BY ANDRA JACQUES
Each summer for the past six years, a group of PLNU business students has traveled to the rural village of Akatsi, Ghana, West Africa for four weeks to take classes with PLNU economics professor Dr. Senyo Adjibolosoo. Dr. Adjibolosoo, who is from Ghana, founded the Human Factor Leadership Academy (HFLA), a Christian primary school currently serving pre-school through the fifth grade, with a high school opening this fall. Now known as the PLNU Ghana Study Abroad Program, this year marked the first summer that education, child and adolescent development, and nursing majors made the trip, led by Dr. Conni Campbell, Dr. Larry Rankin, and professor Carrie Black. All students took courses in their respective departments and gained hands-on experience in either the classroom or local hospitals and clinics. The program ran for two four-week sessions, with the students living in a small hotel in the village. Monday through Friday, they learned about international development in the region and taught classes or did rounds at the hospital. Each weekend, the groups went on excursions around Ghana, including visits to the Kakum National Park canopy, the Wlui Waterfall, the Monkey Sanctuary, and the Cape Coast Slave Castle.
Andra Jacques is a PLNU alum (08) and the study abroad coordinator, overseeing the PLNU faculty-led study abroad programs. Jacques performed onsite coordination and program development for the Ghana program in 2013 and 2014. What follows is a look at her experience in Ghana this past summer.
It’s 4:30 a.m. and the roosters are crowing. They’re telling me it’s time to get up, but it’s still dark and way too early. As I roll over to go back to sleep, I know it will only be a matter of time before the Akatsi morning wakes me up for good. The smell of cooking fires will waft through my window. The people in the village will be shouting to one another about the market today, and carts will be rolling by underneath my window, creaking loudly with the weight of today’s goods to be sold.
As Atsu, our driver, expertly navigates our van down the bumpy road and pulls up to the Human Factor Leadership Academy, boys are already sprinting to bring us plastic lawn chairs to sit on while the other children giddily line up for morning assembly. It’s 8 in the morning and the heat is doing its best to drag us down as we stand in the courtyard behind the assembly lines. The children recite the school motto, “Love, grace, compassion, forgiveness; this is our motto is, our purpose, our business.” Later, they march off to class to the beat of the drumline, with arms and legs swinging high, singing, “We are the future leaders of Ghana, TODAY!”
I have a break in between two of my French classes today, so I check in on my college students. I am grateful once again to have the education and child and adolescent development majors joining the business majors this summer. Their lesson plans are nothing short of amazing and the amount of prep work Dr. Campbell did with them shows. Teaching classes all day is no small feat, but they seem complete naturals at it. In the kindergarten class today, Megan is teaching the students how to tell time using clocks they made out of paper plates and pin fasteners with construction paper hands. I love witnessing the success of the lesson, especially since I know she and her fellow student teachers stayed up late last night cutting out tiny paper clock hands.
I peek into another class and Stephanie H. is reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe out loud to a captive audience. The fourth graders are leaning forward, hanging on her every word. The teacher also sits on the edge of his desk listening intently. One of the greatest improvements over the last year is how actively engaged the teachers are in every lesson. Some of them are even taking notes and figuring out how they can replicate lessons after we leave. Even though our students are running the classes during our visit, I feel more confident that the teachers can take over again with renewed energy.
A Thirst for Knowledge
By the time we reach first break, I know my college students are exhausted, but the children want to read stories in our laps, play with our hair, skip rope, and play soccer up and down the dirt field. We rally and read books again and again, give them lots of cuddles, and pour out a good deal of sweat until the bell rings for class again. My favorite student, Pearl, has already gone through every book at the school multiple times, including all of the new Doc McStuffins books I brought. I show her on my tablet the Grimm’s Fairy Tales book and how she can turn the pages on it just like a real book. A small smile creeps on her face and she squats down next to me to begin reading The Frog-Prince out loud to her friends. From that point, each day at recess, Pearl runs over and quietly asks to read my “book” with her friends.
A Visit with Family
Today we are traveling to Vui to visit Senyo’s 93-year-old mother! Senyo’s family is taking us on a trek through the marsh to the deserted island of Dudu, where he grew up as a fishing boy. As we glide along the serene lagoon, I wave at the fishing boys wading in the water and checking their nets, hoping for even the tiniest catch. I think of what Senyo had to overcome to achieve so many amazing things in his life. When we return, Senyo’s family washes our feet and our sandals; they are so warm and loving with big smiles and very cold sodas.
I met with fellow PLNU alums Jason (07) and Olivia Kroening-Roche (07) at our hotel today. They founded a nonprofit called the Rural Health Collaborative (RHC), which works to reduce health disparities in rural communities through community engagement. They are currently in Ghana working with a local clinic to train Kekeli women, who are local community health promoters. This is a perfect opportunity to get our nursing students involved in outreach when they arrive. Our nursing students will spend most days doing rounds at Sacred Heart Hospital, learning firsthand about tropical medicine. Performing mobile outreach and helping to train the Kekeli women with the RHC is a fantastic addition!
The nursing students spend Fridays at HFLA teaching health classes and performing mini-health exams. So many of the little girls at school say they want to be nurses when they grow up. HFLA plans to add a nursing college in the future, and I hope these girls will one day be part of one of the first graduating classes!
Skirts, Storms, and Storytelling
This afternoon we visit our favorite seamstress, Innocentia. I met Innocentia on last year’s trip when I stumbled upon her shop during one of my afternoon walks. As someone who, regretfully, can’t even sew a button, I‘m completely in awe of her skill and her innate ability to sense what you want, even with the language barrier. The girls who work at the hotel also love her work, and she is mostly responsible for our bright, new Ghanaian wardrobe. There are menacing clouds in the sky as we make our way down the path from the hotel. Innocentia has not yet finished some of our skirts and dresses, so we decide to sit and chat with her and her apprentices while we wait. After awhile, a truly Ghanaian thunderstorm ensues and we scramble to help them grab the fabric and jewelry to bring inside. We shut ourselves inside the little shack for the rest of the afternoon giggling, trading stories, reading West African fashion magazines, and watching their diligent work.
I love that I can truly say I have friends here. Emilia at the hotel is my friend. We have passed so many hours learning about each other’s lives in the covered patio and discussing her love of wedding cakes. Atsu is my friend. I keep a special eye out for his children, Derek, Edzenam, and Malika, at school. And I trust him implicitly, with everything from driving and repairs to money exchanges and selecting van trip music (even though country music is his favorite). Innocentia is my friend. I can always appreciate anyone with an eye for fashion, and she knows my waistline better than I do. These are my Ghanaian friends and though we may be separated by land and ocean and differing opportunities, I know I will see them again soon because I’ve committed to seeing my little brothers and sisters at HFLA grow up and succeed. I have no choice but to return to this place again and again.
Our Last Day
It’s our last day at HFLA. The children are very upset and have few smiles for us today. Even the teachers are emotional. Most of my college students were having a difficult time keeping it together as we pulled up to the school and by late morning, let their tears fall freely. Despite the bug bites, rashes, upset stomachs, and never ending humidity, these students opened themselves up completely to this experience and allowed themselves to be deeply impacted by the Ghanaian people. What’s more, they have also left a piece of themselves in Akatsi, from the staff at the hotel and the teachers and students at HFLA to the nurses, doctors, and patients. From my perspective, PLNU and Ghana together have only just begun to create a vibrantly woven fabric of love.