In summary

Today marks my first full week in Nsawkaw, Ghana. So much has happened in the last week I’m aware I’m already struggling keeping up writing about everything that happens to me, occurs to me, and everything I see, hear, think, feel, taste and smell.

I’d prefer to talk about each of these things separately and in context, but right now so much is happening I just can’t keep up,  and I can’t write about things happening and occurring now without referring to earlier things, which is a problem in my book.  So to Summarise,  I’m going to summarise!

So some of this will be a repeat to what I’ve already mentioned, but this post is more about drawing a line under the first week than about covering new material.

So, let’s see, I arrived in Accra last week, that is Saturday 10th October after flying for about 14 hours and two sides of an equilateral triangle from London, via Ethiopia, to Ghana. After arriving, I stayed the night with a friend of a friend called Michael who imports used cars and whose wife works for the FAO, an agricultural NGO.

The next day at 7am I met a man called Paul who took me to a bus terminal where I caught an 8 hour bus journey to Sunyani, off the bus I was meant to meet a man called Wiliams, but he was late so until he arrived I chatted to a fellow bus traveller, a student in Sunyani studying business called Lydia.

When Wiliams arrived we had another 4 hours of travel in taxis to arrive in Nsawkaw. On the way I met Djan who was the person I organised this whole trip with.

Both all through this day, and on the approach into landing I surprised myself at just how surprised I was at how many mud houses/huts I saw. I think I was possibly expecting something closer to the level of development of Brazil, but other than the big cities it seemed the houses in the communities we passed were composed of anything from 20% to 100% mud huts.

And oh yes, we were driving along the main road, but when ever we went though one of these small communities (and there were a lot), there were ridiculous speed bumps slowing all the traffic right down, this slows all transport in the county and I even read about Ghanaian politicians getting fed up with it!

After arriving, the first night in Nsawkaw I stayed in a guest house. I got taken there by the second contact I made in arranging this, a geography teacher called Hayford. There was running water, but that’s the last running water I’ve had so far (don’t even think about asking for hot water!)

The next day was a Monday, so Hayford took me to the school. The school is called the Nsawkaw Senior High School. This day I met the headmaster, the deputy head, and all the other teachers. And then sat around doing nothing for ages. I have to admit I had been warned this was likely so really it wasn’t too much of a surprise or a problem. But I found out later it was because they weren’t prepared for me at all. More on that at some other point I think.

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Nsawkaw Senior State High School. The students ads gathered for assembly.

When my room was ready, I moved in to a bungalow at the school. They were built for teachers but currently they are being used as administrative  buildings and as boarding student housing.

The other main thing that really stood out to me on the first day was I saw my first caning. To be clear as this is something quite alien to most westerners, I saw a student being hit with a cane. Again, I knew it was likely and had been warned, but seeing it so soon was shocking!

On the second day I met the head of science properly. We briefly discussed what I would be doing. I admit I got fairly confused so didn’t really know what I’ll be doing. I do now, but mostly because I understand the school term better, but the first week was one long confusion. I also spent some time with the chemistry teacher and saw their science lab. There is an odd collection of stuff – a small range of chemicals, but seemingly quite a bit of what they do have (forget safe or good storage though). There’s also a huge mixture in equipment – lots odds and ends of glass equipment: test tubes, conical flasks etc, but not much else and definitely don’t ask about equipment for physics or biology, as there is practically nothing there for those subjects.

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The chemical section of the chemistry lab

The other thing, and this is true for all the subjects, there are no text books at all to speak of! None of the students have access to textbooks in the class and there are only a few in the library and I’m not even sure how many the teachers have for themselves. Call that problem one.

Problem two would then be all the caning I saw!! Seriously, almost within the first 30 seconds of seeing the school I saw in the distance a caning happening to a student, and since then I’ve seen it happen several more times. It’s really been turning my stomach and seems to be quite common. Luckily I’ve found at least two teachers who I respect who don’t cane so silver linings.

Problem 3 and the last for now, the students don’t seem to take notes in class. Now I give you for this and the first one, I’ve only been able to observe some lessons, but I’ve only seen students taking notes in about half the lessons I’ve seen. It’s just so different from the UK.

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A view from the back of a class I was observing. If you can make out the board, don't worry, the teacher didn't write anything on it all lesson.

Anyway, Wednesday had me, surprise, surprise , confused again after speaking to the head of science. But I was getting closer to knowing what I’d be doing. In the mean time I tidied up the chem lab and took an inventory.

Thursday! Success! I know what I’ll be doing teaching wise! I’m going to be teaching physics to the first and second years (to put it in context, senior high schools have 3 years) as they have no permanent physics teacher. I’ll be starting teaching the second years next week, but the first years don’t arrive for another month, hence some of my earlier condusion.

To finish of the week on Friday Djan and Wiliams met me and we went to a neighbouring community called yabraso where Wiliams lives and used to also teach. There I saw the primary school and junior high school, met the heads of both schools and chatted about how I might help them also (visits, also teaching, organise UK penpals if possible, and help set up a library and computer lab … Not much… 😉 ).

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Me with class two at the primary school

After this I then met the community elders in the church and discussed my being there.

Saturday for the sake of argument was less busy although I did visit Nsawkaw as the school is a bit out and Sunday was the church trip.

This week in mainly observing lessons and next week I’m going to be starting teach year two physics, which is basically gcse physics.

Few! Ok so that’s me about caught up on events. The culture is a whole another issue so I think I’ll save that for a second post!

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3 thoughts on “In summary

  1. Good to hear, any physics questions email them on over and I’ll get the troops on it!

    How is the food? Spicy enough for you?

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  2. Great write-up. You could turn this into a book or a magazine or newspaper article. It is interesting to read about canings. At age eleven I attended an old grammar school for a while, think the old days of eleven plus and ‘Gove’s golden age’ of education. Well one shocking thing is that many of the masters caned the boys. I remember being shocked to my core by this practice. I never was caned to be fair. But the fear this produced was palpable, and there was an atmosphere of terror in the school. I also felt that it encouraged a sadistic streak in some of the teachers, some of whom had rather off names for their caning device of choice..Thankfully caning no longer is acceptable in the UK.
    Keep writing Ben, it is interesting.

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  3. Hi Ben,

    It sounds like you’re at the head of a very exciting time, and let me tell you, you are at the tip of the iceberg of revelations about the politics, culture, society of Ghana.
    There’s a lot that I think we can learn from the ways of life in Ghana, and at the same time there is much that I personally believe is terribly wrong. Corporeal punishment for one thing, but this is a symptom rather than the thing itself. You may or may not feel the same way, but I would have you heed that teaching physics is not going to be easy, and problems surprises come from above and below.

    A lot of the roots of the way things are come from family structure, income, tradition and religion and it’s a prickly path to walk. Your presence and your time in Ghana has and will be, no matter how you like or hate it, affected by the history of colonisation and international development aid.
    If you like, I can point you to some blog posts about life in Ghana a few years ago (I wrote some of them), or we could write / call, I’m happy to tell you everything I know and everything I thought about living there. I’m not so far out of that time.

    Stay well, and don’t let the mosquitoes bite!

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