Today we packed up and moved out of Cape Coast! Next stop, Axim. Unfortunately, this meant saying goodbye to Kathryn and Maureen (and Monica, Maureen's travel buddy who arrived on Wednesday). We promised to keep each other well updated of the other's work in different parts of Ghana. Three hours later, we arrived in Axim in the afternoon and were soon joined by Jerry Kwofie and Evans Arloo, the main TLC guys (technology learning coordinators) here in Axim. Jerry is an IT teacher at Axim Girls' Senior High School and Arloo is the operations manager for the Western Heritage Home. They gave us a detailed tour of Axim to help us get an idea of where we will be spending all of our time in the following week. We visited the Western Heritage Home, AGSHS, the Axim Library, a new building site for AGSHS, and drove past the local hospital where Jerry's wife works. We also drove along the coast of Axim, which is a very crowded and vibrant place because fishing is the main business in the town. We also had the chance to meet both of their wives and adorable babies! Jerry has a fourteen-month-old son and Arloo has a three-month-old girl named Maryanne after the head and founder of Ghana Together, which supports local schools here in Axim. I can already tell that Axim is very different from Cape Coast, as it is much more rural, but the dedication and passion of those who are working to improve the education of high school students here is no less than that of Cape Coast.
Thursday was such a meaningful day that I have to split it into two separate posts. In the afternoon we were back to the Abura girls' house for the last time. I spent the first hour or so simply reviewing all that we had learned over the past couple of weeks, starting with how to turn on their computers and connect to the Internet-in-a-Box. The girls were quick to remember many of the functions, and I wrote down a list of reminders (what I referred to as a "cheat sheet") for the steps that seemed to give them more of a challenge. Then I asked them one simple question in each of the main Internet-in-a-Box sites (Wikipedia, Khan Academy, Project Gutenberg, OpenStreetMap, RACHEL, CK-12 textbooks, and Powertyping). We also reviewed some of the useful tricks I had taught them during previous lessons, like "ctrl+f" and how to check the battery levels on their computers. We got through it all remarkably fast, and then I gave them a bit of free time to ask any last questions. After we finished up with the computers, we reviewed a "Caring for Your XO-4 Laptop" document that I had written up and printed for them. Before saying goodbye, I left them each some parting gifts, complements of Cardinal Health. I gave each girl a Cardinal Health tote bag and notebook, and the girls were absolutely ecstatic! I think that moment was the most excited I had seen them so far over the past two weeks. The girls and I took a group picture, and then every single one of them wanted to take selfies with me on their XO laptops! They have definitely mastered that application. It's crazy to think that I only met these girls two weeks ago, and it's even crazier to think how timid and quiet they were during that first meeting! The difference between the first and last day was overwhelming. Today, all of the girls were eager to get in their last words and pictures with me, and they all gave me many hugs before I left! It's very sad to leave them all after what feels like such a short time, but I hope that I get the chance to follow their accomplishments in life and see them again someday! Before we left, one of the girls thanked my father and me on behalf of them all and gave us a card, which I did not open until back at Kathryn's house. Reading this card was by far the highlight of my trip, and I am not exaggerating when I say that it was one of the most touching experiences of my life to date. Inside of a very nice store-bought card were handwritten letters, one for me from each of the girls and also for my dad ("Mr. Jeff"). I am not usually one to cry for sentimental reasons, but I had tears in my eyes as I read their words of thanks. No words of my own will do them justice, so here are a few of their sentences: "When you hear the morning rising bell or alarm then it is me who is thanking you." I've always hated the sound of an alarm clock, but now it will never fail to put a smile on my face each morning. Another girl wrote, "I have never dreamed about this precious things you have done for us […] how you got love for us to do this grate things for us, and also how you took your time and have pacience for us to teach us any important things about the laptop. May God bless you, give you long life and good strength to continue what ever you whant to in your future. May God open a brighter future for you, so that you can achive all your aims you whant to achive." It's safe to say that I gained just as much from these girls as I could possibly have given them. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
Today, Thursday, was my last day of teaching at both the Edinaman School and the Abura house, and it was by far the most rewarding day yet. At Edinaman I had the students spent their last lesson learning more about Scratch. After I finished teaching, they brought me to the front of the classroom as one of the students very kindly thanked my father and me on behalf of the students and the school for the work we had done. Then a couple of the teachers said a few words and thanked us for finding the time to come to Ghana, bring the Internet-in-a-Box and other technology to their school, and teaching the students and teachers how to use it. Madam Cynthia, one of the teachers, gave my father, Maureen, and me each a personal gift of locally crafted jewelry, and we all put it on right away! Another one of the teachers reminded his students that I am only seventeen years old, the same age or younger than many of the students in the class. He told his students that I am proof that each of them can change the world for the better by helping others if they truly put their minds to it. I believe that these words of gratitude may very well be the kindest and highest form of praise that I have ever received. Over these past two weeks, all of my hard work over the past months and even years has paid off more than I ever could have imagined, but hearing it put so beautifully into words by these teachers and students was unparalleled. If this wonderful morning wasn't enough, my day continued to get even better!
Today is Republic Day, a national holiday in Ghana, so none of the schools were in sessions. It also happens to be Canada Day! Anyways, it actually worked out well for my teaching at the Abura house because they were home from school all day, so I was able to head over to teach around 10:00 instead of 3:30, as usual. Today's entire lesson was on Wikipedia, and the questions I gave the girls were the trickiest yet! I also gave the girls some time to think of their own questions to ask each other, and they eagerly accepted the challenge! Many of the girls asked questions, with several of the girls even giving out two or three, and the rest of the girls worked diligently until they found all the answers. After teaching, Kathryn, Muhammad, John, and I went out to lunch near the Cape Coast Castle. John used to live at Kathryn's house before relocating for his teaching position, and Muhammad still lives at Kathryn's and works for Anansi. Then we all headed into the market, which was a very interesting place to see! Like any market, it was full of strange sights and smells, but this one included pig legs and dried chameleons! We bought the ingredients for tonight's meal of yam balls and also met Muhammad's mother, who works at the market. It was a very fun, busy day!
Today I was back at Edinaman to teach my first lesson of Scratch! Teaching this program to a large group of 22 students posed a few challenges, but the class went very well. First I explained what Scratch is: a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, and games and teaches important computer programming skills. Next I went over the basic functions within the program, and then we got into our first project! We started off simple by programming our "sprite" (the little character) to draw a square. I explained to them that programming the sprite is no different than telling the person sitting next to you how to walk in a square, step-by-step. I even had two of the students demonstrate this idea, with one student acting as the sprite and the other as the programmer. Drawing the square helped introduce the important concept of repetition. The students quickly realized that the steps to make a square (for example, walk five steps and then turn to the right) repeated four times. I showed them how the same idea can be used in Scratch instead of putting in each step three extra times. The students seemed to catch on very fast, and, as I walked around the room to watch their progress, offer advice, and answer questions, I noticed that many of the students were already exploring other functions and trying to discover what they could be used for. I was so happy to see this demonstration of curiosity about the computer programming because that desire to explore will be EXTREMELY important after I leave. I can only teach these students so much in these short two weeks that I am in Cape Coast/Elmina with them, and that curiosity and exploration is what will enable them to continue to learn from their computers after I leave. At the end of the day, we all walked to a restaurant in town to enjoy fufu, a Ghanaian dish made of cassava and plantain. Even better, we got to watch and help them make the fufu! It involves pounding the cassava and plantains in a wooden mortar with a wooden pestle. It's hard work, but the result is definitely worth it!
Today was a very fun day of browsing the stores in Cape Coast and teaching the girls in the Abura house. First we went to Woodin's, a fabric store, and then we browsed several art shops, where the vendors' products ranged from large, vibrantly colored paintings to bracelets and wooden elephants. I purchased a few small souvenirs after some aggressive haggling over prices on my part. I'm only kidding, of course. I quickly discovered that this back-and-forth process of arguing over prices is much too stressful for my liking. In fact, " I mostly stood there without saying a word until the vendor lowered the cost of my small wooden elephant to a price that I hoped was somewhat reasonable. So, yes, "aggressive" may be a bit of an exaggeration. I was still quite proud of myself, though! After lunch, we headed over to the girls' house in Abura and I did some more IIIAB scavenger hunt questions using Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg, and OpenStreetMap. I am absolutely amazed at how much they have learned in such a short period of time. At the beginning of last week, none of the girls had even heard of Wikipedia, and now they surf the IIAB web like trained professionals! I am so proud of what they have already accomplished in our time together, and I feel so lucky to call myself their teacher.
We left the beach hotel today and picked up the IIAB technology from Edinaman Senior High School to bring back to Kathryn's and run some tests. According to Adam, the server had been running slower than desired over the weekend. Once we got back to Kathryn's, my dad replaced some of the thinner wires with the thick wire we purchased last week in Ghana. We also set up the Axim IIAB to test at the same time, and Tim was able to get Khan Academy working on the Edinaman server (previously it said the "page was not found" when clicked on). Even better, this fix means that the SIM card in the Netgear modem is working because Tim and Adam are successfully able to access the server through it from Canada and the United States. By the end of the call, both servers were working very well!
As promised, today was a great day of relaxation. We spent most of the afternoon sitting by the water and reading. It was great to sleep in past six in the morning, take a shower with hot water, and use air conditioning. However, I am excited to get back to Kathryn's and prepare for next week's lessons and new adventures!
We were back at Edinaman today to finish off our first school week, and I continued my IIAB lessons with the students. It was a day full of fun competitions using Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg, and Open Street Maps. The first person to answer each question correctly won a pen with the logo of Cardinal Health, my dad's employer, and the students were very excited to receive them! At the end of class, I had the students think of their own Internet-in-a-Box scavenger hunt questions, and some of the questions they formed were quite challenging. I was impressed with how quickly they solved each other's questions, though! After the lesson, several of the students hung around in the ICT lab and asked me questions about how I became involved in my work and what my role was in creating and preparing the IIAB server. I also gave them a preview of Scratch, the program that I will be teaching them next week, and they seemed very excited to dive into the world of computer programming. After I finished teaching, my father and I headed over to Elmina Beach Resort, where we will be spending the weekend. It will be a great chance to relax after an action-packed week and spend some time along the beach!
Today we were back at the Anansi Abura house to teach the eight girls from the University Practice School. I was finally able to deliver their XO-4 laptops, and the girls were thrilled to open them! They had a lot of fun customizing the color settings and backgrounds of their computers after I showed them the basics, and then we got started with the IIAB material. Again, I gave an overview of the technology we had brought and what Internet-in-a-Box is, and then I had them do some work with Wikipedia. The students had never heard of an encyclopedia, never mind Wikipedia, so I explained it to them as an online book that is similar to a dictionary, but with entire articles explaining the words instead of short definitions. By the end of our lesson, they were experts at searching whatever topic they pleased, ranging from Hermione Granger to the United States of America. I was also pleasantly surprised to see how quickly they began using Wikipedia for Schools and Khan Academy to enhance their educations. It's great that they understand how helpful it is to have access to thousands of educational articles and videos at their fingertips. On the way home, we stopped at a convenience store to pick up some snacks, and Maureen and I had a great time trying to figure out what some of the crazy flavors of cookies were. My dad and I couldn't agree on which snacks to buy, so of course we had to buy it all. We ended up taking home mango cookies, chocolate, some sort of Pringles-like chips, and two different types of Fanta! It will take a while to get through it all, but I am excited to see how it all tastes!