Respecting Identity

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This image is from my recent trip to Ghana in honor of the “Year of Return” celebration the country is hosting to welcome people of African decent back to their home land.

What do you notice?   What do you wonder?  

Allow me to share a few of my own;

Notice:

  • The expression on the faces of these children communicate “I am here”, ” I am proud” and “I am happy”.

Wonder:

  • I wonder what it is like to be a child growing up in this farm village on a Cocoa farm in Ghana?

According to ancestry.com’s latest update I am about 1% Ghanaian. This is the the closest I have come to knowing where my roots trace back to in Africa. My family took this trip to place feet on the mother land. We wanted a window into the spaces that our ancestors walked and lived and learn about their customs and traditions. Visiting Africa proved to be just as much a “mirror experience” as a window experience.

(Take a moment to look at the pictures about and list all of the things you think, comments you make and questions you have as an educator before you read on)

The elders took us into every classroom and explained how each room came about with great pride. The men of the village harvest cocoa by hand and sell it to the government to fund the village. Every person plays a role in some way.  One of the elders of this village started a touring company in Ghana and 10% of the proceeds from the touring company also fund this particular project in the village.

Enock, a village elder explained that in order to build the school the men in the village take one day off a week to collectively work on it, as long as materials are ready. Right now they are working to earn enough to purchase the nails to secure roofing for the next building. He explained with great pride, how the people of this village saw a need for a school house in their village and banded together to meet this need.

Prior to this building the children were walking pretty far to attend school in another village. When it rained children were not going to school. Having a school in the village helped with this among other things.

This “Village School Project” is a beautiful story of grassroots community development. They are so proud of their schoolhouses and all that is taking place in them. The image below is of the 5-8 school house in progress. Enock said “it takes a while because we cannot waste days of work on the farm to build the school, because the village must run.” I hear him saying one thing is not more important than the other. They are ALL important.

I totally agree with him now, but when I heard him make this statement I thought “nothing is more important than education Enock it is the way out”.

When I stopped to hear myself, I realized the absurdity in what I was saying. There are tons of things more important than building or attending school. I am so glad there are places in the world where people still know this.

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When my family walked through the classroom and saw 6-9 desks that are used by more than one child at a time, chalk boards, about 25 books on 1 shelf and nothing else, we were in awe. There were so many whispers about what we should have brought with us to “help this village”. We brought school supplies, and book bags and things of this nature but standing in the rooms we saw a greater need.

On the bus ride back home there was much buzz about raising money to help with the building effort and how we might offer training and support to the village to expose them to more modern ways of educating children. I belong to a family educators with a heart for the underserved.

We had tons of ideas about what these people needed to “help” them. It was in this moment that I realized how we sounded. These people were working hard, planning and acting to make teaching a reality in their small village. Instead of asking what they felt might be most useful, our initial response was to assumed we knew better and perhaps that they did not know what they needed.

I have so much more to write about Ghana but I will stop here and tell you what I am now wondering:

  • How do I help this village in Ghana without imposing my culture on them?
  • In what ways do I think this way in my day to day life and work in the US?
  • Different is not always better. With every convenience we gain we lose something. Every culture must decide. What must we keep and what will we give?
  • What does this community feel their village school needs most?

I have shared this before, but I was in New York at Lucy West’s Master Coaching Institute years ago in a session with her. She shared an idea and a person started to challenge the idea and then recanted.

Lucy replied “No, say what you were going to say, we may disagree or I may change my mind based what you said. These ideas I have are not always permanent.”

This one statement has stuck with me for years. I think it fits here as a closing to this post. I have so many thoughts and reflections from Ghana but the village school visit has me wondering about identity. We only teach teachers and students every day using the individual lens we each carry.  We can however walk into spaces acutely aware of the fact that we have a lens and that it is not necessarily the “right” lens. We can communicate this to others; like Lucy does in the quote above, as we move about.

Wonder what that might do for our families, communities and world?

Forever changed,

Kaneka

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