Day 10 Ghana 2012: Leah’s Wisdom

Monday, January 23, 2012
Last night we stayed up late and packed. We still have no running water. It was a really hot and miserable night. Jen and I are sharing a room. I woke up and saw that she was all cocooned up in her light blue sheet, (we brought our own sheets to use on top of the hotel bedding). The power was on and the fan was near her, so I said, “Jen, if you are too cold and want to kill the fan, go for it.” She peeked her head out and reached over and hit the “off” button. Immediately were hit with hot and humid air. It was so fast! “Ah!” I groaned, “or… you can feel free to turn it back on!” We both started laughing, as she quickly turned the fan back on.

Today is our last day. Curry, Aaron, Leah, Jen and I got up early and went to visit the deaf school in Koforidua. It’s very different from the school in Mampong. The Koforidua school has two vocational programs for their students, one trains them in the art of batik fabrics. The teacher walked us through the process.

I told her that Leah is an artist and the teacher suggested that Leah could stay with her for a few months and learn to do batik. I, for one, cannot think of a better option if Leah has rough teenage years. It’s nice to have an open invitation to a third world country for vocational training and a reality check, that’s for sure! The fabrics are beautiful and some of the designs are hand drawn in wax, while others are stamped, with carved wooden stamps, that have been dipped in the wax. The school sells this fabric to help pay for the cost of the programs.
(Click on photos to enlarge)

Every year, Signs of Hope visits and purchases large amounts of the batik fabric. Last time Curry came and purchased their fabric, the program used that money that to buy a new serger. The school also has a leatherwork program. The students are trained to make sandals, wallets, and belts.

This deaf school also has a special education class, the children are taught to Batik as well. We were told “their work is not perfect, but it’s still a good opportunity for them to learn.” Today was the first time that I saw children who have Down syndrome here in Ghana.

Today was a special day, because I was able to meet up with Amma, who is the mother of Shirley, who follows me on twitter. Shirley had seen me tweet when she found out about our Team going to Ghana. Her mother happened to be there already and had brought Signing Time DVDs with her for their family members. Amma met up with us at the Deaf school and took the tour with us. She has started the Kentucky Academy a Kindergarten program that also feeds the children. They currently have 100 children in their program.
It was great meeting Amma and she was excited to see the deaf school too. She and her husband have a group of volunteers that come from the University of Kentucky and she said that in the future their volunteers could stop by this deaf school when shopping for fabric. She asked me how, with all of my fans, I even saw the tweet from her daughter, let alone took the time to respond. I told her, it’s because I am not “a real celebrity”, it seems that “real celebrities” just collect followers, but rarely interact with them.

We went back to Mampong and made a hurried visit to Aburi. I stopped by Modest Fashions and got my dresses.

Then we went to the wood district and got the Wooden Probar.

I rushed across the road to see how Lucy’s wooden lollipop was coming along. My wood-carver was nowhere to be seen, but his Uncle handed me a cell phone. “Madam, I am sorry. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the lollipop.” I was pretty bummed. The one thing Lucy had asked for and I wasn’t going to deliver. I walked back across the street where Aaron was still talking to Sammy. When I told them what happened, Sammy said, “I will make you a wooden lollipop by three o’clock!” We left for a few hours and when we came back…

We went to Mampong for lunch and had the most delicious chicken, rice and fried plantains. We all ate until we were stuffed!

We went back to the school for our last visit.

We hugged the children, told them goodbye and many of them pointed to the sky and told us that they would watch for us in an airplane flying over their heads.

As we made our way from the school grounds to toward the road we noticed a young woman who was signing and then we noticed that the person with her put their own hands beneath hers as they replied. Miracle of miracles, it was Sylvia! Leah and I went over and began signing with her. She was pretty confused at first and asked for her translator. Then Sylvia put her hands on Leah’s and Leah told her, “I am Leah.” Sylvia touched Leah’s face and hair, and recognized her, “Leah? You have grown! Your hair is braided too.”

Sylvia told us that she is now in high school, she passed the tests and is now the very first deaf-blind student all of Ghana to enter high school. We congratulated her, talked a little more and then really had to go. We needed to pack, load the tro-tro and get to the airport. The rest of our Team had moved on without us, but it was okay. Leah and I said our goodbyes to Sylvia and then, I took my daughter’s hand and we walked down the dirt road to the street. My eyes were full of tears and I glanced over and noticed tears streaming down Leah’s cheeks. She was smiling. I signed, “What is it?” She signed back, “Mom, she’s the proof. Sylvia is the evidence that anything is possible. She’s a deaf, blind, Ghanaian girl who is now in high school and plans to go to college. Mom, it’s not our circumstances that keep us from reaching our dreams. It’s our excuses that keep us from reaching our dreams.”

I put an arm around her and we walked. The sun was setting. The sky was smoky. We were both hot and tired. I couldn’t help but think back to the day in 1998 when Aaron and I found out that our one-year-old toddler was deaf. I had cried. I wept. That day, I imagined many, many different things, things that my baby girl could never do. I also imagined many things that I would have to give up, like writing and performing music. Honestly, what I couldn’t do back then was imagine all of the wonderful things that would happen to us. I couldn’t imagine the countless friends that we would have around the country and around the world. I couldn’t foresee how many lives we would touch, or how many children we would help with their communication. I had no idea of the many, many lives that would impact ours.

“I’m going to come back, you know.” I said to Leah.
“I know, mom” she said, “I’m coming back too.”

Day 9 Ghana 2012: Be The Change

Sunday January 22, 2012
It has been hot, but today seemed hotter. Maybe that’s because we have no running water. The power has been on and off, mostly off.

Today Marco and Hannah came over for a little visit. It was great spending time with them.

Ronai and Jen followed some locals who were going to church. Their plan was to peek in on the services. Turns out they ended up being the main event. They were brought up to the front of the congregation, songs were sung to them and blessings and prayers were said for them. Oh, and they danced while the members of the church caught their dancing on video with cell phones.

When they came back to tell us about their adventure, both Curry and Marco had basically summed it up before Jen or Ronai could even say a word. Curry’s volunteers have had that same idea before, and from all accounts there is no sneaking in, or sneaking out for that matter. Marco was laughing so hard when we told him where Jen and Ronai had gone. He said, “They might come back having been baptized. They could be the newest converts!”

The preacher had asked them their names so he could pray for them. Their names are Jennifer and Ronai… so he blessed their work, their group and blessed everything our hands touch, for good. He blessed, “Jennifer and her friend”… (Long pause.) Heh, heh. Jen and Ronai smiled, it’s not the first time someone wasn’t quite sure of Ronai’s name, (it sounds like Renee but with an O. Ro-Nay). But, the preacher continued, “her friend, whose name is so powerful we cannot speak it!”

You can guess what we call Ronai now.
Here’s a link to Ronai’s Ghana Blog :)

Marco and Hannah left and lead most of our group on a “hike” exploring the back roads and visiting the cocoa farm.

Hannah works at the school’s kitchen so she took them on a tour of that too.

Can you imagine cooking for 250 students without an oven or fridge? Love the wheels though, those still make me smile.

I stayed at the hotel because I was anticipating company. Five years ago I took a course through Landmark Education and it really impacted my life. I have since continued taking various courses over the years and one of my Seminar Leaders happens to have a son-in-law who lives in Ghana. I had planned to meet Anthony on Sunday. He lives a good 45 minutes away from where we are staying. Cell signal is hit and miss, but when I finally got ahold of him he told me that his ride had not shown up. We made a new plan to meet in Accra at the airport on Monday night before I fly out. I hope it happens.

Carissa, Pablo, and I sat under a ceiling fan and chatted for a while. Carissa works with The Signing Time Foundation and she coordinates my outreach events when they are partnerships with Instructors in our Signing Time Academy. Since Carissa lives in Portland, it has been nice to sit face-to-face and discuss the evolution of Signing Time and its many offshoots. We’ve been able to chat about upcoming outreach events too. (It looks like I’m coming to Boston MA, Sacramento CA, Portland OR, Peoria IL, and Fremont CA this year. So far.)

When our crew returned, we went up to the school to play with the students.

When we arrived at the school campus the school bus pulled up. The JSS students (middle school) had gone to Accra to attend a deaf church there. They were all dressed in clean white shirts. (How do they keep those whites so white?) Some of the oldest students are now allowed to grow their hair out so that the students at the vocational salon have heads of hair to practice on. Many of the JSS students remembered us from our 2008 visit and “Where’s Alex?” was a frequent question. It’s easy conversing with the JSS students, they are smart and they are getting/understanding their education. Many of them said that they love JSS, and that the Primary School had been boring.

Carissa, who is in an interpreting program, was telling some of the teachers here that some of her teachers, back home, are deaf. They did a double take. They couldn’t imagine deaf teachers being allowed to instruct hearing students. I had never considered how bizarre this would seem to them, since they have deaf teachers at the school, but the deaf teachers here teach deaf students. They asked if there are deaf doctors, deaf accountants or deaf bankers. They asked if the deaf were allowed to drive and how they accomplished that. Of course, Carissa answered all of those questions and the teachers looked back and forth in disbelief.

The high school has expanded and they are working on building more dorms for the students. It has been explained to us that one of the biggest problems in the high school is that even though English is the official language in Ghana, the deaf students are not graduating with enough English proficiency to be accepted at any of the colleges in the US. They are not equipped to realize their dreams of attending Gallaudet or similar universities. Signs of Hope was trying to implement an English program in the high school, but the headmaster there has a very specific way of doing things, and from what I hear, it seems to involves outside organizations first donating large amounts of money in order to bring in any program at all. (Rachel grabs her braids and pulls them in frustration!) This situation will likely persist until there is a change in staff. I JUST HAD AN IDEA!!!! The Primary School and JSS both have programs through SOHI. What if we bring in English programs before high school! What if we could implement an English reading and writing intensive program? (Why do I suddenly envision myself living in Ghana for a good portion of the year?)

In November and December I was doing some soul searching. I was wondering what my life is for. Not a cry for help, mind you, I was just considering 2012 and what problems are worthy of my life. I mean it. Is there a cause that I would die for? Of course I have day-to-day problems like everyone else, like Lucy’s Science Fair Project that’s due the day we get back home.(Eek!) But, honestly, if altering the future for a group of “forgotten” individuals was possible, well, I dare say THAT would be worth living for and worth dying for.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the plight of many Americans is summed up in one question: Am I happy?
It’s dangerous. We run around in pursuit of happiness and all we need to do is stop running. Hold still. Experience reality. Be grateful. Give something away. Surprise someone else. Be a little kinder. Be a little gentler. Be just a wee bit less judgmental. Be the change we wish to see in the world. Give others the space to have their own beliefs. Let go of the assumption that our point of view is the correct one.

What if peace, love, and happiness is not about more, bigger, and better. What if it’s about disappearing your “self” in service of others?

Signs of Hope comes back to Ghana with volunteers in May…

Tomorrow is Monday. Tomorrow we go home.