Bringing Home a Global Perspective

Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21

Wow, where do I begin?!

My time abroad has been incredibly eye-opening and truly life changing. From flying internationally for the first time to adjusting to an entirely different way of life, I learned many new things about myself – like serving others doesn’t have to mean logging the hours you spent volunteering with an agency or teaching children how to add. It can simply mean sitting with someone who is alone, or making conversation with the woman who makes your egg sandwich every morning. Sometimes that’s all it takes to brighten someone’s day. As service has always been a big part of my life and a personal value of mine, I will be forever grateful that I was able to have a hand in making a difference (of any size), in a country as beautiful as Ghana.

My experience with the Play and Learn Foundation was by far the most impactful. It was humbling to work with the kids from the foundation and learn about what they have to deal with every day. They are the strongest people I know by far, and I can only hope they go far in their lives and stay as family-oriented as they are now. When I say that those children changed my life, I truly mean it. Meeting them and seeing how much weight they carry on their shoulders, yet how they still go about life with such happiness and gratitude, was truly inspiring.

Tutoring the children was another eye-opening experience for me, as I learned quickly of the differences between American and Ghanaian education. When covering our math and reading units, I was expecting to be asked questions or to explain things further. To my surprise, I was not. In Ghana, students are expected not to ask questions and are taught to think critically but not creatively. So when I was aware that a student was having a hard time with something, I would take it upon myself to explain it because I knew he or she wouldn’t ask me for help. This was really different for me, as all of the students I’ve tutored in America consistently ask me to clarify things. Seeing this in Ghana allowed me to gain a broader perspective for global differences in education that I will be able to consider throughout my career in education.


Below, is a video about the work the Play and Learn Foundation is doing – and I’m included in the video!

Thank you USAC Ghana

There's an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We have to go far — quickly. Thank you University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), Abigail M Opong-Tetteh Claudia Tawiah-Amoako Madeline Pippel David Petersen Shelbi Torres Brooke Josenhans Paulina Nichols Video Credit @Brenna Jordan

Posted by Play and Learn Foundation on Wednesday, August 15, 2018

 

During my final group tutoring session, some of the kids asked about my last day in Accra and when I told them, two of the girls said they would come back to say goodbye. I wasn’t sure if they actually would because it was a few days away but to my surprise, they showed up on my last evening there. I gave them hugs, we spent several hours together, and they wanted to help me pack and stay to watch me get on the bus to go to the airport. It was getting dark and I wanted them to start heading back home since it took them a half hour to walk to my hostel. Many tears were shed but although it was hard to say goodbye, I am honored that they came to see me. I will never forget that special moment.

Photos of Roslyn and Evelyn who came to visit me on my last day

All in all, I have to say that I really enjoyed my time in Ghana and I have found myself missing it immensely since I have been back. Looking at the photos of me with my students and the new friends I made has become a regularity, to remind myself that although I’m not physically with them, my heart is and I will always have these memories to look back on. If given the opportunity, I would go back in a heartbeat, no questions asked.

I want to say “Medase, Ghana” (thank you, Ghana) for all that you have allowed me to see, all the wonderful people that I was able to meet and connect with, and for all that I was able to discover about myself during the time I was there. Ghana will always hold a special place in my heart and I hope that one day I can make it back to see how my students have grown up and flourished, like I know they will. This trip has been a dream come true, and one that I will never forget. Thank you to all that have been following along.

All my thanks,

Danielle

Danielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She was in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and has been posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.

Fútbol Fun

Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21

On our second to last day in Accra, we decided to talk to the director of the Play and Learn Foundation to set up a Tutors vs. Students fútbol game. There were only a few tutors so we had to recruit some of the kids to join us which made things a little more interesting for everyone. We thought this would be a fun way to wrap up our time with the kids and an opportunity to see their faces when they defeated us tutors…which they did well and good!

It was so heartwarming to see the kids’ faces light up once they stepped onto the field. I’ve never met a group of people as passionate about anything as these kids are about fútbol, and it made me stop and think that maybe life doesn’t have to be so complicated and we should just enjoy what we’re doing in the moment while it’s there. For some people it takes a lifetime to find their passion and others may never find it, but if you’re lucky enough to have something in your life that makes your face light up as bright as those kids’ do when they play fútbol, I’d say you’ve found your passion. So to all my fantastic students and fútbol superstars, thank you for being my passion and letting me watch you pursue yours.

I’ll never forget when I went to watch some of my students play in their fútbol game, a little girl was sitting alone on a ledge overlooking the field, so I sat down next to her and learned that her name was Rosalyn. She was waiting for her brother to finish the game so that they could walk home together. Within a few minutes of keeping her company, she started pouring the bagged water she was drinking onto my ankles. I was confused why she was doing this, but looked down and saw that they were covered in red dust from walking on the dirt paths to get to the field. I was shocked to see that she would take it upon herself to sacrifice her drinking water at the expense of helping someone next to her.

She also noticed that I was shivering (it gets pretty cold here after the sun sets) and asked me if I had a jacket. I assumed she was asking so she could wear it so I said yes, but when she took it out of my backpack she put it on me. From a very young age, children here are taught to care for their siblings. Rosalyn is nine years old and has five other siblings, so she is used to looking after them. Ever since that point, she has clung to my side and runs up to hug me anytime she sees me. Moments like that really put things into perspective for me.
Danielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She was in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and has been posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.

Adventures in the Treetops

Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21

Today was our only free day since the summer program began, so my friends and I decided to make the most of it. About two and a half hours away from the Greater Accra Region, is the Kakum National Rainforest, which features a rope bridge walkway over the forests’ canopy. This attraction was on all of our “Things to do in Africa” bucket lists, so we knew we had to set aside one of our remaining days to go visit.

We started our day at 5am and walked to the tro-tro (public transportation van) station about ten minutes away from campus. There are no tro-tro schedules, so the way you figure out which one to get on is by listening to someone lean out the window and yell out their destination. In a half an hour’s time, we caught the only one that was going to the central tro-tro station, where we boarded another one that would take us an hour north toward Kakum. Once dropped off, we had to take a taxi the rest of the way since the roads are too rocky for tro-tro’s to handle, so we piled the six of us into a tiny cab for the hour-long drive.

After what seemed like forever, we finally arrived at the National Forest and couldn’t wait to get out of that cramped cab and explore. We got set up with a tour guide, and trekked up hundreds of stone stairs to get to the rope-bridge.

Once we got there, I was in awe over how breathtaking it was. The view looking down was a blanket of trees and vines, and looked out over tall mountain ranges. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before and as an avid hiker, I have seen my fair share of mountain tops but none of their views could hold a candle to this one.

So, although our journey was incredibly tiresome, it was all worth it in the end, especially since I was in great company the whole time. And as gratitude floods through my veins every day (and even more so since I’ve been in Ghana), this was just one more experience to remind me of how lucky I am to be able to witness sights like Kakum.

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 is posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.

Culture of Heart

 Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21

About five days after arriving in Accra, I visited the Echoing Hills Orphanage and Center for the Disabled with my Service Learning class. The issue of abandonment of children is highly prominent in this area, as many people can’t afford to care for their children and sometimes children will wander away from their families and get lost, never finding their way back. In cases like these, policemen often pick up lone children on the street and bring them to shelters such as Echoing Hills. The supervisor of this institution told us about the devastating reality of orphanages in the area: that most children who enter are never adopted and end up living their whole lives there. This is such a reality that they even have a cemetery on site to bury those that die there.

But the children are some of the happiest that I’ve ever met. It was  humbling to see that even though these kids are so young and will likely never get adopted, they go about life with a level of gratitude that I had never seen before. We met one girl who was brought to the orphanage when she was two years old, is now five, and is one of the happiest little girls I’ve ever met…and all I can hope is that she’ll stay that way. When she came up to me and gave me a hug, I couldn’t help but start to cry because I knew that she had been through so much at such a young age and would likely not leave the institution. I left wishing that I could bring all the kids home with me. I’ll have their memories to cherish forever, and I guess that will have to be enough.

Since the trip to the orphanage, I’ve toured with University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) and seen a  few historical sites as well an indigenous village located in the southern region of Ghana. Probably the most eye-opening site that I’ve seen thus far was Nzuelezo, a remote village on stilts.  In order to get to this village, my group took a bus for seven hours to the general area and then had to row in wooden canoes for an additional forty minutes to get to the village itself, as the only way to get there is by boat.
Once we arrived in this village of about 200 people, I was amazed at how different their way of life was compared to the lifestyle that I had grown accustomed to living in the city of Accra.  But that’s probably the most meaningful lesson I’ve learned while here, is that culture is all around, yet each is different in its own way.

And so as I finish out the rest of my stay, I plan to keep experiencing the many cultures here and update you along the way.

Until next time,

Danielle

Danielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She will be in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and will be posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.