Not to destroy anyone's fond childhood memories but The Lion King is not Africa. I know some people are thinking "Duh" and I used to think that went without saying...until I went there, set up an internship tracking animals for this summer, and came back. The misunderstandings range from the minorly annoying idea that all Africa is a jungle or the constant shock people feel when learning how "brutal" the animal world is. A point I find endlessly ironic, but I won't go into that. What was most surprising to me, however, were the reactions I got when I described my internship. I was asked if I would be working with "natives" and if I was nervous about it. The same person asked if I would be hiking through the game reserve in order to track the animals. I was stunned by the implication that I "should" be more nervous about working with the people who live there (who by the way are awesome, hilarious, and if I can learn 1/10th of what they know I will be beyond thrilled), then the animals I'm tracking. To give a little perspective there is a saying that Ben, the tracker I met in Ngala, eventually translated into English for me after 20 minutes of valient effort (and a fair amount of laughter) to teach me how to say it in Shangaan. The saying is this "You don't have to be the fastest--you just have to be faster than one other person". If I were indeed to wander around a game reserve by myself I can think of at least 15 ways I would die, only 5 of which involve predators.
Since coming back from Ghana, in terms of children and young adult literature, I have found that more and more the importance is providing relevant literature to the lives of the children in Ghana. When we were at Titagya, I was reading the Highlights magazine with some of the students, and they stumbled upon a story called “Where is my goat?” The story was about a young African boy looking for his goat with his father, and the landscape was very similar to the landscape in Dalun. It was interesting to see the recognition register in the minds of the students, especially as most of the magazine had pictures that were very different from their lives.
From researching the Burt Award as well as learning about the Gold Baobab Prize, I realize the impact of exposure to “people like you” on children and young adults through the media and education. This is a point where I can definitely relate to because I have never really had Asian American role models in my life through any forms of media. The first time any Asian American artist made the top ten Billboards was in 2010. Furthermore, I have never had a teacher of color in my whole educational career. Feeling the disempowerment of lacking role models makes me realize the importance of providing relevant reading material for Ghanaian children.
While in Ghana, I couldn’t help but think about my group’s discussion of NGOs in Ghana and their work, and compare these things to the realities that we saw on the ground. I still have a lot of questions, but my post is long overdue, so observations + questioning will have to be sufficient for now!
During our project, one of the more resonant questions for me was, “How do NGOs collaborate and is this collaboration successful?” I think this question guided some of my observations during the trip.
Observations: Looking around the Dalun Youth Association (DYA) building, I saw some posters, asked some questions. All this happened very quickly, so I’m not 100% this is the correct information, but I’ll relay what I remember and wrote down.
DYA exists to bring the youth together – students gather here and “because they are together, they are stronger and can advocate for the needs of the community, what they see the community needs to develop” (field notes), like new roads to Tamale (which I would also advocate for, for both selfish and unselfish reasons). DYA uses sports as a tool for development – in this rural community, athletic competition is a perfect way to bring people together, both young and old. Once the people are gathered, the youth can spread their message of change. And this message is much more powerful coming from a vibrant, organized youth group.
“Who are the 99?
An ever-growing team of specially powered young people. The 99 prevent disasters, help people in need, and perform good deeds under the banner of the 99 Steps Foundation.
What are the Noor Stones?
Each member of the 99 bears a Noor Stone- an ancient gem of power. Forged out of the destruction of ancient Baghdad, the Noor Stones were created to preserve the wisdom of the ages. When bonded with a specific young person, each gem grants him or her a different gift of power”
Initially, I thought about feminism across different geographic locations as global feminism, as a feminism rooted in nations, defined and given flavor by the nation as a whole. That is, thinking about American feminism and Indian feminism and Ghanaian feminism and French Feminism. But then, that is SO American-centric of me. When I try to think of a certain American feminism, it’s impossible. Just to think of Bryn Mawr feminism strikes me as impossible. And I’m not trying to suggest that we’re all special feminist snowflakes, or that there is not sense of shared feminist thought or identity. But our shorthand, our labeling of feminisms as rooted in some national identity/location/region can have the possibility of flattening and erasing nuance from how feminists express themselves in a variety of contexts.
Best of luck to you all in Ghana! My due date is this weekend ... but I will tune in whenver I can to the new Ghana trip blog. And then... "see" you all online for the rest of the semester!
There's a timely feature on the NPR website coinciding with your trip... Check out this recent Black History Month spot on a trip back to the ancestral home in Ghana from Tell Me More:
The topic I keep returning to and reflecting on is World Travel. More specifically I was thinking about World Sharing and how amazing and beneficial it could be for students to be able to share things with other students in different countries. I took Japanese my first year at Bryn Mawr and towards the end of the class we would make video files of us speaking in Japanese and English and send them to "buddies" we had in a university in Japan. They would then send us videos of them speaking in English and Japanese. We would all also type what we said in the language we were learning and then the native student speaker would correct it and write a reply in the language they were trying to learn. This was an amazing experience and obviously we were all nervous at first but you ended up really connecting with your buddy because you'd see them laughing when they knew they got something wrong or pulling their friend into the video. Obviously this requires technology and money but I just think it is such a unique way to share the experience of learning across the world.
I was in the group that presented on language diversity in Ghana. I was talking specifically about language within the school system, and how English is currently the accepted language of Ghanaian education. It isn't until Senior Secondary School that Ghanaian students are explicitly taught Ghanaian language. This policy makes me feel sad and a little angry, the same way that it does in American schools. Last semester in Empowering Learners, I defined agency as "the learner’s decision to take ownership of the world in which he/she lives and to apply his/her skills to shape that world." This definition was very much attached to language. I see literacy as a crucial skill for shaping the world. When a school system denies a student access to literacy in their native language, the system is taking away some of that student's agency. Waiting to provide this fundamental access to students who make it into schools that have stringent academic requirements is completely in opposition to what I think needs to happen. Language skils should be built upon, not limited. It's sad that this can be influenced by politics or ideology.
Going back to my notes on that reading - there was a heavy focus on alienation. Adults may be alienated by being illiterate, but then, forcing them to learn could also be alienating.
I’ve been thinking about all these things because I’ve been reflecting on my internship from last summer, trying to find a connection between that experience and the 360/Educ 250. I worked in the Education department at Nationalities Service Center, especially in classrooms in which immigrants and refugees are learning to speak English. This experience had a huge impact on my academics last semester - I applied that passion to classes on bilingual education, cultural tensions/fusions, and immigration. After that internship, I found connections between the experience and courses about Language, Culture, and Policy. However (and thank you to Alice again, for helping me flesh this out), I wasn’t thinking about the fundamentals. - Fundamentals being, I think, Literacy. So of course there is a connection between my tutoring adults and the class I am taking now.
I remember the first time I read a novel that had characters that talked like me. It completely changed my attitude towards reading. I began to read one book a week starting in junior high because I loved reading about protagonists that also students who struggled through social problems.
This reminds me of the Gee reading because of the discussion on discourse. At the beginning of the semester, I did not have a firm grasp on the meaning of discourse. However, now it seems that I do understand it more, or I am at least more comfortable with the vocabulary. One thing that the Gee reading reminds me is the importance for people, especially youth, to see their discourse in other areas of life. Being able to read about people who went through similar issues and reading phrases and words that I experienced on a daily basis was in some way a source of empowerment. It made my middle school self feel less alone in the world to know that there are other people who are similar to me and talk the same way.