Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trouble in paradise

Today my idyllic view of friendly Ghana took a bit of a beating.  This morning, I arrived at one of the schools to find that they had no power, a not unexpected occurrence here (and not the reason for the shattering of my illusions).  The ICT teacher told me that he heard on the radio that the power would be off in his area of Kumasi from 9-5 today for repairs to the power infrastructure.  This conscientious teacher had tried to call me this morning, but my phone was acting up and I didn’t receive his call.  At first, I had the same irritation as in December, when power at the site for the head teachers’ training was cut off on short notice.  But I found out later that this power outage had been announced as early as Sunday, which eased my irritation.  It’s not the Ghana power company’s fault that I don’t listen to the right local radio station, whichever one that is.

I waited at this school until 11 to see if the repairs might end early, but the lights never came on, so I rescheduled for Friday.  Akmed and I headed across town to my next school for the day.  I had the forethought to call the ICT teacher there and confirm that the power was on, so I was ready for a productive teaching session.  Unfortunately, electricity would end up being the least of my issues there.

I arrived at the school to find a huge meeting going on in the computer lab.  The ICT teacher met me outside the room with the head teacher and told me that the brand-new, flat-panel monitors that they had been given for the program had been stolen.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Everything that I thought I knew about Ghana felt like it had been turned upside down.  I was in shock, but probably not as much shock as they had been when they discovered the theft.  Since their computer room was almost ready and none of the remaining work required moving of furniture, I asked them to put their computers together for us to use them, which is when they discovered the theft.  These computers had been stored in boxes in the head teacher’s office since the last time we used them in December, meaning that the monitors could have been stolen anytime in the last two months.

As soon as the theft was discovered, the school notified the sub-metro schools officer and the police.  The ICT teacher had not told me over the phone because she felt it would be easier to break the news in person, a gesture that I greatly appreciated.  They also handed the formal letter they had prepared to notify us of the theft.  The Ghanaian gift for brevity in writing made the letter even sadder—only five sentences were needed to share this tragic news.

What truly saddens me is that this school had spent so much of their limited resources on preparing this room for the computers.  This school had been struggling to get their computer lab ready for almost a year now and only had to make a couple small additions (like ceiling fans) for the room to be complete.  I was ready to rejoice with them upon the upcoming completion of the room, but instead I am sharing the pain of their loss.  Given that the schools in Ghana are limited in their resources, I can’t believe that someone would steal from them.  While previously I intellectually understood the need for securing the doors and windows with bars, this incident was a cold reminder of why the schools were required to do that to receive the computers.

Even as I write this, I hesitate to post this for fear it will just feed the misperceptions of Africa in general and Ghana in particular in other parts of the world.  But I am still sharing it because I want to make it clear how unexpected this event was.  In the time I have been here, I can’t think of a single instance that made me think a crime like this would occur here.  I have walked alone at night in my neighborhood without fear of being mugged.  Thanks to the presence of our caretaker, I often don’t bother to lock the door to my room or the house when I leave.  Akmed will leave items in plain sight in a locked car with no fear of them being stolen—while back home, my car window was smashed in a parking lot to steal my stuff.  Crime happens everywhere in the world, but I really thought that it wouldn’t happen here.

I was stunned that, even with this meeting underway about the theft, the ICT teacher seemed ready for me to try to teach them something today.  Maybe they could have soldiered on through this situation, but I couldn’t.  I told them that I thought they needed to take some time to continue to sort things out and that I would return on Friday.  They were already trying to figure out a way to go on, with the head teacher offering to bring in an old monitor to connect to one of the computers.  (It’s highly unlikely that they will be able to replace those new monitors with anything even half as nice.)  I had to leave at that point before I broke down in tears.  My eyes are leaking even now as I type this.  I am humbled by the fortitude these teachers are showing in the face of such problems and am honored to be working with them. 

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