the boot of the jeep seem like a limousine. That day I had more quality education about people, personalities, what life is, how to lead and manage situations then through my leadership and management master at uni.
I’m truly grateful for Emmanuel Complex School in Accra, AIESEC in Ghana and all the people enabling this 2 months of life changing experience.
Call to action:
1. Read more → www.sustainabledevelopment.un.org
2. Discuss the following topic with your sympathizers: What consequences of lack of education provide to those who have no access to quality education? Why is that we understand the importance of SDG 4 but still have giant gaps in delivering the targets?
3. Find a project and reach out to the host entity to support them with advice or funds to deliver it, especially west African entities. The reason is the urgent need to deliver SDG-related changes there.
4. Sponsor and motivate someone in your world to take a global volunteer project with AIESEC → aiesec.org/global-volunteer. I suggest one in Benin → aiesec.org/opportunity/870351
Created&Photograps by: Kriszti@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
Illustrated by Oguz@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
Proofed&Edited by Greg@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
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The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of AAI.