Taking the LEAD.

Much of my efforts this past couple of months have gone to planning a speaking competition for the students of Ghana’s Northern Region. Time is spent contacting sponsors, seeking out judges, reserving venues and helping students prepare to compete.
Unfortunately, public speaking is a completely foreign subject to most kids here. School systems in Ghana don’t value extracurricular activities like they do in the States. Growing up, I remember having Speech and Debate, FFA speaking opportunities, Student Council, and even Drama available to me. Ghanaian schools are very lucky to have one club or activity that resembles one of those I listed. Because of that, introducing public speaking with components of critical thinking to students here has been challenging. Whether it gets lost in translation or topics like parliamentary procedure are just too complicated to teach with such with little time, the students have not been successful in grasping the competition events.image2

I am at the point now where all of the logistics are in place. The venue is booked, the judges are set, and I am even going on the radio to promote the event. With everything ready to go, I am the most anxious I have ever been. Why? Because calling on sponsors is a heck of a lot easier than explaining debate to Ghanaian junior high students. However, something happened just a few days ago that relieved my concern just a bit.
As part of the last effort to help the teams prepare for the competition, I have been going around to schools and helping them sort out any problems they might have with practicing for the competition. In order to do that, I ask the students to show me their progress and show what they know. I sat down in front of about 20 students at a small JHS about 15 minutes
from my house and asked for the students who will be performing the Agriculture Creed (A passage adapted from the FFA Creed, by E.M. Tiffany). The smallest, shyest-looking little girl raised her hand timidly from the middle of the classroom. My first thought was that of doubt and more anxiety for what the regional competition would look like with such unprepared contestants.

The little girl was the first brave soul to volunteer, so I gave her the go ahead to recite what she knew. The sound that came from the little contestant did not match her appearance. A voice of purity and confidence declared the opening line, “I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds.”
I was blown away. How could one of the youngest and most unassuming JHS students be out-practicing and performing her Senior High School level peers? She went through what she knew of the speech with ease and grace when others couldn’t. Not only could she recite the Creed, but 38she could answer personal opinion questions about it, something I have yet to see other Ghanaian students do. The reason she was excelling was simple. She was motivated and open to a new experience. The older kids all have been in the system long enough to where change is their enemy and this new type of competition was eating their lunch, while the young contestants were picking it up with vigor. Deep down, I hope this girl’s practice performance is foreshadowing for the actual competition, because who doesn’t love to see the little one rise to the occasion when odds are against them?


Peter Cohen is an Agricultural Communications graduate from Oklahoma State University. Before becoming an AgriCorps Fellow, Peter traveled to Costa Rica and Ethiopia to learn about international agriculture.