Saturday, August 28, 2010

Making Books in Ho

Our wonderful summer volunteer Beverly Baller has done it again! Round two of the 2010 Summer bookmaking project near the village of Ho in the Volta region of Ghana has exceeded all expectations.

Beverly writes, "The book club celebration was truly amazing! In addition to the kids, some parents, and staff members; a bunch of district level supervisors, local Ghanaian army members, and even a pastor. All said, there were many speeches and the local people are so excited to be the newest school in Ghana entering this partnership. They want to become a model school and share the knowledge with schools in other nearby townships. Most importantly, they were impressed by the kids books and are eager to support the continuation of the project on a year round basis; ISABT is psyched today!

It was also just plain fun. It makes all the hard work over the course of the week worth it. Book making is tough, tiring, and challenging. The week starts off mellow, crescendos around Thursday when the finished product is uploaded to the computer, and finally printed into hard copy form for distribution. Speaking of distribution, would you even believe one of the administrators visiting from the district bought, yes paid for, two of the books. A local military policeman got Quame’s phone number and wants us to visit his hometown to “teach him to read and write.” Even though I only had a week with them and felt like I barely even had a chance to connect with them, the kids let out a huge cheer when my presence was announced in the opening introductions. I almost shed a tear on the spot: they must have actually really enjoyed the program! Maybe they even like me too. Either way, it was one of those touching moments that a teacher never forgets. Just to make sure of it, they presented me with a one-of-a-kind Kente cloth inscribed with my name and the words thank you written in Ewe. Unbelievable, once in a lifetime experience; of course I suspect that the extended members of the Ho crew had that one arranged for me and Quame specially. They really know how to make a Yevu (foreign) lady feel comfortable and welcome!"

Working in schools in Ghana is not only great for the students and teachers but it is just as rewarding for our volunteers. As Beverly puts it,"Being out here is really improving my teaching skills, I feel like I have a better sense of how to reach more kids, and I also am becoming more comfortable in my own skin. At first it was awkward, teaching general education literacy, being so far outside my background and realm of experience; but I find that instructional styles and strategies transcend style and subject matter. I am really getting the hang of it and realizing that I have more flexibility and abilities in education than I ever realized."

This experience has been rewarding on both a professional level and on a personal one, "the guys here in Ghana (Quame, Wisdom, George, Nii, Yaw, Jon, Prosper, and Joe) are restoring not just my faith in men, but in people period. They are all so nice it’s almost ridiculous. I have to watch my American tendencies to refuse generous offers because they genuinely wish to do it for no reason at all other than the fact that they are just damn good people. How many of us are that real and selfless? No offense to those of you reading this from back home, but I think most of us have some work to do in that department, myself included."

Congratulations to Beverly on another splendid project!
Mudo! (Ewe for thank you)

You can read the new stories written in the Volta here

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Making Books in Ghana with volunteer Beverly Baller

We are so blessed to be working with our newest volunteer Beverly Baller this year in Ghana. Beverly is a New York City School teacher who has generously donated her time and expertise to help our Book Club students refine their reading and writing skills. She just completed a two week writing/ publishing program in Elmina to rave reviews and is now off to work with a school  in the village of Kpetoe in the Volta region .

Beverly wrote to us about her students at Elmina Junior High School "they (the students) are all truly bright and hardworking. I come in to the school at eight am and the majority of them are sitting quietly already working on their stories.  Since they are all members of the book club, they all want to be there and actually volunteered their time as it is technically their holiday.  They love reading and writing and are so excited to author their own books!  Their stories are amazing – ranging from happy to sad, funny to serious – mostly following the traditional Ghanaian/African style of folktales using the animal kingdom.  All their stories are incredible!  Especially when you start to consider that for them English is actually a second language.  In some cases the spelling and grammar will need a bit of work but their ideas are excellent, very creative and cool."

We would like to thank Beverly for working so hard, her dedicated efforts have made the first part of this project a complete success! Overcoming all odds and burning the midnight oil she was able to help over 20 students publish 34 new books to be added to the Ghana online Library.

At the end of the 2 week book cycle the school in Elmina hosted a Book Celebration. Beverly writes to us about it, "By the grace of God, the power held out (there are frequent blackouts) and we managed to get all thirty-four books printed and ready to present.  Quame even got the press involved and a local media outlet will be printing a story about the program on Monday.  The kids had a great time.  They each received the books they had written, as well as a mineral (soda) and meat pie from Elle to snack on.  Many staff members from the school came and made speeches, as did I (see below).  It was truly inspirational.  There was a definite emphasis on the importance of continuing the program on an on going basis and teachers are already discussing with their administration ways to build time into the school year for creative writing and story telling.  So overall a success! "

You can see the latest books here

We thought we would share the speech Beverly gave at the Elmina Junior High School Book Club Celebration.

Speech for the Book Club Celebration
at Elmina Junior High School
By Bev Baller

Akwaaba – Welcome everyone and Madeasse – thank you for being here with us to celebrate these incredibly talented young men and women.  Let’s pause for a second and give them all a hand for their hard work and achievements (Clap).  For the last few weeks, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with these intelligent and hardworking individuals, and for that, I am very grateful.

As you may already know, I am here on behalf on the International School for the Arts, Business, and Technology, a US based non-profit founded by my wonderful cousin, Jonathan Thurston.  The premise of the program is to read, create, and share!  This represents the on-going cycle of learning the writers undergo wherein the read books, are inspired to create their own, and then share them with their peers.  Through the reading of others stories and ideas, writers are again challenged to create and improve their own writing.

We start out by talking about the parts of a good story: the beginning, middle, and end.  In the beginning, writers introduce their characters, setting, and introduce the conflict or issue that drives their story.  In the middle, writers describe in detail the sequence of events that occurs in regards to the conflict or issue that the story is about.  And finally, in the end, writers wrap up their story by resolving the conflict in a meaningful way that accurately represents the characters involved. 

Once we have the foundation for the story we work on improving our writing through the use of descriptive language and character development.  Students learned about using adjectives, similes, and metaphors to bring their writing to life for the readers of these stories.  After that, writers work to develop their characters not just through descriptive language but also through their actions; and are encouraged to build their stories around the characters unique personalities and the challenges they face.  Finally, we work on illustrating our story.  We know good writers use these images to help tell their stories more clearly and give the reader a mental picture of our writing.

For the last two weeks, these amazing students have worked hard to write and illustrate their own books.  Please join me in celebrating the hard work they have done by sharing in the reading of their stories.  Hopefully, this will inspire you to do some writing of your own.  I believe it is critical that this program continues.  It gives students a creative voice, and opportunity to share their unique experiences and knowledge within their communities and in communities throughout the world.

Instead of simply reading stories written by other people from other places, students are encouraged to create traditional African stories like those of their ancestors; folk tales that sometimes utilize animals to teach lessons about life, friendship, love, morals, and values.  For every class that completes a cycle of this program, they are left with many books that they can use in the educational activities.  These stories, like other books, can be used in the classroom for comprehension and writing activities.  

In this way, schools here in Africa can empower themselves to overcome challenges such as a lack of resources and texts that students have difficulty relating to.  More importantly however, it teaches students that they are powerful and capable of creating and sharing their own knowledge.  They are no longer passive receivers of the teacher’s wisdom, but rather, they become equally important and are encouraged to think for themselves and develop the tools they will need to be successful as adults.  It is my hope and dream that this group of talented young men and women will continue this program long after I have left and for years to come.  I know that with the support of the wonderful staff at this school and my partner Quame, that vision will become a reality. 
I want to take this opportunity to present George, an English teacher here and the staff leader of the Elmina club with a digital camera and a web-cam to continue this important work in the fall.  I also want to thank him, Charles, and the students for welcoming me into their school and coming to work with me this August in what could have been their summer holidays.  You are all wonderful people and I am confident you will go on the do great things – whatever it is you dream of for your life, believe me, you can accomplish it.  I will never forget my time and you too, have inspired me, to read, create, and share.  Thank you very much – madasse pa pa – for you have touched my heart, spirit, and soul.  May God bless you all!