A Bumpy Start

Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21

Akwaaba, or welcome, to my first blog post written all the way from Accra, Ghana!

I’ve been here in the capital city of Ghana for about a week and a half now, and it has been the most eye-opening experience that I’ve encountered in my life.  From enduring my first international flight by myself, to acclimating to an entirely new culture and working toward my goal of helping to improve the community, my time here has flown by!

People say that culture shock is inevitable no matter where you travel, and I was expecting to be hit hard with it. To my surprise, however, I haven’t felt “shocked” while I’ve been here…and I think I owe that to the hours I spent researching the culture before I left. But, it’s one thing to read about it versus actually experiencing it.  And so, I will say, that although the food is some of the spiciest I’ve ever eaten, and having to get used to people hissing at you to get your attention, has taken some getting used to, I think I’ve finally gotten comfortable here.

Indomi is a traditional (and spicy!) noodle dish

However, there was one thing that came completely out of left field that no amount of research could prepare me for…and that was not getting to do what I came here for.

I traveled to Africa with the hopes of teaching in their secondary schools to learn about their system of education and compare it with what I am used to.  However, on my second day of being in Ghana, I was told that the children were set to vacate from school just one week from then. This news was incredibly hard to accept, and I was disappointed beyond belief. After coming off of terrible jet lag and experiencing serious coffee withdrawal, this news was the last thing I needed to hear. Upset and now questioning the worth of my stay, I realized that this was out of my control. I was determined to find some way to work with children despite this devastating news, and I am thankful that I did.

I became aware of a foundation called “Play and Learn”, which is an after-school program that extends into the summer months, where children come to receive tutoring and football training (American soccer).  The kids meet outside, almost every day, next to my hostel. The director of the foundation, Nana, told me that within two years he plans to have a facility built to accommodate their growing program size.

Nana went on to tell me that when the school is built, he plans to approach its structure in a completely different way than is traditional in Ghana.  He told me that teachers in Ghana do not encourage student participation and if they do, it is often seen as disrespectful, so they are made to feel guilty for asking questions. Students are taught to think only critically and not to explore their own opinions – so much so that Nana described many of the children’s academic performances as robotic.  When he told me this, my heart broke knowing that so many children here are academically suppressed and do not often reach their full potential as a result of this teaching method.

For this reason – among many others – I am honored to be able to work with this foundation that aims to change the trajectory of education one child at a time. So although I won’t be able to teach in a physical classroom or see how their education system works for myself, I am excited to have the chance to be a part of the Play and Learn team.  Since joining as a volunteer, I have been assigned to teach math and English to four boys between the ages of 11 and 12. I begin tutoring them tomorrow and truly cannot wait!
Until next time,
Danielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She is in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and will be posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.