Day 4 Ghana 2012: No Means No, Everything else means Yes

January 17, 2012
Some days feel longer than others, but for different reasons. I take that back. Every day feels long. We were at breakfast (our daily omelet and two huge pieces of bread) by 7:15 and off to school by 7:30. Aaron and I offered to support a Primary 1 Class (Elementary, first grade). The teacher was great and she was teaching new signs and the written word. She was clearly demonstrating the concepts. They were tough concepts since the curriculum is not written for deaf students; it’s the mainstream curriculum. It was a Math lesson and she was teaching about objects, things that have a “curved face” “corner” or are “flat”.

Pablo came by and said that he and Carissa were a bit baffled by the students in their class. I went in to see what was happening. They were working with “new students” but many were older, there were teens. This was the students’ first experience in a deaf school, so they had to start somewhere and that “somewhere” was this class. Most of the students knew their alphabet, so we took on numbers. Showing the sign for “1” and then asking how to spell it. “O-N-E”.” Leah would write the word on the board and then we would set out to discover examples of “1” in the classroom. “One blackboard!” “1 teacher’s desk!” and so on, until we moved on to the number 2 in the same way. Two of the students (both looked older than Leah) knew the concepts and could communicate very well. But, this was their first year, so here they were in a beginning class.

The teacher had said that this class and the teaching of it is “very tedious.” She left for a while, leaving Carissa and Pablo in charge. When she returned, Leah, Aaron and I were also helping in her class. I talked to her for a bit and then she asked, “Where’s Alex?” I laughed, “You remember?” She said yes and told me that on the school break she had borrowed “Signing Time” DVDs from the school library and learned a lot! I asked, “It’s here? It’s in the library?” I didn’t know!” She told me that ten or eleven DVDs are here. As if reading my mind she pulled a little lollipop out of her pocket and said that someone had delivered “all of this candy on break. No one would’ve known about it, but the Headmaster counted out enough for each student in each class, and I got one too!”

In the past, very few things that were delivered or brought for the students ever made it to the students. It was up to the headmaster to either deliver these things or keep them for herself and her own family.

I told her that I was asked to present in the morning, which still makes my heart pound at the thought of it. Why? Well, like I really need to be stressed about causing an International fiasco! There are SO many cultural differences and the default goes to the local culture, not mine. I’ll just keep that left hand away, except for when signing (you do not use your left hand in Ghana, not to wave, not to hand someone money and not to give something to another person, it is considered VERY rude and insulting). I am kicking myself for not bringing my Ghanaian dress or even my wrap skirt. When the headmaster spoke to us and introduced us, she wore a scarf of the American flag around her neck as a sign of respect. Would that be reciprocation if I had traditional clothes? I don’t know. It’s all of the “I don’t knows” that keep me up at night- also jetlag.

After awhile the students had their snack break. The dorm mother had asked us not to let the students hang onto us during their breaks. They need to go eat and we are a distraction. If the students aren’t doing what they should be doing they get “corrected” (with a stick). It was explained to us that this is one of the biggest cultural differences and that it is not abuse, it is simply an effective way to control 250 students when there are very few adults around. Sometimes the children knowingly choose to be with us and take the “correction” and that is just TOO much for my heart and head to grasp. So, we quickly redirect them toward the common area as they come to drape themselves all over us. It feels terrible, but in the end it is kinder.

Curry had a meeting with the retired Religion Teacher who is still his Signs of Hope contact. When we met him (Daniel) he remembered us and I told him that I had never forgotten his, “New Year ~ New Life ~ New Blessing!” presentation. He was blown away! We were at Sammy and Dora’s house when this conversation took place and since Sammy is the school librarian I asked about the Signing Time DVDs. He said, “Yes, we have 10 or 11 of them.” I asked if I could get a list of what they have so that I could send the rest.

Earlier I had a conversation with one of the teachers and she asked, “Will you come back here again?” This is the worst question! In their culture, if you say anything other than “no” it is a promise to come back and wow, we sure seem to have a hard time giving a firm “no” in our culture. If you say, “maybe” that’s a YES. “I’d like to” is also YES. So I said, “since 2008 I have wanted to come back and that took four years… The airfare alone is very expensive. Of course I would love to come back, but I can’t promise.” #EPICFail Crap! I think I just promised to come back within four years! (I guess I had better start fundraising again) How do you explain an $1800 airline ticket to someone who makes $150-200 a month?

The water pump at the well broke and is now replaced with a number of giant black poly containers and water comes out of spigots. I wonder if it seemed magical to twist that handle and have water rush out with minimal human effort?

In the central courtyard is a large generator that another group from another country had fundraised to purchase and then they shipped it to Ghana and had it installed. I imagine they took their photo, patted each other on the back and went home. The generator is now fenced off and falling apart. It worked and provided electricity through its first tank of gas, but the school does not have the funds to purchase more gas for it. So, when the power is out, the power is out, even though there is a generator in the courtyard (SIGH). This is why Signs of Hope International (SOHI) is SO adamant about not delivering goods. We might think we know what’s needed, but we don’t always see the full picture. When you consider the cost of the generator, the cost to transport it from Europe and now it is essentially lawn art? Sheesh! That amount could’ve educated, fed and housed many deaf students for many years to come.

This is the local gas station

SOHI also has a policy not to hand over cash. They pay the school the fees for the students that they sponsor, this now incudes a “PTA fee” and a “National Health Care fee” (nice going USA;) and we took the money that we raised and went to the market place and purchased the students’ supplies ourselves. The government subsidizes the education of deaf children but the supplies that they need in order to show up and start school cost over $250 per child.

We left the school at lunch and waited for the tro-tro. We loaded in and drove to the market in Koforidua, which is about an hour away. One word: WOW! Four years ago we experienced a similar marketplace in Accra. Sensory overload, a maze of buildings, vendors, and people. We stuck close to our Ghanaian guides. I imagine in Accra, since it is the capital, they see more white people than in Koforidua. When we stopped at any storefront, a crowd gathered.

We divided into three groups, each with a list of school supplies, an envelope of cash, and a local guide. I am sure it added amusement that we were purchasing things like 40 bars of soap, 30 rolls of toilet paper, 12 toothbrushes, 12 spoons, massive amounts of feminine hygiene supplies, plates, scrub brushes, 12 flats of juice boxes, local sauces and grains all listed on the students’ Back to School list. Each child needs a three-month supply and we were buying for all of SOHI’s sponsored kids. The list also states: “mattress if they don’t have one”. A mattress is $40! Remember when I said that a teacher makes $200/month? No wonder families have to save up to send their deaf child to school. The school could use new mattresses, 250 of them, but at $10,000? Really? Let’s see… a generator that is all but useless or mattresses that aren’t falling apart, stained and soiled. But, then it comes down to $10,000 toward bedding or $10,000 toward the education and school supplies of deaf students…

Today was also a fabric day. We bought some fabric at the market and then after dinner, Joyce, who manages the hotel, took us to her friend’s fabric shop. We walked and our way was lit by flashlights and headlamps. We all bought some great stuff and the fabric that I purchased today is SO different than anything I bought four years ago. Joyce has the best dresses! Tomorrow after school we are going to her dressmaker.

I swear we squeeze every minute out of each day here. It was already dark when we went to the fabric store and darker still when we returned. I was feeling sick to my stomach from our earlier 2-hour round trip inhalation of fumes to Koforidua and back. I “showered” with my 5-gallon bucket and giant ladle and then I fell asleep.

I heard Aaron stay up after 9:00pm to call Lucy. Actually, it must’ve been after 10:30pm since she gets home from school at 3:30. He said that Lucy sounded great!! She had her baby cousin Eliza over to play. So far Lucy has been a champ. The week before we left for Ghana, I would be on the phone or just sitting at the kitchen table and I would start crying, worrying for Lucy. I didn’t know if we’d be able to call her at all. The first time we came to Ghana, Lucy was home with a sitter and she became so ill that my mom moved in and stayed with her too, through the entire trip. She had a high fever, broke out in a rash and hives, and she was violently ill, weak and pale. I think she went to school one day out of the eleven days we were gone. My theory is that when the people she loves and trust the most leave, it’s just too much for her system. We are the ones who care for her every day. We feed her. We love her. We keep her alive.

This time, I instructed her caregivers to check her into the ER if she stops eating, drinking, or if she refuses to have her daily needs met. Hey, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do! Thankfully, Aaron was met with, “Hi Dad! Eliza is here and I’m playing with her, so I can’t talk too long.”
PERFECT!

Want more Ghana?
Read Jen’s Recap on the Signing Time Blog

Read Ronai’s recap on the Signing Time Blog

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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.

7 thoughts on “Day 4 Ghana 2012: No Means No, Everything else means Yes

  1. glad to hear Lucy was holding in there.

    and wow so different from here things are expensive. it hurts to see other organizations trying to do good but not thinking long term.
    i am glad you guys are.

    teaching sounds fun

  2. So different from here and Ghana! Makes you think… we have so many “regional differences” between the East and West, North and South, but some of the differences you describe are just out there… Nothing with the left hand?!?! Are Deaf people exempt from that cultural expectation or is it waived for them? And what if you are left handed, and you wave with your dominant hand? Wow.

    Oh, Lucy… Thank God this time away from you was healthier. You have so much going on with your trip, that worrying about that amazing child so far away must be hard. Hooray for tiny cousins!

    Can’t wait to hear more… going to read Jen and Ronai’s now.

  3. Love the updates, and look forward to them every day!

    Sending prayers, positive thoughts, and good vibes for you, your family, the teachers, and students in Ghana!

    The left hand doesn’t surprise me much … in many countries where “toileting habits” are different (i.e., the hole in the ground), the left hand is the … errrmmm, wiping hand. 😀

    Blessings!

  4. God Bless your work! My heart goes out to you as I read your entries. You are making a huge difference in so many ways. Just the fact that they got their candy makes a person feel as if things are being run better this year.

    Hang in there and know we are praying for you everday. Your spirit is communicating as much as your signs. You will give them such a resource to implement and imitate when you leave.

    The kids seemed starved for affection. I hope later you will be able to engage with them more without them getting punished. so sad:(

    Take care and know we are with you in spirit. Jean

  5. Reading that there were some Signing Time DVDs at the library there was a ‘Sign of Hope’ as well as Aaron’s short conversation with Lucy and hearing that she was doing well. You have given the greatest gift of all – you gave of yourself and your talents – those things last well beyond the generator or even of mattresses needing to be replaced. Thank you for taking us on this journey and letting us ‘walk in your shoes’.

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