I Will Go – To Ghana
By Stacy Fitzwater
Children ages 5 to 15 clamored for our attention. Come, play on the dirt field. Come, ride my bike, see my classroom, walk to the water hole. Welcome, we are glad you are here!
As we stepped foot into Kpaachiyili village in Ghana for the first time, my five traveling partners and I couldn’t help but smile at the eager faces welcoming the strangers to their home. It was suddenly easy to forget the multiple plane rides, short nights and the hourlong drive on rough roads from Tamale, Ghana, to this remote village. We were finally here, and it was time to get to work.
Our traveling team was made up of five members of the Odyssey Preparatory Academy Family of Schools (www.odyprep.com) a public charter school in the West Valley of Phoenix. I was accompanied by two fellow administrators and two high school students, and we were led through Ghana by the Water Projects Director of Water is Life. Our mission was twofold: to install two water catchment systems at the village school to provide clean drinking water and to conduct a four-day training for teachers at the Kpaachiyili Primary School.
What brought this team of six to a remote village in Ghana in April 2018? The story began in 2011 when the Odyssey Preparatory Academy (Odyssey), a school founded by local teachers in Buckeye, Ariz., developed a partnership with Water is Life.
Over the years, Arizona students and teachers raised money for drinking straws, bucket filter systems and a pump to bring water from the distant watering hole to the small village. Kpaachiyili affectionately became referred to as Odyssey’s sister school. When Water is Life members branched off and founded iWilGo, whose mission is to “work to alleviate poverty — creating generations of bright futures through education and opportunity” (iwilgo.org), the shift in focus from water to education created a perfect opening for Odyssey’s involvement beyond fundraising. Having thrown my own hat in the ring as an interested staff member in our international partnership, I was asked to join the team and bring my experience with curriculum development and teacher coaching. “Sure,” I said, “I will go!”
Our first day in Kpaachiyili included learning the formalities of greeting the village chief and council and visiting the school building and water source. We inquired about the progress of the hand-washing program that had been started a few years ago, and their recently earned Open Defecation Free status, which affords them an opportunity to receive government funding for a school feeding program. We loaded into our vehicles for the bumpy, dusty road back to the Catholic Guest House in Tamale, eagerly looking forward to our return the next day to meet the teachers.
The Kpaachiyili Primary School teachers arrived by motorbike (if they did not reside in the village) and came dressed in their best. Though initially (and understandably) wary of three white American women coming to train them, the Ghanaian teachers were open to showcasing their own teaching styles and curriculum, and they also were eager students — often playing the role of playful elementary school students — creating opportunities for discussions about real challenges in their own classrooms.
Our four days of training often felt more like play than work: teaching grown men how to play variations of tag and recess games that encourage practicing English conversation. We purchased concrete materials at the local market to demonstrate how to teach phonics and spelling and brought cards and dice to teach games that practice math skills. We introduced “Morning Meeting” and small-group instruction while their own students looked in from the open windows.
As is usually the case with such intense experiences, I believe we learned as much (if not more) from our new teacher friends as they did from us. We ended the week with an opportunity for teachers to showcase their newly learned teaching strategies and closed by presenting certificates to each teacher. Before we could load back into our vehicles, the village came together in a beautiful sharing of music and dance as a send-off. We departed with full cameras and heavy, heavy hearts having left a little of ourselves in Kpaachiyili.
Before returning to the United States, we were fortunate to have opportunities to explore more of Ghana, including a Jeep safari in Mole National Park where we encountered elephants and a sobering tour of a slave trade museum on the beautiful Cape Coast. We were keenly aware of the contrast in what we saw, from mud huts and thatched roofs in remote villages to resorts on the coast; from five-star restaurants and hotels to the slums in the capital of Accra. Still, nothing has stayed with me like the faces of those teachers, traveling over an hour on dirt roads, one-way, every day, for the sake of their students. It has certainly given me a new perspective on our own challenges in schools in the United States, and it motivates me to continue our partnership with Kpaachiyili.
If given the opportunity to travel to Ghana again, I know I will respond, “I will go.”