Friday, January 7, 2011

Onward, Ho!

After experiencing our first African rainstorm last night, we slept in ‘til 9 o’clock this morning and awoke to yet another palate-tickling breakfast of eggs, toast, fresh fruit, tea, coffee, and delightful conversation. We then paid a visit to the Special Education Division of Ghana’s Ministry of Education. It really is amazing, the breadth of work we’re gaining experience with here on our trip -- from cleft palate surgeries to educational policy.

Madame Rosemond Blay, the Director of Special Education, and Mr. Patrick Otaah, the division’s acting deputy, welcomed our group with open arms into their office, which was adorned with posters and plaques displaying motivational statements such as “A deaf person can do anything except hear” and “A teacher directs the hand, opens the mind, and touches the heart”.

Once situated, Cate explained to our hosts what it is we do with the medical and educational professionals we’ve been collaborating with while in Ghana, such as Belinda and Clement at the unit school in Kumasi. Cate shared with Madame Rosemond and Mr. Otaah her White Paper written about the special education system in Ghana, as well as the Teacher’s College article highlighting students’ work here last year. (Click links to read.) In turn, Madame Rosemond and Mr. Otaah shared information regarding the structure and current initiatives of the Special Education division, one of ten divisions under the Ministry of Education.

Great efforts have been taken to establish numerous residential schools throughout the country for students with special needs, including vocational schools where dedicated teachers train students in specialized trades. Such trades include carpentry, sewing, and pottery, among many others. In a country where students would remain in the public school system four 20 or 30 years without graduating, these vocational schools have highlighted the strengths of, given skills to, and graduated students to be contributing members in their communities. This has revolutionized the traditional views of persons with disabilities in the country in an immense way, prompting people to realize that people with disabilities are capable of learning, that they do have strengths which they can contribute to society. ‘Twas quite powerful!

Now, we sit aboard our "luxury" bus, making the 5-hour journey eastward to the village of Ho. As the golden sunset creates a glow behind the silhouettes of African trees on the lush green horizon, some of us catch up on sleep missed over the past week while others watch a Ghanaian film featuring cameos of our very own Cate Crowley and several of last year’s team from Columbia. Here in the back of the bus, we’re teaching our Ghanian friend Nick how to speak with a Brooklyn accent and rap the intro from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Outside, countless villages of varying cultures zoom past our eyes, and their inhabitants wave excitedly at us as we pass. I could stare out this bus window for hours.

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