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Of Intros & Schoolchild Swarms

It started out about as cautiously as you might hope, with orientations chalk full of semi-redundant information about health, rules, and culture shock: take your malaria prophylaxis, don’t leave campus without a program leader, and cry your heart out if you need to—what you’re about to do is hard. It will be, trust us. No, really, it will be. As soon as orientation is over—just wait for this class to be…just be patient…

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We moved into activities designed to quickly create bonds between the students and delve into their own perceptions of both self and culture. They compared their own backgrounds with varying degrees of openness, some realizing that what they considered “common sense” might not actually be common at all, but constructed by people in a particular place at a particular time. But what did it mean in a practical context?

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Service. After a hearty breakfast buffet of fruit, eggs, oatmeal, fruit, beans, sausage, and more fruit, the vast clan of 26 high schoolers was broken up into three groups: one for each program leader going to a separate service site. We piled into the vans and took off for disparate corners of the Accra suburbs for the first day of service.

At the Christah School of Excellence—a preschool behind a brightly-painted metal gate—Brady’s group was tossed into morning worship, which consisted of about fifty small Ghanaian children dancing and scream-singing a mixture of Twi and English songs punctuated by the discernible shrieks of “JESUS!” Suddenly aware that they were no longer in orientation, Ben, Maggie S., Maggie B., Ericka, Emily, Olivia, Sam, Isabell, and Ena stood waist-deep in a swirling pool of bouncing, ecstatic Ghanaian preschoolers and glanced around for some idea, some cultural cue, about how they should conduct themselves. Brady futilely mouthed the word “dance” from the shores of the great Schoolchild Sea.

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Following period one, Yell about Jesus 1, the group was paired up and sent to various classrooms to teach. Some played assistant to Ghanaian teachers, moving around to help individual kids correct the spelling of “uncle” or open a snack. Others, like Ben and Isabell, were thrown into a classroom of first graders with no local teacher, and had to teach unruly, chaotic spaz-bags with no reason to respect these strange, new, white substitutes. It will get hard, trust us.

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Exhausted by these little African wells of infinite energy, the group jumped back on the bus to go to lunch. They downed some delicious fried rice with fish sauce, chicken, salad, and fried plantains with the rejoined trilogy of their American cohort while bombastically elaborating on their first day of the “real” program. It was about this time that they probably could have slept, but they were only halfway done with the day.

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Next came Twi class. After spending a little over an hour learning how to say “Wo ho te sεn?” and various other basic phrases, the students transitioned into basket weaving. Some excelled, catching on quickly to winding the straws hither and thither like their service project was actually to weave baskets. Others were satisfied to pause for the day having created a wonky wicker doily—they’ll all get to continue their masterpieces on Friday.

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A short break, enough to grab a strange piece of fruit from the Night Market or a few Zs from the dorms, and they were back on the bus for dinner, where they got to experience the Ghanaian disregard for punctuality—we were at the restaurant for two and a half hours.

Could they finally sleep? Nope, because then we had to do a debriefing session to vent and discuss everything they had experienced. The students did great, bringing up hard-hitting questions about poverty and education while challenging each other’s opinions respectfully. We had to finally cut off the conversation because it was getting so late and they still had reflection journaling to do. Whether they they fell asleep face-first into their journals remains to be seen. Until then, it’s time to crank out the second day of service like we weren’t pulled out to sea by a riptide of Ghanaian offspring.

Brady, Steve, and Kayla

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