In my blog about the Top Ten Things I’ve Learned in Ghana, I mentioned the fact that it takes a long time to get the ball rolling and how frustrating that can be. After spending five months in Ghana, that fact still remains true but I am happy to report that little by little I feel I am making progress in my community! I’ve had many family members and friends asking me what I do day to day, so I thought I would talk a little bit about each of the projects I am currently working on.
In the first term I taught three sections of the second year general agric course and one section of the third year crop husbandry course. While I would not teach all day, I would teach every day and it kept me very busy! I did not go to school to be a teacher, so being handed over four classes totaling nearly 300 students was terrifying at first. As a teacher, I still have a lot of room for improvement but I am constantly encouraged by my inquisitive students to work harder to be a more effective teacher!
The teaching style here is very different than in the U.S. Most teachers here operate their classrooms in the lecturing format during which students rarely take notes. Roughly once a week, the teacher will send their notes with a student in the class and the entire class will copy those exact notes down. As a result, their learning is always very rehearsed and memorized. Whenever I ask for a general definition of a word in class, a student will stand up and quote word for word the definition that is given from the textbook. While this may be desirable in some instances, it really has limited the student’s ability to think critically about situations and apply what they learn in the classroom to their everyday lives.
Experiential and interactive learning is very new to them! I like to get my students up and out of their seats, using their critical thinking skills and brainstorming with their classmates as much as I can. You can about imagine the confusion of the students the first time I asked them to number off and break into groups to participate in classroom discussion…it is all so different for them! I continue to have to remind myself of this fact and be very patient and willing to explain things two or three (or five) times until they understand the activity. It is absolutely worth it, every time. Seeing the lightbulb go off for them as they grasp a concept and watching them actually enjoy learning makes it worth the extra effort.
Every Friday I play some sort of game with my students that reviews the topics we’ve covered throughout the week. The students are SO competitive. One week we played Jeopardy and I thought one of the team
members was going to throw a chair out the window…they were THAT into the game! The students really seem to look forward to these games every week and I’ve noticed that we’ve managed to attract the attention of many of the other teachers and students. Every so often I see them watching me from the windows outside my classroom and some teachers will even approach me and want to learn more about the game they saw me playing with the students. This is encouraging and exciting for me. While I do not claim to be an excellent teacher by any means, I do think that exposing these teachers to a more interactive teaching style can be beneficial to both the students and teachers alike. I’m excited to see what kind of response I can elicit from the teachers with my different teaching style and my emphasis on learning by doing.
Upon my arrival in Kumbungu, there was already an established school garden. I have been put in charge of the garden this year. Let me tell you, it was quite the experience trying to control over 50 students armed with machetes and hoes our first time working on clearing the school garden. After that stressful experience I got smart and assigned two garden prefects from each class to assist me on garden work days. I’m extremely proud of these garden prefects and the initiative they have taken as leaders. They are committed to the success of the garden and I’m excited to see how it will all turn out!
We are now in the dry season here in the Northern Region of Ghana and are fortunate enough to have a water hydrant in our garden. We have divided the garden into four equal plots and I have assigned each class to tend to a particular plot. The garden prefects have developed water schedules to ensure that the garden is watered both morning and evening every day. Earlier in the year we had two varieties of sweet
potato and some lettuce growing in the garden that the students tended to. Now that we are at the start of term two, we are looking to purchase more seeds and get our dry season garden started.
As an AgriCorps member, I do not bring in funds for the projects I carry out. While this makes the project a bit more difficult, I do think it will have nothing but a positive effect to the sustainability of the school garden. Teaching my students how to generate funds, rather than simply expecting them can be an extremely valuable lesson, especially in a developing country that is no stranger to NGO’s and handouts. While I have been appealing to the school for funds to support the school garden, I have also been challenging my students to brainstorm ways in which to raise the funds on our own, should the funds that the school provides turn out to be inadequate to cover our expenses. I’m continually impressed by my students and their entrepreneurial drive. Many of the ideas they had come up with were awesome!
Included in the cost of admission, students pay a fee for practical work expenses. Unfortunately I learned that in my school the practical fees are very rarely used for practical work and are often abused. Kumbungu SHS was recently put under the leadership of a new headmaster, so I saw this as an area of opportunity. I met with the headmaster and made an appeal for some funds for the school garden, with the stipulation that these funds come from the practical fees that the students pay at the start of the
school year. It also allowed me to have a good discussion with the headmaster on the importance of hands on, experiential learning and how this can lead to better results on the student’s WASCE exams. I started this conversation nearly 2.5 months ago and the week before the end of term one, I was finally granted the funds for the school garden. While there were many other quicker and easier ways to obtain seeds for our garden, I do not regret the path I took to get to this point. I truly believe that a point was made that will contribute to the longevity and sustainability of the school garden in the years to come.
With the start of term two and finally having some money to invest in the school garden, I am excited to get started and provide my students with hands on, practical work.
4-H was established in Ghana in 2001 in the Eastern region. Since then 4-H has swept the Eastern Region and has begun creeping into the Northern region. One of the reasons I was placed in the community of Kumbungu is that they had expressed interest in starting a 4-H club. I was sent to help make that happen. Mid-October the Kumbungu SHS had their very first 4-H meeting. I invited the Northern region 4-H Director, Mr. Alhassan, to come to the meeting and brief the members on what the 4-H program was all about and assist with officer elections. We had 150 students attend the meeting, which was phenomenal!
Since then I have been working very closely with the 4-H Club advisor and the officer team in planning upcoming meetings and events. As a co-advisor of the club, I want the officers to take ownership of the club and make the important decisions. I am SO fortunate to have Mr. Fataw as my counterpart 4-H club advisor. He has really bought into the 4-H concept and is doing what an advisor is meant to do: advise, not run the entire club. The students really look up to him and I think this speaks volumes to the sustainability of the 4-H club long after I have returned to the states.
As a new club we are still going through some growing pains and learning how to effectively operate, but the officer team is extremely committed to the success of the club and are bringing in some really great ideas. Near the end of term one, we had a brainstorming session with the club members as a whole to obtain ideas on educational presentation topics as well as fun field trips they would like to see happen. I was so impressed by their ideas! They have expressed interest in learning more about rabbit rearing, field crop storage, how to better prepare for WASCE exams and the importance of opening a savings account. All these ideas were generated from the club members themselves, I left this entirely up to them and made no suggestions whatsoever. It was so cool seeing the students thinking about ways in which to better prepare themselves for the future.
Established in 2012, the Community Club of Kumbungu consists of both male and female farmers in the community. It operates very similar to the 4-H club and conducts projects in community sanitation, vocational education, food security in agriculture, social accountability and peace building. One of the community club members named Armiyaw has really taken me under his wing and was even kind enough to take me to the Kumbungu Fire Festival, which was no small task! He was good to keep me from catching on fire and getting trampled by other festival goers, but that’s a whole other story…
The community club was given a hybrid variety of DuPont Pioneer seed by 4-H Ghana to plant a quarter acre test plot to demonstrate how much better the hybrid variety can perform compared to the local variety. I helped the community club harvest the test plot…all done by hand! I must admit when we first started picking the maize I was very slow! But, by the end of the evening I had become quite the efficient two row harvester and could keep up with the rest of the group! It has been a great opportunity to get to know more farmers in my community. They were impressed with the ear size and yield of the hybrid variety but at first they couldn’t seem to understand why they couldn’t keep some of the seed from the harvest and plant it the following year. This is often done with the local variety, so it seemed strange to them that they couldn’t do the same with the hybrid variety especially because it costs so much! I was glad that I could be there to answer their questions and while I still do not consider myself an expert in Ghanaian agriculture, fortunately I know a thing or two about maize!
Armiyaw accompanied me to a no-till training in Kumasi the week of American Thanksgiving. At the no-till center we learned of the benefits of no-till agriculture and how we can be putting it to use in Northern Ghana. I was so proud of Armiyaw. He was always at the front of the group, asking questions and volunteering to help with demonstrations. He is so passionate about agriculture and helping the farmers in his community progress to more modern farming methods. Armiyaw is working to secure a small plot of land for the community club to run a no-till test plot demonstration for the next growing season. I am excited to assist in those efforts.
The weeks seem to fly by here in Kumbungu and after reading this lengthy post, you probably understand why! My sleep schedule has changed drastically here as well. Because it gets dark by 6:30 p.m. every night I am usually asleep by 8:30 p.m. and up again by 4:30 a.m. It seems like when I’m not teaching I am working with the 4-H club and when I’m not working with the 4-H club I’m out in some farmer’s field. My weekdays are very busy and I wouldn’t want it any other way! For being here for five months, it may seem that I have accomplished very little but I’m excited to be establishing connections with various people and groups that can help get many of these projects off the ground. My to-do list is always growing, but I see that as a good sign. I’m excited to see what 2016 will bring in Kumbungu!
Sarah Tweeten is an Agricultural Communications graduate from Iowa State University. Before becoming an AgriCorps Member, Sarah studied agriculture in Panama and worked with Iowa State Extension and 4-H.