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46 posts categorized "Legon Service"

Of Ashanti Kings & Woven Things

The program leaders had a good laugh when the students asked if they would be able to sleep in on Saturday. We bent over, slapped our knees, cackled – the whole thing. We had to meet for breakfast at 6:00 am so we could get on the road to Kumasi by 6:30. Sleep in… Ha ha ha ha! Oh, it’s still funny.


If our trip to Cape Coast was Ghanaian Roads 101, this trip was 102. Baffling as it may seem to our American sensibilities to take four and a half hours to go 250 kilometers (155 miles), that was the best case scenario. Unfortunately, Ghana laughs at best case scenarios like program leaders laugh at the idea of sleeping in – our bus broke down twice and we had to be picked up by another bus coming from Kumasi. We made it in about seven hours; Patience 301 is a prerequisite for Ghanaian Roads 101.


Once in the traditional capital of the Asante Kingdom, we checked into our hotel, threw down our stuff, and glanced longingly at the pool as we flew off to our next stop: Manhyia Palace (pronounced “mahn-SHE-ah”), the former residence of the Asantehene, or king of Ashanti. Here, the students got a history lesson on the Kingdom of Gold, the land of the Kotoko Warriors, the home of the Golden Stool, the birthplace of Twi. They learned about a kingdom they never knew existed, a place so full of history and traditional culture that they were left to wonder why they hadn’t found it in a textbook before.


Next, we went to Kejetia Market, one of the largest open-air markets in West Africa. This was one of the few street-level experiences where the students were able to go off in their own groups and be immersed in a truly Ghanaian space. Some of the less sure students or those without bearings whatsoever (*cough*bailey*cough*) followed program leaders into the engulfing insanity and subtle order of Kejetia. Some loved the experience, while others were unsettled by the extreme lack of personal space or familiar sights. There’s just something about severed goat heads that really brings up thoughts of home.

Some of the students preferred to play football with the locals out in the open air.


The next day could affectionately be called Cloth Day (disclaimer: no one actually called it that). We checked out of our luxurious hotel (goodbye, pool, our time together was too short) and headed to Ntonso, the traditional Adinkra stamping village. Adinkra symbols are a deeply proverbial system of emblems that represent Akan ideas on how to be an upstanding citizen and human being, and they are ubiquitous across the whole country. At Ntonso, we learned how the traditional dye is made from badie bark, and even took turns pounding it in a giant mortar.



We then each picked out an Adinkra symbol and stamped a single, long piece of handwoven cloth with the dye. Some students then bought Adinkra cloth or the stamps made from calabash so they can go back to America and stamp everything in sight (hide your babies, hide your drapes).



Next came Bonwire, the home of kente cloth in Ashanti. Kente is woven by hand on long looms into strips that can then be stitched together to make robes and blankets. After a short lecture on the history and meaning of kente designs by a professor and native of Bonwire, the students got to shop among the weavers’ stocks. Some of them even tried to operate the loom! We call their design “American Amateur”—a notable lack of skill, but chock full of FREEDOM.


Departing Bonwire, most of us were too exhausted to notice the sporadic thudding of potholes or the soulful sounds of Grace D. singing into a Pringles can on our way back to Accra.


We’re heading into our last week here on Session 2 in Legon, Ghana. Keep an eye out for the events of our home stretch!

Brady, Kayla, and Steve

At Home in Shalom

Akwaaba (Welcome) to the Shalom Home Early Learning Development Center in Ogbojo, Ghana. Eight of our CIEE students, also affectionately known as "aunties" by Shalom teachers, are volunteering to teach 88 students aged 18 months to 6 years old.


Shalom Home is a fitting name for this gem of a school as it was started in the home of husband and wife administrative team, Mr. & Mrs. Charwetey, in 2008 and has since expanded. The couple maintains their residence on the school grounds.

With their hospitality, the Charweteys, as well as the five teachers, and support staff, have truly made us feel at home from the start.


As Shalom students' ages vary, so do our CIEE leaders' responsibilities. Auntie Charlotte and Lil are in Crèche where they engage and cater to the basic needs of Shalom's youngest learners. Following her first day in Crèche, Elise reflected, "I was absolutely amazed at the boldness of the kids, and how even though they went to school in Africa (Ghana) they are just like American kids at heart. I soon learned that the children at Crèche would steal my heart." 


Auntie Katie & Bailey service Nursey 1, which is comprised of 31 energetic students, many of whom are young enough to be in the Crèche class, but are not due to space and teacher shortage. Auntie Bailey opined that she is learning from the lead teacher on how to balance firm and fair classroom management practices, which is essential for such a large group. 


Yesterday, Auntie Ting and Jachelle had their first experience in Nursery 2 without the teacher. As to be expected for their first time, they were challenged to match the energy of their students. However, they came back again today ready to try different approaches with renewed energy. 



In KG1, you can find Auntie Emma D. working intentionally to strengthen her relationships with the teacher and students in her class. One of her goals is to learn more about the teacher in order to foster a genuine connection, and support her students.


Auntie Lil is working with the oldest students in KG2. Yesterday the teacher was absent, and Auntie Lil was able to effectively instruct her small class in plural words, composition, and addition and subtraction of two-digit numbers. On teaching alone for the first time, Lil expressed, "I am proud that I was able to power through."


Last Friday, our leaders as a collective experienced their first Shalom physical education session, where they participated in various activities captured in the pictures below. Our leaders have been tasked with organizing and leading this Friday's session. They will share exercises and games with students from their own experiences. 




This weekend we'll be visiting the Ashanti Region on an overnight trip. Stay tuned!

Kayla, Brady, and Steve

Reflections Post-Ghana

When I first signed up for this program, I expected to learn about the new culture and from teaching the kids, possibly making a few acquaintances along the way.  What actually happened was nowhere near what I had imagined; I had such amazing, deep conversations with so many of my fellow participants and was able to really open my eyes to some of the issues I had never previously considered.  I had similar enlightening exchanges with many of the locals, including both program staff members as well as complete strangers!  The students I was lucky enough to mentor also exceeded— by exceeded, I mean actually shooting through the roof— what I'd predicted.  I'm sure I've said this many times by now, but it's so utterly true: they're all so incredibly motivated and resilient.  I have learned so much from them and their attitudes toward everything that comes their way, and I really do have a lot to learn from them.

Chatting with fifth graders (from left to right) Gifty, Gertrude, Rukiya at break!

I have definitely learned to be more self-sufficient through not just the course of the actual program, but also in preparation for it and afterwards.  Applications were definitely a challenge for me, and fundraising was an even bigger struggle.  Later, my independent flight— along with a connection consisting of a 7-hour-long layover, then an arrival in a completely foreign place— tested my awareness and intellect, and my sanity, too!  In-country, remembering to take the daily malarone pills, staying in a dorm room, adapting to the environment and food, managing and exchanging money, bargaining, all were challenges that required me to leave my comfort zone and become significantly more independent.  I would be lying if I said I enjoyed every moment of this trip (even when I was puking my guts out!), in that cliche way people try to convince you they have fun every time and all the time regardless of whether they really did or not, but every second, good or bad, was necessary for the complete experience and in helping me understand my own opinions as well as learn the things I have realized to be true in every aspect of life.

The view of bungalows at the University of Ghana from ISH

Insightful.  I would say that's the word I would use to sum up this trip, overall.  It gave me so much perspective about the environment, the culture, the people, and a lot to think out about now that I've returned.  This trip broke down many of the stereotypes I didn't even know I harbored, replacing them with truths, and woke me up enough to truly see and appreciate how beautiful it is to experience such a unique place.

The breathtaking canopy walk at Kakum forest in Cape Coast!

 -XiLin C.

'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!

Of Sweet Shores & Slave Forts

For some people, the weekend marks a time to take a break, slow down, pop a root brewski, eat a burrito, and avoid any commitments of mental energy. Those people aren’t on a three-week study abroad.


We started out by getting to sleep in for a whole thirty minutes (wooooo!) before boarding a bus and finally getting a proper tour of Accra, the capital of Ghana. We saw 37 Military Hospital, where a great colony of straw-colored fruit bats have made their home (legend says that they accompanied a chief who went to the hospital, but he died and the bats are still waiting for him to return to his village). We saw Makola Market, a streaming sprawl of bright colors, car exhaust, and people carrying all manner of things on their heads. We also saw Jamestown, the home district of the Ga people where fortuneless flocks of fishing families live in shanties on the beach. It’s very common in places like this for local Ghanaians to use the beach as a toilet, so to avoid that biohazard and violent diary entry, we drove away from the city to a private beach.


Bojo Beach sits on a sandbar across a lagoon from the main resort, so we all piled into an elongated canoe with a groaning, spitting motor and puttered over. After probably eating every plate of rice and chicken in the cantina, we all flitted, floated, and frolicked about without worrying too much that the bathroom on the island consisted of a bucket in a port-o-potty.


Back on the bus, we drove through undesirable traffic to Osu, the vibrant and cosmopolitan hub of shopping and nightlife in central Accra. The students were given an hour to explore Oxford Street, the main thoroughfare of the district, before reporting for dinner. Some stayed near the more recognizable shopping mall, while others accompanied the more experienced program leaders to bargain for shea butter, beads, and football jerseys. After dinner, sandy and tired, we all debriefed and collapsed in our beds.


Sunday allowed no fancy-pants thirty minutes to sleep in—we packed up breakfast and were on the road toward the Central Region at 7:30. After four hours on the bus, we arrived at Kakum National Park, a preserved patch of rainforest in some hills near the coast. We hiked uphill for almost a mile, trying not to slip in our own sweat, before arriving at the canopy walkway, a series of seven bridges built from nets, boards, and cables hanging 40 meters (134.2 American length-units) off the ground.


Swaying over an invisible forest floor somewhere deep in a primal jungle, some of the kids were—for some reason—timid. Others bounced along happily, absorbing the majestic views of foreign treescapes that rightly belonged in nature documentaries and unending jungle horizons calling out silently of carnal roots and fear-tinged lostness. There was also a gift shop.


After a brief stint as the only tree-people in Ghana, we piled back in the bus and played American Ninja Diners, eating plain rice and stew with chicken that wouldn’t go into our mouths without a fight on the bumpy dirt roads. We then arrived at Cape Coast Castle.


Cape Coast Castle was a British slave castle with one of the Doors of No Return, where African captives passed from their home continent onto foreign ships bound for futures in slavery. Down in the male slave dungeons, we walked on centuries-old, compounded human waste in rooms that held two hundred men each. We visited the female dungeons and the female punishment cell, where African women who resisted enslavement and rape by the British soldiers were kept as an example. We entered the condemn cell, where violent male captives were placed in solitary confinement without air, water, food, sound, or light until they died. We passed through the Door of No Return as millions of African captives had done over the course of two hundred years.


We then got to see the governor’s quarters, with its breezy sixteen windows overlooking the coast, built on top of the male slave dungeons but out of earshot from their cries of suffering. The excellent tour guide finished with a warning that slavery is still ongoing all over the world, and that it falls on all of us to see it, to call it out, and to put an end to it. We all had a lot to think about on the long ride back to Legon.

Brady, Steve, and Kayla

The Future Leaders of Today, Yesterday

When the main group, 26 high schoolers strong, split into their various service factions under each program leader, Steve Squadron headed all the way to the neighborhood of Teshie. It was here that they found Future Leaders, a fantastic organization born under a mango tree with five students and a local teacher named Billa. From there, it blossomed into a school for disadvantaged kids and orphans who would otherwise not be able to get an education.


The bright-eyed teenagers (ha ha, just kidding, they got up early) immediately gathered to witness the school’s opening ceremony, where new teachers were initiated and new volunteers were welcomed. Freshly admitted to the ranks of local Ghanaian educators, each member of the group was assigned to classrooms for their trial by fire and child germs.


Our students-become-teachers entered rooms chock-full of kids ranging from age 5 to 16 and co-led with local instructors teaching subjects ranging from math, science, and cultural lessons about life in the US and the new volunteers themselves. Here, at a non-profit school in a low-income neighborhood in a West African city, our students acclimated remarkably well, stepping up to the tasks thrown in front of them, already exclaiming “We never want to leave!” in the sort of desperate euphoria that makes a program leader grin.


Within two days so full that they may have broken the space-time continuum, our students began finding traction, a groove, a smooth open gutter, if you will. They began learning the routine, names, learning levels, problem students, dances, hand gestures, and how the alphabet is pronounced here (don’t “zee” when you should “zed”).


In addition to sharpening young, hysterical minds, our students also started doing their own Leadership class. In a bright, roomy classroom, they do their best to stay sharp themselves after a half-day of being jumped on, clung to, and questioned a bazillion times. They did an activity called “SNAFU Party” designed to light-heartedly raise their awareness about non-verbal communication in settings where everyone has a different standard (turns out it’s hard to maintain a standard of offishness when someone else is assigned to hug you).


Worn out from both sides of learning, we all plodded over to a breezy restaurant for refueling last night. Brady, Kayla, and Steve—eager to move from the Americanized buffets that had been easing the kids into Ghanaian food—ordered their precious fufu.


Fufu [foo-foo] n.

            A gelatinous blob made from plantains and cassava pounded in a giant mortar with a wooden stick that could be used in American Gladiators until it’s smooth like dough, but dense enough to end a bar fight, that is subsequently dropped into one of several soups with a side of meat and eaten with only the right hand.

Two students were brave enough to order the strange, traditional food of the Ashantis: Elise and Angelina. And they crushed those sticky starch balls.


Tomorrow begins the weekend, where we’ll relax and go faster. Stay tuned.

Brady, Steve, and Kayla

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…


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?


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.


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.


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.


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

Good Morning from Ghana - July 10

Good Morning from Ghana,

We are excited to post our first blog for you! We have made it safe to Ghana and today is day one of orientation. Below are some pictures we hope you enjoy of yesterday (our first day in country) and class today. Yesterday was certainly busy as we arrived in the morning and traveled from the airport with CIEE staff to get something to eat and to get settled on the campus dorm. Students got their chance to visit the night market behind the dorms and purchase water bags! From there we visited a local KFC for dinner and settled into the dorm and campus.

Today and tomorrow will be filled with orientation where CIEE staff Janet will cover the history of Ghana, safety, trip schedule and group games to better the students knowledge of Ghana and what they will be doing!

We wanted to get a blog up ASAP for you to let you know everyone is well and having a great time! Stay tuned for more blogs to come and many more pictures as the students experience the country, the culture and new experiences!

Take care,

Steve, Kayla and Brady





Meet Your Session 2 Program Leader: Brady Blackburn

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Hi, everybody. My name is Brady, and I'm the third co-leader for the Legon, Ghana Service & Leadership program, session 2. 

I spent half my childhood in Kansas and half in Colorado, so I'm roughly from Denver, although I've been living abroad for most of the last two years. I graduated from Regis University in Denver with my bachelor's in English, during which I studied abroad in Ghana with CIEE. After graduating, I worked in a variety of fields, but got fed up with the rat race and decided to start a non-profit to advance literacy and writing education around the world, starting in Ghana. That led me to live in a rural village for seven months while helping to build a library and literacy center, an ongoing project that High School Summer Abroad students were able to help with last year. We focus on local language (Twi) education as well as English, because we believe that both are crucial to the students' futures. I returned to Ghana last year to lead both sessions of the CIEE HSSA program.

I now live in Germany with my fiancée, where I work as an English text editor. I will be attending a master's program this fall in African Verbal and Visual Arts where I will be studying African languages so that I can continue advocating for them. I'm an avid gamer, both video games and tabletop roleplaying games. I'm also a writer, with one published book and hopefully many more on the way. I have a black belt in Taekwondo, I enjoy running, and I spend most of my money on travel.

I've always tried to see new places "from street level", with the belief that spending thousands of dollars on travel and not coming face-to-face with authentic culture is essentially a waste of money and damaging to global representation. My hope is that I can help the students engage Ghanaian culture in a way that will impact their lives forever, as it did for me.

So here we go. Let's do this.

My Favorite Excursion in Ghana

My absolute favorite excursion during this trip would be the afternoon we spent at the Art Center in Accra, the capital city, with one of our program leaders and the University of Ghana volunteer, Michael.  Because it was Ramadan, a national holiday, many stores and services were closed or had the day off, and this included one of our program leaders. 

As a result, we were slightly short-staffed and didn't have access to the buses that usually took us to our respective schools and on other excursions.  This turned out to be great, however, because we had the chance to experience Ghanaian public transportation in the form of tro-tros!  From ISH at the university, we walked down toward the main street, where various tro-tros stopped to drop off and to pick up passengers.  We did have a bit of trouble getting everyone on because of our huge group, but we ended up splitting up and it all worked itself out. 

Once on the tro-tro, I sat squashed in the gap between two seats, one of my fellow participants on one side of me, a stranger on the other.  Although there are five rows of seats with three to four seats per row in a tro-tro, people squish together to maximize the number of passengers, fitting in as many as possible.  There are two workers on a tro-tro: the driver and the 'mate', the person who opens the sliding van door, calls out the destination to the pedestrians, and collects the fare.  There is a set rate of two cedis regardless of the length of the distance you're riding. 

Once we arrived, we trekked across a dirt path to the Art Center, an array of small makeshift stores selling statues, clothing, bracelets, etc.  There, we set off in smaller groups, looking around at the merchant's items.  We were able to bargain for many of them, which was expected, because the vendors set their prices high up front, knowing we were foreigners.  Their starting price would often be around, for example, 90 cedis for a small purse, the equivalent of over $20USD!  My shopping partner was able to bargain the price to 50 cedis, which was more reasonable.  I bought some beaded bracelets, an African-print bag, and a canvas painting using some bargaining techniques. 


We also talked to one of the locals and learned about the Adinkra symbols.  These symbols have a literal meaning, for example, two crocodiles sharing one stomach, along with a quality, in this case, unity.  Many have religious roots, including "son of God" and "belief in God", but there are also others, like unity, protection, and wisdom.  At the Art Center, some of these symbols were carved from wood and strung onto string as a necklace, which was very unique.

Afterward, while waiting for everyone to gather, we talked with some more locals about school and college and such, but the conversation soon veered to politics, specifically, Trump.  One of the guys we were chatting with was in fact a Trump supporter, and we were trying to hash out the reasons we had to support each of our viewpoints.  In relation to the immigration ban, however, he didn't quite seem to understand the unfairness of banning people from solely seven Muslim-majority nations; instead, he explained that Muslim terrorists like ISIS were worse and more dangerous than Christian ones or terrorists affiliated with any other religion because of their willingness to sacrifice their own lives. 

Although we obviously weren't able to agree or really see each other's point of view after this lengthy conversation, for me, it did shed light on the fact that politics from home follow us everywhere.  On the walk back to the tro-tro station, we bought some fresh fruit, which was another interesting experience.  Once we had all piled back onto the tro-tros, it was half dark, and we had the chance to enjoy the gorgeous purple and red sunset from the windows of the bus, a great end to a great day.

-XiLin C.

'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!

Meet your Session 2 Program Leader: Kayla Dorsey-Twumasi



    I was recently added as one of the Program Leaders for the Session II cohort departing to Ghana this weekend. I am originally from Utica, New York, but currently live in Lowell, MA where I serve as an elementary Assistant Principal. Prior to moving to MA  with my husband four years ago, I taught middle and high school social studies in Miami, Fl. While in Miami, I traveled with my students to Greece, Turkey, and South Africa. This will be my first year serving as a Program Leader for CIEE. However, this will be my third time traveling to Ghana. I first fell in love with Ghanaian culture when I studied abroad at the University of Ghana as an undergraduate student. That experience further sparked my interest in international travel, and international education. Given the impact that semester in Ghana had on my life, I relish opportunities to go abroad, and help ignite that same spark in students as they explore and understand other cultures. I love learning from students, and am excited to get to know all CIEE participants. During our time together, I look forward to watching participants grow, challenge themselves, and contribute positively to this experience!

See you soon,

Kayla Dorsey-Twumasi