Day 8 Ghana 2012: Taxi Etiquette and Wooden Lollipops

January 22, 2012 (It appears that I lost a day! It’s Saturday… the 21st, but I wrote that yesterday was the 21st. I guess that’s just what happens when you are on a plane for 22 hours. I hope I find that day later. Wow, I’ve really misplaced 24 hours.)

Lucy insists that she is “fine!” Yesterday, I called her, then our power went out, AND then phone died. Tonight I called and apologized for the abrupt end to our previous conversation and I explained why I was unable to call her back. Her response was, “Mom, it’s okay, it’s Africa!”

Today, our plan was to sleep in a little. Our sleeping intentions were thwarted because power outages have no impact on chainsaws. At 7AM someone with a chainsaw started working and it sure sounded like it was taking place just outside out window. Leah slept like a log, of course, and we all envied her.

Part of our Team went to town and to the Cocoa Farm. The rest of us hung out, wrote in journals, or did homework. It was a HOT-HOT day!

Leah, Aaron, Carissa, Pablo, and I took a taxi to Aburi. Aaron and Leah took the first taxi that stopped because there were already a bunch of people in it and there was only room for two more bodies. Talk about “ride-sharing”! The next taxi saw that there were three of us standing on the side of the road, and he pulled over to pick us up. Here’s the thing, there was already a driver and two passengers in the taxi. The two passengers were in the back, so Pablo took “shot gun” and… wait for it… I got to sit on Carissa’s lap. The driver and the other passengers were waving us in, like this is just no big thing. As we were driving, the teenage boy in the back suggested that he should climb up front and sit on Pablo’s lap so that there would be more room for the ladies! Times like these, all we can do is crack up and the complete absurdity of it all. (This special moment was captured on camera and can be seen on Carissa’s Blog… awesome)

Curry told us that once he took a public tro-tro and the thing was packed so tightly that it was terrible, but what really made him crazy was that someone had brought their goat along and it was under his bench, licking the his calves throughout the entire ride! Can you imagine?

We got to Aburi and walked through town. I guess our seamstress takes Saturdays off, we had hoped to peek in on our dresses. We walked to the wood district.

In the days before leaving for Ghana, I had asked Lucy if there was anything she wanted me to bring home for her. “Yes” she answered, “bring me a carved lollipop.” Ok, truth be told I have been to the wood district once already and have not asked anyone to carve her a lollipop. I thought maybe she was kidding, I mean a wooden lollipop? Last night while on the phone, I asked her again if there was anything special she would like from Ghana and she answered… “Yes! I told you mom, I want someone to carve a wooden lollipop for me.” Today I will ask Alfred if he even knows what a lollipop is. Jen found a Sees lollipop in her bag. I brought it with me as a model, even though it’s square. Curry bought a lollipop in town and gave it to me to take as a model too.

In Aburi, I bought a purse for me and one for Laura. I went to Sammy’s shop and bought some carvings. I bought one of Sammy’s “parent & child” carvings and one of his “lovers” carvings- these will go up on Ebay for the Signing Time Foundation.

Aaron is having something special made for our friends at ProBar, he checked on that and though it’s not yet finished, it looks awesome! I crossed the road and went to Alfred’s shop and ordered the lollipop. I asked Aaron to take a photo of the gas station, because it looks cool!

Jen, Curry, Ronai, and Ellie arrived as we were wrapping up.

Carissa picked up her custom nativity scene and an angel for her mom. We bought bags of water to drink and we walked back to the taxi station. Aaron, Leah, Pablo, Carissa, and I all got into one taxi. This time, Leah sat on my lap.

Joyce is the very sweet, on-site manager of the hotel. She is very quiet. She is continually surprising us with things like telling Carissa to tell Aaron to “stop trying so hard with using his right hand, we have ‘leftys’ here too!” (In Ghana you do not use your left hand to wave at people or during a business transaction. The left hand is considered unclean. Though at the deaf school you can use your left hand for signing. You should see the amount of additional steps Joyce takes in avoiding her left hand when serving us dinner, and opening our sodas and pouring them into glasses.)

Another night Joyce let us know that if a Ghanaian guest is joining you for dinner, you wait for their arrival before you start eating. This is common sense, but we had forgotten what night it was and we had forgotten that a guest was joining us. Joyce helps keep us from making complete fools of ourselves, when she can.

Dinner has been chicken and rice, most of the time. She thinks it’s funny that we order it nightly because, “there are other things to eat.” She found it even funnier when she heard that most of us ordered chicken and rice for dinner, when we spent the night in Cape Coast. Tonight we are having spaghetti with the hot, spicy red sauce. One night we did have vegetable stew and rice. It was cooked cabbage and carrots and onions in the spicy red sauce.

Part of the fee that we each paid in our Ghana expenses was to sponsor some of the deaf children who would otherwise be unable to attend school. We also raised some money for a service project here. The request was that we do some painting and we had been asked to re-paint every chalkboard… they are blackboards and wow, you sure end up with a lot of black smudges all over yourself when you use them. When we arrived at the school, we were told that painting the backboards was no longer necessary, but they wanted us to take the money for the paint and supplies and purchase whiteboards. Curry suggested that they might get more for the money if a Ghanaian made the purchase, rather than if we went to town. (You wouldn’t believe how much some of us have paid for taxis and other things, simply because it’s obvious that we are not local.) The whiteboards should be hung by Monday.

Tomorrow, Marco and Hannah are coming to visit. It will be great to spend some time with them.

Every night we sit here in the common area. We share snacks like licorice and cashews. We talk, laugh, decompress, and sing. The spontaneous singing seems to throw off Carissa. I, for one, think it’s quite normal to burst into song! (Hard to imagine, I’m sure.) Oh, and our bat circles through the common area. Yes, the bat is back, every night.

Day 7 Ghana 2012: Rain Forest Highs and Slave Castle Lows

Friday January 21, 2012

This morning Jen, Ronai, Pablo, and Carissa rented a paddle boat… of course they chose the green one that actually worked (what a bunch of chickens!).
I guess they learned from my experience… don’t take the yellow one.

We had breakfast and took off for Kakum National Park.

The views were beautiful. It was pretty scary to let go of the ropes, but scarier to take that first step. The platform to the bridge is suspended 130 feet above the rainforest floor. There are 7 bridges that run over 1080 feet through the air.

Our visit to The Elmina Slave Castle was fascinating and sobering. It’s never fun hearing the history of slavery. All we can do is learn from those mistakes and promise to do everything within our power to never let that happen to human beings again.

Here are some views from the castle.

After our tour of the castle we were headed back to the tro-tro for the long drive back to Tutu.

Curry asked if we wanted to stop for lunch or if we wanted hit the road and get back to Tutu. We told him we had lunch with us.

The drive is so fascinating. Words can’t describe… pictures help, but even pictures don’t really do it justice.

Maybe this one will give you a better feel:)

When we got back to the hotel in Tutu we were filthy. We used baby wipes to clean off our hands and faces. We were hot and sticky. We pulled up to a pitch black building. This was the hotel, but once again the power was out. You should see us running and stumbling around when the power goes out. The worst is when you are in the shower and the power goes out, because if you are unprepared, you are just a mess.

Joyce made chicken and rice. We took our meds and hit the sack. There is nothing to do when the power is out. I called Lucy and there was no answer, but I know that Lucy’s fine motor skills don’t always cooperate. I left her a message and then called right back. This time, my sister Emilie, Alex’s mom, answered. I guess it has been like Grand Central Station at our house. My mom, my younger brother Aaron, my sister Emilie and her kids have all been coming and going, rotating on a daily basis. Our friends, Jana and Eric have been stopping by too with their kids. All of them have been such great support to Lucy’s caregiver, Estella, and to Lucy. I spoke with Lucy for just a few minutes before the phone died. I’m happy to know that so many people are supporting Lucy, and that they are keeping her busy and distracted.

*In the past four days we have received anther $600 in donations! Thank you so much for your kindness, interest, and generosity. Now we only need to raise $3,650 to cover it ALL!

Day 5 Ghana 2012: You Win Some, You Lose Some

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I got up this morning and had yet to recover from my bout with the third-world’s worst stomach ache. There was no way I was putting down our daily omelet and the 2 large pieces of bread that always accompany it. We set out for the school and for the Wednesday morning devotional.

I knew what I wanted to say, but I ran a few things past Curry to be safe. It’s his long-term relationship on the line if I commit some ridiculous faux pas! I really was wishing that I could just communicate directly with the teachers and staff, without the 250 students present, because this wasn’t going to be a Signing Time concert. Turns out, I got my wish. The students were released and the staff was mine. I sent our Team to attend to the students, since all of the teachers were with me.

Curry introduced me and I went for it. I told them my name and introduced Aaron and Leah and reminded those, who had been on staff long enough to remember, that we had come in 2008 with Alex. I thanked them for having Signs of Hope’s programs in their school and I thanked them for allowing us to be there. I signed and spoke, since most of the teachers are hearing, but a few of them are deaf. I shared with them that Leah is deaf and that I have been teaching sign language in America for the past ten years. “Not in a school and not in a class, I teach on a television show. Can you imagine turning on your television and seeing a show that teaches sign language?” Most of them could NOT imagine that. I let them know that I understand and appreciate their struggle and I appreciate their work. I told them that Leah was only one year old when we realized that she was deaf, and I told them how she quickly picked up more 60 signs before the age of two. “I know that many of your students don’t begin communicating in signs until they arrive here at school and they are age 6 or 7. Can you imagine if your students were communicating before they arrived in your class? (They couldn’t imagine that either.) I explained to them the method we use in Signing Time; seeing the written word for literacy skills, seeing the object that we are spelling, and showing the sign for that object. I suggested that they teach all three aspects any time they are discussing a subject, rather than showing them a sign and then letting someone, later, teach the students the written word for it.

I showed them the 13 DVDs I brought, to add to their library. I flipped through the six Signing Time board books and passed them around so that they could see that even in the books we show the written word, the object and we teach the sign. We combine three things at once so that it sticks. I held up one board book and showed the first page, which happened to say “water” and it showed a spigot!! I’ve never been so happy to see a spigot in my whole life!! Together we fingerspelled W-A-T-E-R, pointed out the picture and then made the sign. They were up out of their chairs pouring over the books saying, “We need these!” I reiterated that teaching the three aspects at one time help make the concepts memorable.

Yesterday, one teacher was doing a lesson and she had said it was too difficult to teach the students every word, so she was just teaching them the signs. I was so happy that today, in only a few short minutes, I was able to explain quickly that you can teach deep and it saves time. While on topic, teach it all, rather than teaching the sign one day and bringing in the object on another day, and then trying to connect it to a written word at some point in the future.

I showed them the Baby Signing Time posters and the “ABC & 123” wall posters. (I brought three sets of each.) I said, “If you would like to use these things, I am happy to leave them for you, but if you don’t…” I couldn’t get another word out. They wanted all that I had brought and more!

As I wrapped up, I told them that I want them to know that our intention is not to come to class to judge or criticize them. “We are here to help in any way, whether it’s washing cups, sweeping floors, or supporting your teaching efforts.” Then, I thanked them, but not a simple “thank you.” I said, “I am a mother of a deaf child… and I don’t know how often the parents of your students thank you for your work,” a few of the teachers looked around like, “Right! As if that has ever, or will ever happen!” I continued, “on behalf of your students and the parents of your students, I thank you.” Ok, I had tears in my eyes, so did Curry, and most of the staff did as well. In less than ten minutes hearts were softened, connections happened, fears were laid to rest, and this group who may often feel underprepared, and likely, under appreciated, got the thing we most crave– acknowledgement for hard work. It was over. I was met with hugs and thanks and more “God bless you’s” than I know what to do with.

We headed to class and began opening the posters and going through the signs with the Primary 1, 2 and 3 teachers. Suddenly this trip wasn’t long enough. I was asked to do a teacher training with the staff on Tuesday, but we leave Monday. Another teacher asked if I would come speak to the parents at the PTA meeting in May. Of course, I started to wonder if maybe I could. (Dear Rachel, please remember to save your health and sanity first and foremost, yes, even BEFORE saving the deaf children of the world!) But let me tell you, we moved mountains today, mountains!

We opened up the posters with four eager teachers and I realized that I only had three sets. It was decided by an administrator that the sets would go to the three youngest classrooms and that teacher number four, would have to borrow from the other classrooms if she wanted to use them. This teacher was clearly deflated, quietly stating “my class needs this.” Her class is the class that Pablo and Carissa asked me to help with on the first day. It’s the class where Ellie and Ronai have been working one-on-one with the students. Leah has been in there 90% of the time as well. Remember the older kids that are year one? Turns out that is the Special Education class and this is the class that would have to borrow the new materials.

We were told that one of the boys had been thrown against a wall when his parents found out that he was deaf. They said, “His parents did not handle it well.” We were told that his grandparents are paying for him to attend school. He now has cognitive delays and walks with a limp. Excuse me while I weep. Sure, I mourned Leah’s deafness when it was discovered. I cried myself sick. I believed that her dreams (aka MY dreams for her future) had been ripped out from under us. I am by NO means a perfect parent, just ask my kids, but I don’t believe that I ever equated the fact that my child was missing one of her five senses with “futureless” or “worthless” or anything more than what that really is— deaf. A child who cannot hear is simply a child who cannot hear. The only drama and meaning around it is the drama and meaning that WE ADD to it. The drama and upset are not inherently there. How do I know this? Well, there are some people who rejoice upon discovering that their child is deaf. Leah has said that she hopes to have a deaf child herself. Deaf children are adopted from all over the globe and it’s my opinion that adopted children are the only ones who can know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are wanted.

Deaf equals nothing other than deaf. So much more is added so often. And so, a child who is now cognitively impaired is relegated to a Special Ed. class in a third world country where Special Ed. is deemed the lowest priority when new and helpful communication tools are available. Whose heart it is big enough to hold all of that? That pain. That loss. What this boy’s family had before is what I have right now; Leah is a brilliant and beautiful gift, not only to me and to Aaron, but also to the world.

Today I can’t, I just can’t keep writing. I want to pretend that these things don’t happen.

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

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!!

Let the Singers Sing – Let the Quilters Quilt

Last year my daughter Laura and I were at a craft boutique, “I wish I was crafty” she said as we walked up and down the aisle of beautiful, creative, crafts. “Laura, let the singers sing. Let the dancers dance, and let the crafters craft. We can’t be great at everything. That would just be unfair.” We shared a laugh because she is a dancer and a singer. I am a singer and a song-writer and I don’t think either one of us would really be willing to trade our current talents for some other ones, even for crafty ones.

But, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I was a stay-at-home mom with a toddler and an infant, and I was CRAFTY! I know, you can’t believe it can you? I was a scrapbooker and even before that, I was a quilter!

Fabric is a great medium and when I chose to make one of my very first quilts I went with a motto that seems to come up often in my life as I embark on brand new adventures- “Go Big or Go Home.” (sort of like when I decided to run a marathon as my first race)

My first quilt was a king-sized, tumbling block design and I didn’t know enough about sewing or quilting to actually work smarter, not harder– meaning I sewed EACH piece together (those of you who sew, know to sew in strips when you can and you are cringing on my behalf, aren’t you) Here is my very first quilt, made in 1996 when I was expecting Leah.

Don’t get too impressed. It’s still NOT finished. It’s only the top, and I am just about ready to hire someone to create a back and finish the thing for me because it is 15+ years-old now. (Any takers?)

Perhaps I bit off more than I could chew? Perhaps??? Realizing that, I moved on to smaller things… Baby quilts! I completed a whopping three baby quilts before I took my own advice and I let the Quilters quilt.

In 2008 I had an idea. When I went to Ghana, Africa the second time I purchased fabric while I was there and when I came home I made three baby quilts. These three quilts are actually finished (gasp) and are NOW available for your bidding pleasure on ebay. All funds will go to The Signing Time Foundation for our upcoming trip to Ghana, so go bid wildly. Just click on the quilt you want and you’ll go to straight the eBay auction! These auctions end on January 12th and we leave for Ghana on January 13th.

Yes, these really are handcrafted by me, Rachel Coleman. Talk about limited edition, I’ve now made six baby quilts and one giant unfinished quilt in my entire illustrious quilting career. What a career! Happy bidding~

There are only 11 days left before we take off to Africa, if quilts aren’t your thing you can still “join our party” by making a tax-deductible donation to The Signing Time Foundation. You can also chip-in here: (If you don’t see the chip-in widget, just hit refresh)

Or if you are weary of on-line donations you can always pop a check in the mail:
The Signing Time Foundation
c/o Ghana 2012
870 East 7145 South
Midvale, Utah 84047

I know that going third world is not for everyone, so how about we let the travelers travel and the givers can give.
~Rachel Coleman

46 Days and Counting

The countdown is on! We leave for Ghana on January 13, 2012.. yes, that IS Friday the 13th, so… that’s just… great.

First of all a HUGE thank you to those of you who have donated to The Signing Time Foundation (501c3)! I know you didn’t know it, but if you donated $50 or more, you will be getting a handwritten “Thank You” “receipt” from me, with a photo of us in Ghana. (Obviously that will be coming to you after the trip) and that offer still stands, just click the donate button… Warning: It feels good!





Secondly… we have yet another way for you to contribute!!! Check out our limited edition, Signing Time Foundation Ghana 2012 pewter pins! We are making a limited number of these (because that’s what “limited edition” means) so when they are gone… they are GONE! The best part is that this is a very affordable way to make a difference, each pin is $10 and that includes shipping to your U.S. address – and that means that just about $5 of each purchase goes straight to the Ghana 2012 trip. YeeHaw!

The Hopkins Pin and The Rachel Pin

There are two designs to choose from, Hopkins the Frog and THE Rachel “ILY”. Plus we’re using Paypal to make it really easy to order. Your order will ship in 4-6 weeks. To buy single pins visit www.signingtimefoundation.org (but really… why buy 1 when you can buy 2?)
Warning: Buying things for a good cause makes you a good person… be prepared! (results not guaranteed)

(Ok grownups, these are clearly not meant for young children, so… use your good judgement and good sense about things with small removable parts and sharp points <--- that was my Public Service Announcement and was probably better than saying things like: "don't be a ding-dong")And as always you can Chip-in for Africa below, and yes, I know the chip-in doesn't count the "donate" or "buy now" buttons, but we are also aiming to raise $20,000 not just $5,000. If the chip-in widget doesn't show up, just hit refresh, and it should! Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving~ and that you enjoyed Black Friday and Cyber Monday! MWAH ~Rachel

Going To Ghana 2012


It’s true!! It’s true! The Signing Time Foundation is partnering with Signs of Hope International for a ten day humanitarian mission to spend time with, support, and do service projects for the deaf students in deaf residential schools.

We will be leaving the second week in January, yes time for all of those fun immunization shots again:) Right now there is a team of nine that are going. You will see all kinds of fun and crazy fundraising opportunities coming your way, I am sure something will speak to you. In our fundraising efforts we will be paying the tuition for 9 deaf Ghanaian children to attend the deaf institution. We will also be providing these students with their school supplies for the year.

Plus, what great timing!! It’s almost the end of the year and I am sure there are folks who could use a tax deductible write-off (Yes, The Signing Time Foundation is a 501C3) so empty the coins out of your couches, and ask the organizations that you work for if they would be willing to chip-in. It’s a good thing for some of the most forgotten children.

When we went to Ghana three years ago, I was surprised how many people thanked us for our willingness to actually get on the plane and go, and they said it was something they would never do, but they were happy to make a donation and stay safely at home:) Don’t you just love the honesty?

Going to Ghana in 2008 altered me deeply. I recognized what a “consumer” I was. These deaf children had two outfits and one pair of shoes and that was it. When I returned home, I sat down on the floor of my walk-in closet and wept. In Ghana if you are chubby or fat it is a sign of wealth. You are only lean if you are poor. You are lean because you are hungry and you are doing manual labor and running from one place to another. You are lean because there is no excess. I tried to imagine the Ghanaian children’s response to seeing me running on a treadmill to lose weight, how absurd it might occur to them. Going to Ghana in 2008 gave me the first glimpse of the possibility of transforming my own life and my own body. I promised myself that when I returned I would not be seen as “rich, lazy, and comfortable.”

Leah was also altered when she returned from Ghana in 2008. As soon as we landed in Salt Lake City she declared, “I love my family! I love my school! And I love my country!” She was able to see how blessed she really is just to be born a deaf female in the United States.

Whether you give a lot or a little, it will make a difference. So many of the children were just happy to have a hug and someone to sign with, happy to have others who understand them.

You can make a difference right now by donating through paypal right here: (If you can’t see the chip-in widget, just refresh the page. If you still don’t see it, you can click the paypal donate button) Even small actions can cause huge reactions. Please spread the word and join us in our commitment to put communication in the hands of all children of all abilities.
~Rachel Coleman