As September came to a quick close I found myself having to write out lists of things that I ought to do. Back in August I was pressing myself a bit to find things to occupy the days while the students were away. Now I am getting caught up in four or five things at once and it is a good thing.
Firstly, the students are back and milling about the campus a lot now. The third-year students were the first to arrive and they attended a week-long lecture on what is expected of them during their tenure as a teacher in the area schools around the Volta region. It was great to see some familiar faces again and I had a terrible time of remembering names (for which I am so ill-equipped with names that I know and have heard before, let alone try to figure out which is Enyanam and who is Dziedzorm (both of those names I did remember as they are very sweet ladies who stopped by the lab often enough so as I could etch their names into my brain)). Lots of smiles and lots of fun while the third-years stayed on campus.
I attended one of their lectures in the building close by to my house on a Thursday. There were not many teachers present for this lecture so I stood out a little by my late arrival and the fact that I was the third teacher seated, but it went well. One of the teachers leaned over to me while the speaker was finishing up with her presentation and let me know that I would be allowed to do the closing prayer for the assembly. I pleaded as best I could to not be the one to do this (for those who know me, the reason would be obvious) but it became clear that she was not letting "no" be an answer. I jotted down something to say that sounded religious enough, and then made sure to include a bit of humor. It went something like this: "God, grant us today the humility and serenity which You have given us through our entire lives; and Lord please keep our third-year students safe for ever and ever -- or at least until they get back from the bank with their school fees. For this we pray, Amen." At the Amen part the entire room exploded with "AHHH MEN!!!" and laughter. I don't know if the joke went over well, but they were happy to be done which made me happy in turn.
Out with old, in with the newer. Or something like this as the second-year and first-year students arrived in the following week. The new faces were immediately put to work and the campus started to become a little less overgrown with grasses and weeds. No one attends the college without bringing their favorite machete and they were using it well in the early days of this week. I didn't get to meet any of the new students in classes as they were too busy working, but during the following week I will be able to greet them and introduce myself. Already a few know me by the name Fo Kawku (my best spelling of what is a symbol in that looks like a backwards 'c') which is fine by me. A few have even trickled into the lab to check email and let the family know how they are doing. I already have a very capable student who can fix hardware issues quite nicely. He repaired computers for a living at a business here in town and brought that know-how to the school by fixing an ailing computer from our school's typing pool. I was impressed since I was stuck on how to resuscitate the patient before he showed up.
Students returning to campus was the easy part and required very little of my time. I happened to get involved in a few other things that have had me busy. Our school here is desperate for a web site and I am trying to help out by coordinating the committee responsible for launching the site by December. So far we are not really sure if we can afford (through school funding) to purchase a domain and then buy hosting space on a web server. I hope to find this out first before getting too far into the "building" part of the site. The worst case scenario that I see is just putting up a few pages for free at a site like Wordpress.com. Still, it is nice to have some tasks to take on and get done.
With a web site being built my hope is to organize and grow an ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) club for the students on campus. In the dream world that I occupy there would be enough interest in the club to support an HTML boot camp where the students themselves would maintain the hypothetical web site that St. Francis operates. If that were the case, then when either my counterpart or I leave there will be people ready to train the next class on how to make updates to the site. Again, that is a bit ambitious. For the near-term the ICT Club would be there to allow those students who are interested in taking their understanding of computers and communications a bit further. The classes which I teach just get their feet wet in some software, but there is a ton to learn out there in the world of communications and this might be the right forum to see what interests the students and to give them what they want. Another possibility is to take this club and have them be a part of a dialogue with younger students back in the U.S. through the Coverdell World Wise School program. I am working with a teacher to try and create a bridge between the two classes demonstrating what it is like to live and learn in each culture. This might be a way to introduce video recording and editing to the students and a neat way to see how the other country does things. During the first week of classes here I am going to advertise the heck out of it (the ICT club) in the hopes of having a few sign up.
Most volunteers get involved in something outside of their main duties and up to now I really hadn't approached a secondary project. It could be for the best that I had some time to think about one and hear different ideas for projects which lead me to a previous volunteer's work directing a radio program in his community speaking about HIV and educating people about the disease. My own fear of speaking in public be damned, I went to the local radio station in town (we have two here) that is closest to St. Francis first and met a very receptive station manager. He was supportive of the idea and his warmth and smile made me realize that this wasn't going to be the fight that I was picturing to secure air time for such educational segments. He directed me to the program manager and I met the same positive response. I am taking some time to gather more information so that I can actually speak competently on the subject, but they were asking me about stopping by and giving some perspectives on life and the difference between Ghana and America. This sounds like goal number two in Peace Corps' mission statement to me, so I feel quite excited about it and very thankful that the radio station was open to it.
On a very small scale I have been lending my cartoon talents to the SWAT Malaria initiative sponsored by a few other PCVs here in Ghana. The illustration of a woman stabbing her little baby with a mosquito looks pretty good if I do say so myself. Each cartoon is meant to convey an idea that we are protecting ourselves from malaria by taking certain steps and the stabbing-a-baby picture is just a striking image to go along with that campaign. There are a few others to complete, but so far it seems to be working out. My hope is that the group sponsoring the campaign is all right with the drawings. My biggest challenge is to render in cartoon-form someone suffering diarrhea. That shall be high art.
There are a few other things that are going which may not be big deals but make me feel like I am getting some things done. St. Francis typically does the timetable for all of the teachers and students by hand, leaving one person to try and solve all the conflicts that arise when accounting for many many classes spread throughout the week. Now we have software at the lab that might be able to remove the tedious aspect of the work and get a schedule that won't have conflicts right from the very start. If it does not work, then... well, I am hoping that it works from the get-go. More personal goals involve struggling with the guitar, making small improvements on my Turkish with the help of a very understanding (and pretty) coach, and then a teacher workshop focused on giving everyone basic internet skills and using the machines in the lab.
Indeed, keeping busy and then some.