Photo courtesy of Salifu Osman, shown standing at the back of his classroom.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

It came to me in a flash. I certainly had not planned the decision. Why not partner our local community-learning center located in the hills of West Virginia with a school I have grown to know, in northern Ghana, West Africa? It took only a short while to work out the details and was surprisingly easy: Propose the alignment with the learning center; then contact the primary school in Ghana. The mini-project was a ‘done deal’ in a matter of a few days.

Let me explain the relationship with the Ghanaian school to start. More than two and one-half years ago, I began assisting a polytechnic student who was attending a three-year Information and Communications Technology (ICT) program at a technical university in southern Ghana, not far from its capital, Accra. While I provided modest resources for tuition, room and board and occasional incidentals, the student-mentor relationship matured into a grandfather-grandson arrangement. The student and I exchanged texts (via WhatsApp™) nearly every day. I learned that his history included the death of his father at an early age. It still humbles me to realize that I eventually assumed that fatherly role in his life.

After his graduation in June 2017, my ‘grandson’ student voluntarily signed up for national service in the Republic of Ghana, a noble gesture. The national-service assignments there mirror in part the work of AmeriCorps/VISTA in this country. In both engagements, the participant receives a small stipend for living expenses and/or an educational endowment at the end of service, usually for a one-year term of commitment.

My student was first assigned to a governmental agency to do ICT work at a regional capital in northern Ghana. With a report date of September 1, 2017, however, he had some time to occupy. Due to a general teacher shortage, particularly in the northern region, my student friend started teaching without pay at his old, private primary school. He is teaching math and ICT classes to third and fourth-grade students. His first home school has few physical resources, save for a building and a staff of dedicated instructors, led by a remarkable ‘head teacher’ the term used for principal or headmaster. My student friend has since been able to modify his placement to include a technical/vocational school in the immediate vicinity of his home. He will be broadening his teaching skills to include middle and senior high students, as well as his charges in primary school.

And now, back to the alignment of the learning center and the primary school. Our after-school and summer Day Camp students at the learning center have few travel opportunities. The Ghanaian primary school students have even less opportunity to explore the world. By next week, the Ghanaian school will have a first-ever Wi-Fi ‘hotspot’ connection to the remainder of the world. Our learning-center students already enjoy that electronic connection. In a few days, it will be possible for students from widely different locations (and cultures) to Skype™ face-to-face with each other, as I routinely do with my former polytechnic student. Through private donations, the Wi-Fi will cost the primary school nothing.

We soon will also be building low-cost personal-computing (PC) equipment, to permit more Ghanaian students to stretch their learning resources.

I now feel much as an explorer, ready to plunge into the unknown in the interest of expanding learning for young students. What better way to occupy my retirement?

Reader, blogger, musician and music promoter/event producer. Community activist and educational advocate.

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