Sunday, April 3, 2011

They like me, they really like me…

Friday was the official closing ceremony for my involvement in the MCI S2S Partnership Program.  Even though I have a few more weeks of work to complete, the head teachers planned a formal program for the last day of the head teachers’ training workshop.  After a hurried morning trying to complete the last of our training, students at Martyrs of Uganda were brought in to dismantle the computer lab and set it up for the final program.  Computers were taken apart, desks were moved, the floor was swept, and in half an hour we went from a computer lab to a conference room.  (Well, other than the posters on the wall about the proper uses of the Internet.  I’ve blurred them out in the pictures that follow, since it’s not nearly as formal when there’s a poster behind our heads telling you to “avoid using abusive or threatening language on the Internet”, among other things.)

Almost all the attendees were on time and we even started the program three minutes early.  The importance that they all must have attached to this event was not lost on me.  It wouldn’t have been feasible to invite all forty-five S2S program teachers plus the head teachers, so they settled for inviting the MCI Lead Teachers, the one from each school chosen to work with a US teacher in the school connections that gave rise to the name of School-to-School (S2S) Partnership Program for this project. 

After an opening prayer, one of the ICT teachers was asked to introduce the new chairperson of the Head Teachers Committee, who would also be serving as emcee for the event.  I wish I could remember how he phrased it, but he did an outstanding job of listing her many merits, from her educational attainment to being name Best Head Teacher.  I knew that she was good at her job, but I didn’t know that she was that good or that other people had recognized it.  During these proceedings, Director Gladys and many of the office staff who are involved in this program showed up.  The Chairperson welcomed her and handed the program off to the Secretary, our esteemed, hardworking Eugene. 

Director presenting the gift to me
Eugene wrote up a two-page report on the program that he shared with the gathering.  He has asked me earlier in the week to provide him with a summary of the program.  I somehow managed to get it down into a single page, which he used in preparing his report.  But he, of course, added his own flourishes, making me sound like a one-woman ICT teaching machine. 

According to the original schedule, I was supposed to speak next, but they decided to change the order and let Gladys speak.  If I thought that Eugene had sung my praises, she gave me an entire concert of commendations.  She spoke about how hard-working and humble I was and about my dedication and “real sacrifices” I made to leave my husband and my family and friends and my job to come over here.  She talked about how much I cared about the future of the program, about how she could see that I wanted it to succeed after I left.  My work with helping the teachers to use ICT for teaching had “opened our eyes on a whole new world”.  She reassured me of how important the program was to Kumasi by saying that “as long as the Metro Directorate exists, the program will exist”. 

At many points throughout her speech, I could feel the waterworks wanting to start up.  I don’t feel like I deserve all the praises that she heaped on me, but I understand the need for her to make her appreciation public.  I am glad that she is taking this program so seriously.

After her remarks it was my time to speak.  I had had enough time prior to the program to prepare a list of talking points I wanted to cover, so I kept my notebook open to that list while I spoke.  In the first minute, I almost started crying and even told everyone that I might, but I managed to pull myself together and make a professional yet emotional speech, if I do say so myself.  I made sure to share the successes by thanking the MCI staff, Liz and Abenaa and Susan, and the Metro Education office.  I spent a couple minutes talking about the Pulse program and how it was the only reason that I was able to come here.  Kirby, my Ghanaian co-worker, made a cameo appearance when I mentioned how excited he was that I was coming here and, in turn, how happy that made me to come to Ghana. 

We were then supposed to move onto an agenda item mysteriously titled “Presentation” but the Director was out of the room.  Instead, the Chairperson asked if anyone else had any optional presentations of things they would wish to say.  There was a silence so loud that my ears hurt.  I have learned that people here are not necessarily the sort to be creative on the spot, so I was not surprised at the silence.  But then one of the heads stood up and said something that I couldn’t quite hear that finished with wanting to sing a song from their primary school days.  He began singing about sailing far away and wishing me well on my travels.  During the second line, everyone in the room joined in, even Gladys, who had returned to the room.  After the first line, other people in the room joined in until everyone was singing.  That was the point that the tears really welled up in my eyes, making me need the tissue that I had pulled out from my purse. 

Kente cloth outfit
“Presentation” turned out to be presentation of gifts.  Gladys handed me the first one, pausing for Deputy Director Mr. Boakye to take pictures with my camera.  The first package was a bit thick and heavy.  I opened it to find… two beautiful blouses made from Kente cloth.  A bit of a conversation ensued, since there was supposed to be a skirt in the bag.  The heads said that I should go put the outfit on, so one of the heads led me to the headmaster’s office, where she handed me the skirt and let me choose one of the tops to put on with it.  I was astonished to find that the outfit fit like it had been made just for me—which it had been.  I told her how surprised I was at the fit and she replied that they had someone come in and look at me to figure out my measurements without me even knowing it.  Whoever it was is an amazing seamstress because it fits as well as all the other clothes I’ve had made here—and those all required being measured with a tape measure.  The gift was so beautiful and so meaningful, especially knowing that they had spent all week discussing how tight money is for the program.  (Kente cloth is not cheap—that outfit probably cost the equivalent of the electricity and Internet credits needed for a month.) 

We were supposed to finish up the program when Mr. Boakye passed a note to Gladys that prompted her to introduce the new S2S Coordinator, William (still not his real name, but the same “William” that helped with the first Head Teachers’ Workshop in December and again during the second one this past week).  I was so thankful that she publicly announced him because it made it possible for me to start taking him to all the schools next week.

I came back into the room to general applause and good cheer—and at least 10 different cameras and camera phones, maybe more.  Mr. Boakye was using my camera to take pictures again, so I was able to get a few shots me wearing the outfit.  They also handed me a couple more small gifts from folks at the Metro Office.  The program wrapped up and we were served the fancy lunch on actual china plates with real silverware, instead of the take-out boxes and plastic utensils more commonly used at events. 

My collection of going-away gifts
[Side story: Earlier in the week, Eugene has asked to leave the workshop so that they could buy “meat” for the program on Friday.  I asked him, “By meat, do you mean beef?  Or goat or grass-cutter?” [Side note to the side story: grass cutter is the local name for the Greater Cane Rat, a large rodent that is eaten here in Western Africa.]  Eugene laughed at that last choice and said, “No, I mean beef.  Cow.  Definitely cow.”

I wasn’t exactly sure how I was supposed to eat the beef.  It was in large chunks and we were not given any knives.   I looked around and still couldn’t figure out exactly what to do until I finally saw Mr. Boakye stab a piece on his fork and gnaw on it.  I decided to try the same thing.  The beef reminded me more of beef jerky but it was rather tasty.]

I feel very fortunate to have been a part of all of this.  Even with all the stress and struggles, I know how much my presence has meant to people here…and how much it has meant to me.  Everyone keeps asking me when I’ll come back here.  I’m still not really sure how to answer that question.  If I got eight weeks of vacation a year, I’m pretty sure I might come back here every couple years.  Since I get half that, it may be some time before I come back.  But we’re in the digital age, right?  I’m sure I’ll still hear from some people over email.  And there are a bunch of people that want to be my friends on Facebook. Given the controversy over using Facebook in the schools, I didn’t want to accept any requests while I was here.  But once I’m not in any official capacity with the program, I might take them up on it.

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