Look how tall it is!

This was the best machete day! My current favorite farm task is machete-ing weeds, and today John took us to work in a field that had some really tall weeds! We usually just do short grass. This was so much better! It was as satisfying as chopping down corn stalks. You smack them really hard with your machete and then just watch them fall. It was definitely much harder than clearing the short stuff, but it was also a million times cooler. Worth it.

The kids carrying rocks through the schoolyard

Nick, Avy, Anna, and I went to Baptist after breakfast and were met by a stream of kids with pans and buckets of rocks on their heads. Typical. There were some big piles of stones in the schoolyard, and the kids were helping to move them to someone’s house in the village who was probably going to use them for some construction work. I didn’t get the whole story, but it’s not really important. Even after being here for almost 3 months and seeing things like this happen all the time, I’m still impressed by the kids and what they’re capable of. They’re always carrying heavy things on their heads or going to get you a chair to sit on or offering to carry your bag or running errands for the school or chopping something with a machete. It’s really an awesome part of the culture here. Kids are taught to help from such a young age.
After the rocks were finally finished being moved, class started. I was planning to help Everlasting in P2, but Nick was teaching P4 because their teacher was out sick. I thought I would be more helpful if I went with him, so the two of us worked on teaching P4 math. They’re supposed to be learning about some more advanced things with operations, but after looking at the homework, we realized that they’re don’t even understand the basics. Due to that, we just taught them some foundational stuff about operations (for example, in addition, the order of the terms doesn’t matter, but in subtraction, it does). By the end, it seemed like they were getting it, but it’s hard to measure that without grading an exercise or a homework.

Music class!

Just before lunch, I joined Everlasting and Anna in P2 for creative arts class. This week’s topic – music! They were supposed to be learning about making their own instruments. Anna made some shakers last night using beans, jars, and toilet paper rolls, but we don’t have nearly enough resources for their whole class to be able to make one. Instead, we brought what we had, split the class into groups, and gave the shakers to one group at a time. The rest of the groups got a beat to make, and we did a couple rounds of making “music” with each group doing their beat. If I’m being honest, they all sounded horrible (probably because Anna and I didn’t plan beats ahead of time, so they didn’t mesh well together), but the kids had a great time so who cares?

​Normally we don’t work on Fridays because we’re travelling, but we’re staying in town this weekend to be here for the new volunteers. I think Avy wanted to take a mental health day, but I pressured her into coming with me. Pretty sure she was just going to come along for moral support and then ended up teaching English. I helped though! Sorry, Avy…

The front of the classroom.. Try teaching with the floor like this and not tripping. It’s a challenge.

I graded the homework while Avy did some phonics work. It took me forever because it was HORRIBLE. For English, they just had to say what greeting they would use at five different times throughout the day. For Math, they had to write five numbers in words. It was so bad that probably 25% of the class got “3” wrong. This is what I’m talking about with the whole “the kids are unlearning what they already know” thing. They absolutely know how to say “3”, but they panic because they think it’s more complicated than that. We re-taught the greetings and the numbers and then gave the kids a math test. I honestly don’t even want to grade it because I don’t have high expectations.

Horrible quality.

Today’s big event of the day at school was a sand delivery! Exciting! Somehow, nothing here ends up being simple. The sand delivery is because the floors in the school were constructed horribly when the school was first built, so now the classrooms all have giant potholes in the floors. They’ve since fixed three out of six of them, and Avy is using some of the money she raised before coming to fix the rest. The sand truck came to bring the sand they’ll need for the project, but the ground is so soft from all the rain we had recently that the truck got stuck and just dumped the sand there. Luckily, Everlasting, the P2 teacher who has been helping to coordinate the job, said that it was okay because he thought that might happen and asked the kids to bring pans to school. The upper primary kids spent part of the morning carrying sand (on their heads, of course) from the dump location to the school. I think it’s hilarious that all of the kids actually brought pans with them, and it’s awesome that they’re always doing things to help out around the school.

The relocated sand pile. You can see more kids coming with sand on their heads from the left side of the picture.

We headed home after lunch, and guess what??? Best day ever!! (Yes, I know that I claim best day ever pretty often, but so what?) Everlasting has a bike, and he offered to let me borrow it for the weekend when Avy said something about how I miss my bike. With no hesitation, he said I could take it over the weekend. How cool is that?? I haven’t decided how I’m going to handle riding on the road here, but maybe if I go early in the morning, there won’t be many cars out.

The rest of the day was spent just cleaning and organizing to get ready for the new volunteers. Avy and I moved my bed around, so I hopefully will get better air circulation from the fan and won’t wake up every morning feeling melted and gross. I actually think I like the new setup better anyway. Fingers crossed that Joe puts all of the new volunteers in the other room, and our room can stay just the two of us! We finally found out (maybe) that we’re getting six new volunteers, 4 girls and 2 guys, 5 teaching and 1 medical. That means zero agriculture (unlike the 2 that they told me before), but I’m thinking that maybe I’ll be able to convince some new people to come along anyway. I really hope so.

​I feel mostly better today! Though I’m not sure if that’s because my body is actually recovering or if the meds are just masking the issues, and as soon as I stop taking them I’ll be right back to where I was on Monday (dramatically laying on the couch). For now, I’m just going to be happy and not question it.

Our classroom! When the weather is nice, it’s actually not bad. We brought rubber bands to tie the window shutters open so that there’s more light and air circulation, and that makes a huge difference. We’re trying to figure out a better way to hold them open that can be implemented in all of the classrooms.

When we got to school this morning, the place looked deserted. There were no kids or teachers anywhere to be seen. As we got closer, we could hear some noise coming from one of the classrooms. It turns out that first period on Wednesdays is Worship, and they had somehow managed to squeeze the entire school into ONE room. I seriously don’t know how they did it. That’s probably about 200 kids in a single classroom, plus the windows were closed so there’s no way it wasn’t 5000 degrees in there. It ended maybe 5 minutes after we arrived, and kids just kept pouring out of the room. Next week we want to get there early so we can see the whole worship and also understand how it’s physically possible.

One thing that’s in terrible condition is the floors. They didn’t have a lot of money when they built the second part of the school, so the quality of the floors is terrible. One of the teachers told us that they started breaking within 6 months. Avy is planning to use some of the money that she fundraised before coming to help fix the floors.
Avy worked with the kids on phonics again while I graded the homework. I actually really like grading. I think it’s fun to see how the kids are doing (though if they aren’t doing well, I start getting annoyed). Avy also said that when she first started with the class, she had a lot of trouble getting them to do homework. Now, more and more of them do it each day, and today, everyone turned something in! I can’t say that it was all good, but at least it’s a start. The homework we give them isn’t even that much of a time commitment. It’s usually 5 English questions and 5 Math questions that are exactly what we did in class, so if they paid attention and understood anything, it should take maximum 20 minutes.
Machetes all over the ground during the assembly. This is so typical, and I’m starting to just get used to it. I had to consciously remind myself that this is funny, not normal.

During the first break, there was a surprise assembly (as in, a surprise for us but pretty sure all of the other teachers were aware). First, they split the whole school into three teams which apparently they’re going to use to have a competition throughout the year. The headmaster kind of explained it, but I’m not too sure about how it’s going to work. I think it’s a way to break them up to do the different chores at school (such as machete-ing the grass, sweeping, cleaning up the school grounds, etc). Second, they appointed the class prefects. I also don’t know what that means, but I do know that each time someone’s name was called, the other kids cheered loudly, and the person who got picked didn’t seem thrilled. Third, they let the kids know that tomorrow there will be a mass drug administration to prevent worms and bilharzia (you can google them if you want, but if you don’t know I recommend preserving your ignorance). This whole thing took about an hour and a half, and then it was time for lunch… so much for math class. We let the kids eat, did a quick math lesson and assigned some homework, and headed home. Not the most productive school day, but I’m starting to get used to that.

I’m finally starting to feel like I hit my groove at the farm, and that’s usually when things start going wrong. As soon as you’re feeling too confident, something happens to put you back in your place. We sowed another corn field this morning, and I was actually managing to move at an acceptable pace! I think I have the technique figured out. Things were going great! Anddd then I was an idiot and started being overconfident and managed to cut my pinky finger with my machete. 

Amber’s masterpiece

I was so embarrassed and we only had about 15 minutes left and I didn’t want the guys to know what had happened, so I was planning on just pretending nothing was wrong and finishing the work. Great plan except that apparently fingertip cuts bleed excessively. After about 1 minute of trying to keep going, I had to stop and signal to Amber to come help me. We didn’t have a band aid and didn’t want to ask, so she took the random objects (some string and a water bag) I had in my bag and pulled something together. Once we got back to the house, she cleaned it out and put an actual band aid on. It’s really not that bad (so Mom, stop freaking out).
After breakfast, we went around to the three schools we’re working with. We’ve spent a lot of time at EP, but I hadn’t been to Baptist or the junior high yet. We met the headmasters of both schools and talked a bit about what we can do to help out. Baptist still doesn’t have a teacher for P3, so that’s good…

Group machete time

Anyway, today was still a cleaning day so the kids were outside, chopping down some of the tall grass around the school with machetes. I’m glad that a bunch of 10 year olds can handle their machetes better than I can. It was a good morning for my ego.

The view from the orphanage

In the afternoon, James had plans to go to the orphanage to train their soccer team, and we all decided to go with him. I haven’t been yet, and I was interested to see it. That’s where the food from the farm goes. It’s about a 20 minute tro ride and a 15 minute walk from our house. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the situation there. They have about 35 kids, and they all have their own beds and there are flush toilets and running water. They definitely aren’t living in luxury or anything, but it’s actually probably a step up from our house. The floors are even tiled!

The girls’ bedroom

WAIT. There’s more. They have a washing machine. Yes, an actual clothes washing machine. And it works! I almost lost my mind. I actually had a dream last week where we got a new house with a washing machine and I almost cried I was so happy. It’s funny the things you end up missing… I don’t think I would have put that on my list ahead of time. I probably would have mentioned running water, but I’m actually doing just fine without that. Anyway, they also have an oven and a microwave and a couch. Mmm I also miss my couch. It’s okay though. We’ll have a beautiful reunion in November.

Looking out from the orphanage porch
A couple of the kids insisted on borrowing Amber’s and my sunglasses and then begged me to take a picture

Okay sorry, I got distracted. Like I was saying, it was nice to see what we’re working for at the farm every day. We got home just before dinner and then spent the night assembling school supply bundles for the kids at EP and Baptist. Avy raised money before she came to be used wherever she saw a need, and after seeing how many kids don’t have what they need to be successful at school, she started looking into getting some supplies for everyone. Each kid is going to get a notebook and a pencil case with a pencil, pen, eraser, sharpener, and ruler. They’ll still need more notebooks and the pencils won’t last all year, but it’s a start! It’s also good motivation for the kids because who doesn’t love new school supplies? We all helped put the pencil cases together, and they’ll be distributed to all of the kids later this week.

Happy first day of school! Today at the farm, we did something new! A few weeks ago, Nico brought up the point that it would be good for the eggplants if we trimmed off the leaves that are damaged or close to the ground or aren’t really capturing any sunlight. Apparently then the plant can put more energy into growing bigger eggplants rather than wasting it on growing leaves that aren’t contributing anything. 

One of the eggplants after Nico attacked it with scissors

This morning, he showed Amber and me which leaves we should be cutting, and we went through one whole eggplant field. I’m just hoping I didn’t kill any of the plants… When in doubt, I left more leaves (and then Nico trailed behind me saying, “why did you leave this one? It’s worthless!” and cutting off all the additional ones he thought should go).

After breakfast, we headed over to EP, the primary school where we held summer school, to have a meeting with the principal and see the kids cleaning. The meeting was mostly just a formality. Joe introduced us to the principal, who we’d mostly already met because of summer school, and he welcomed us to the school. That’s basically it. Meanwhile, the kids were all sweeping and moving desks and getting the classrooms ready. Everyone went to their rooms from last year, and the principal went one classroom at a time to relocate the kids who were moving up a grade. It might seem like that’s weird and that all of the kids should just move, but there are quite a few who don’t advance each year for one reason or another.

A cool bug we found on one of the plants

To give you a better idea of the school situation here, there are three public primary schools in Frankadua (EP, Baptist, and Roman Catholic) and two public junior highs (Roman Catholic and I don’t know what the other one is called). We don’t work with Roman Catholic, so we’re just in the other two primary schools and junior high. There isn’t a senior high school in town. Any kids who go to high school have to travel to Juapong. I talked to one of the girls and she said she walks every day, it takes about two hours to get there, and you get caned if you’re late. It would be 1 GHC (a little more than 25 cents) each way to take a tro to school. Can you imagine having to wake up at 5AM to walk 2 hours to school, spend the whole day learning, walk 2 hours home, and do your homework before going to sleep and waking up the next day to do it all again?

There are a lot of things with the school system that blow my mind. At home, teachers usually have to go back at least a week early to get their rooms ready and have teacher meetings and such. Here, during the first week, the teachers may not have their classes assigned yet, the class schedules aren’t made, and most kids don’t show up because they know nothing is going on. At EP, they’re having the teacher meeting on Friday… during school… to finalize everything. So that means an entire week of school will have gone by, and all of the kids will be sitting in their classrooms with nothing to do on Friday during the meeting. Like what?