Day 3 Ghana 2012: Setting Up Class

Monday January 16 2012
We were up and having breakfast at 7:30am. There was a country song playing on a continuous one-song loop. Americans, love country music, right? Breakfast was a giant omelet, two pieces of bread, and coffee or hot cocoa. Leah doesn’t eat eggs, because once she had the flu and the last thing she ate/first thing to come up was eggs and she has never eaten them since… hey it was chicken fajitas for me once when I was 9 years old. Leah had a ProBar and some of the other “supplies” we brought like fruit leather, beef jerky, cashews, and red vines… you know, just the stuff you need to survive 10 days.  Then we were off to school. It’s about a ¾ mile walk to the school.

We saw Dora and Sammy. Dora who had taught me to carry water on my head (or tried to teach me) and the one who had introduced us to, the often poisonous, brain fruit.

We waited in the Headmaster’s office and she once again was so impressive with her signs and her clear requests for us to respect their culture. She is sharp. The students lined up and she signed to them (without voicing). Some in our group commented that what they just witnessed here in Ghana was more signing than they see in some of our deaf schools in the US.

The Headmaster introduced us family by family. She told the teachers that we are here to help and implement programs that will help the teachers reach their students. She stated that the staffs’ focus should be the same as ours, reaching and teaching the students. The students were dismissed to help clean and set up class. The students are also responsible for keeping the school grounds clean and bringing water to class.

We divided up and set out to do the same.

I think that some teachers were surprised at our willingness to wash, sweep floors, dust and carry water, but in my view we are here to serve and support. We are not here to stand back, judge and criticize.

Washing Dishes


Sweeping Floors


Dusting Toys with a Paintbrush

Aaron, Leah and I finished everything that a lovely teacher had asked of us. We moved on to find Ronai and Ellie doing their best at managing a class of about 12 kids. The teacher had left for a staff meeting and Ronai was left in charge and had been instructed to, “Teach them something.” At first we just watched Ronai try to wrangle kids. Finally one student handed Ronai a ruler and tried to show her how to really command a the students’ attention… enough said. She quickly put the ruler down.

Aaron, Leah and I came in to help and we divided up the students into groups. These were THE NEW KIDS!!!! I began by teaching my group, “Hi!” and answering, “Hi!” Then I taught them table, chair, sit down, stand up, socks and Ronai taught them shoe. We continued with wait, stop, and jump. In a matter of minutes they had over 11 signs.  THIS is what I am great with.

The Dorm Mother came in and said it’s snack time. She sent the children out and asked that we not allow the children to hug us, or hang onto our hands or arms during their snack time. This was a new request. I think I understand it. The kids would rather be with us than attend to whatever they are supposed to be doing. We are a distraction. I have other guesses as well, like it might make some people uncomfortable to see us so loving with deaf children. Or it might be uncomfortable that the students aren’t as affectionate with those adults that look after them.  Some of the attitudes toward the deaf are so hurtful. We had conversations with people in town who looked disgusted that we were interacting with the deaf and that we are here to teach and support them.

I had been talking with some of the boys in secondary school. I told them about my family, specifically about Lucy. They told me that there aren’t wheelchairs for children with physical disabilities and that’s why you don’t really see these children. They told me that anyone born with a physical disability grows up to be a beggar. “That’s their only future.”

Then the boys both told me that their dream is to come to America once they finish high school. They said that in America the deaf are not held down and a successful life is possible.

Hmmm. So I wonder- is it beneficial for these teens to view their only chance at success as fleeing the oppression in their own country? Or is a different perspective needed?  Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

It wasn’t that long ago that deaf Americans were oppressed and many might argue that a degree of oppression still exists.

It can be difficult and exhausting to create something new, (trust me on this) even a new perspective. Much of the time your vision is misunderstood by others, you may be mocked and unappreciated but that doesn’t mean you stop, quit or give up. I’m not just speaking to those deaf boys; I’m speaking to everyone (even myself). If we only have this life, we should make it count. We can make a difference for ALL of the “new ones” who can learn from our path and our experiences. Running away may effectively free you, one person, just you. By staying and creating something new, you can impact generations.

We left the school, went to the hair salon in two taxis, we (those in the taxi with me) missed our stop and almost started an international incident when I was unsure if our taxi driver should be paid per person or per trip.  Curry to the rescue.  He grabbed another taxi and tracked us down.  Together  we started to walk back to the salon, which our taxi had passed.  It was hot.  We were all tense after I had my stand-off with our taxi driver.  While we walked we were approached by the town drunk who came straight at us saying, “Money! Money!”  Finally we arrived at the hair place.  Some of our group got their hair braided. Some didn’t. Some got grumpy. Most of us received an awkward 45 minute lecture from a traveling preacher who was speaking two-languages and sounded very serious as he read passages from the Bible and called us all to repentance. We were all exhausted. I went looking for fabric. A local man invited Aaron into a bar and bought him a soda. We walked a lot and we sweated more.

Update on the funds that we raised, we have been asked not to paint the chalkboards. Instead they would like to take the money we raised and buy whiteboards for each class. We are rolling with it.  It is Africa.

The headmaster asked Curry to do a program for the teachers on Wednesday morning, instead Curry offered that I put on a Signing Time mini-program… so… that’s happening. No pressure, right? I brought some ABC & 123 posters for the beginning classrooms and some Baby Signing Time wall posters. I brought a set of Signing Time board books and a Series One DVD set to give to the Headmaster, so she can choose to use them at home, at school or not at all. She will make her choice and I can trust it is a good one.

I saw Hannah today! I was standing on the steps at the entrance to the great room at the school and Hanna came out and greeted Curry and the team. She looked at me and said, “Who is this?” She looks like Rachel!” Curry, smiling said to Hannah, “Ask her name.” Hannah looked at me, “What is your name?” I smiled and answered, “I am Rachel.” She had a large bowl in her hands, since she oversees the school’s kitchen. She looked around quickly and ran down the stairs away from us. She ran across the courtyard and set the bowl down. Then she ran back with her arms open to hug me. She had tears in her eyes. I did too. Hannah told me, “we talk about you every day, Rachel. You taught me how to sign with Signing Time!” Four years ago when we first met, Hannah and Marco were in love, but her family would not allow her to marry Marco because he is deaf. She is now Marco’s wife and Marco says that Hannah’s mother just adores him. Little changes can make a big difference!

Marco is now on break from school, so he is here in town. She let him know that we are back and shortly after that he arrived at the school to say hello us and made a visit to say hello to the Headmaster who was his interpreter in college!!

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About Rachel Coleman

The opinions and late night musings published on this blog are Rachel de Azevedo Coleman's alone, and are not ever intended to represent the opinions and sentiments of any organization or product that Rachel is, was, or will be associated with. Rachel Coleman is the creator and Emmy-nominated host of Signing Time!, the children's American Sign Language vocabulary building series. She is also the creator and host of Baby Signing Time, Rachel & the TreeSchoolers, and Rachel & Me. Rachel now serves as the Executive Director of the American Society for Deaf Children, a 501c3 nonprofit established in 1967 by parents of deaf children. ASDC is the American Sign Language organization for families who are raising deaf children. www.deafchildren.org Motivated by her child, Leah's deafness, Rachel has spent the last 18 years creating ASL products to help bridge the communication barrier between hearing and signing communities. In 2006 Rachel founded the Signing Time Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to putting communication in the hands of all children of all abilities. In 2014, the Signing Time Foundation launched a 50-Lesson online ASL curriculum called "Sign It: ASL Made Easy" that is available free-of-charge to families with deaf or hard of hearing children ages 36 months and under. Apply at www.mydeafchild.org. For those who do not qualify to receive Sign It ASL for free, they can find it for purchase at very reasonable rates on www.SignItASL.com. Rachel and her husband, Aaron, live in Salt Lake City Utah. They are parents to Leah who was born profoundly deaf, and is now a senior in college at NTID/RIT in Rochester, NY. They are also parents to Lucy who has spina bifida and cerebral palsy, and recently graduated high school. In 2010 the Colemans were joyfully reunited with Rachel's daughter Laura. Rachel is proud to be Laura's birth mom. Laura was placed for adoption as an infant in 1992 when Rachel was 17 years-old.

19 thoughts on “Day 3 Ghana 2012: Setting Up Class

  1. Rachel i love your philosophies, you are very wise and speaking for “the Giving Chicks & Roosters” I’m so happy we could be a part of the impact you are making in creating goodness in the world.

  2. I guess I understand the Headmaster request that you don’t hug or hold hands with the kids. However, these kids are growing up without the daily interaction with loving parents. This seems really sad to me. I am looking forward to day 4 journal. 🙂

  3. I’m so grateful that you are sharing each day with us. Thank you! My 2.5 year old just crawled up on my lap to see what mamma was reading. I showed her your pictures and told her Rachel from Baby Signing Time was far, far away teaching children with no words. She said, ‘Yeah’, and toddled off. Thank you for coming into our lives in new ways and opening our eyes. We are eager to read more!

  4. Wow! I love reading about this!

    I grew up in Fiji – schools in which the students clean are the norm. I’m kind of surprised they had you clean – that seems like a task reserved for students, not respectful at all.

    This whole trip is so exciting – thanks for sharing

  5. Thank you so very much for sharing this wonderful journey, Rachel! You are such an inspiration, and our youngest little sweetheart, Sierra, who is multi-handicapped and non-verbal, LOVES all your DVD’s, books, and flash cards, and t-shirts! We have them all! I have to say that I, too, love hearing your songs while she watches! Thank you for enriching our loves–Sierra understands–she is very smart–and she is learning some signs and using a Dynavox device and her touch-screen computer to communicate. God Bless you and your wonderful family, Rachel!!

  6. Okay, yes, some of us were grumpy.

    However you may have the best paragragh in any journal with this:
    It can be difficult and exhausting to create something new, (trust me on this) even a new perspective. Much of the time your vision is misunderstood by others, you may be mocked and unappreciated but that doesn’t mean you stop, quit or give up. I’m not just speaking to those deaf boys; I’m speaking to everyone (even myself). If we only have this life, we should make it count. We can make a difference for ALL of the “new ones” who can learn from our path and our experiences. Running away may effectively free you, one person, just you. By staying and creating something new, you can impact generations.”

    How very, very true.

    • Hey, if everyone likes everything you do, you aren’t trying hard enough:) I know there are people who don’t like Signing Time and who really believe it takes something away from the Deaf Community… ok. I also know there are people who love Signing Time and feel that it has created more connection to the Deaf Community than anything else that has come along in the past 10 years… ok.
      Question: Who’s right?
      Answer: Who cares?
      If we wait around for everyone to agree with everything we do, we would never do anything. I, for one, would be saying, “Someone should really do something so that more people can communicate with my deaf child!” I am proud to say that I did something, and I’m proud to say that it made a difference for my own children and makes a difference for many others. I also LOVED going to bed each night in Ghana KNOWING that I made a difference that day. That feeling is almost addictive!

  7. Wow!! So nice to hear about your trip, blow by blow. I am so interested in the cultural information… so the teachers don’t show affection (even kindness or just kindness and nothing more?). Oh, what a life 🙁 I know that even America had that kind of oppression for Deaf people (as even many families of Deaf people still don’t sign or were counseled not to sign even just 30 and 40 years ago). I hope those teenage boys stick around and try to help make changes there. I wish they had dreams of better Deaf lives in Africa. Little by little. You are obviously making such an impact, Rachel, and it’s so wonderful that you could make this trip a second time. No doubt there will be more trips in the future. Hooray for the new headmaster who signs! That is a positive change already.

    Can’t wait to hear more!! xoxo

    • The request for no affection may be cultural, but it’s also really smart. These volunteers aren’t staying forever–they’re just there for a week or so. Kids who become attached to grown-ups who then leave their lives are kids who get hurt and learn insecure attachment. Since many of these kids may, for language reasons, not be very connected to their families it’s important that they learn that the people who care about them stay.

      You’ll often see newly adopted parents make the same request of friends and family. It may seem cruel not to let people hug a kid, but for kids who don’t know who can be relied on to take care of them and understand them it can be crucial.

  8. Rachael, You and your group/family are amazing, and have generous, creative, souls/spirits. I know you must have many angels at your side as you do your important work, and I pray that you will be blessed with energy, and confidence to go forward each day. Think of all the lives you influence not only through your work, but through your creative accomplishments. I am glad I know you, Rachael, and can call you a friend. Have you contacted ABC Nightline to do a story? I see a reference to the channel. How about some of the other networks? I know more people would love to see what you are doing. I am personally more interested in stories such as this on TV rather than listening to stories about movie stars and how many pairs of shoes they have in their closet. Keep up the good work, and may God bless you!!!

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