News : Isla and Joe in Saltpond

06/02/2020

 Isla, a primary school teacher, and Joe, an accountant, volunteered with SEP from October 2019 - February 2020. Here's their account of their time in Saltpond:

Arriving in Saltpond four months ago we weren’t quite sure what to expect. After our first day at school however, meeting the (very excited) children and all the brilliant teaching staff, we immediately felt at home. Now four months later, we really feel part of the community. The shouts of ‘Ubruni’ as we go into town have gradually been replaced by ‘Isla’ and ‘Joseph’, often from people we’re pretty sure we’ve never met before.

Isla spent the first few weeks in different classes, observing teachers and getting to know the children, whilst familiarising herself with the Ghanaian style of teaching. It was wonderful to hear all the classes getting ready for learning by singing (very catchy) songs, having a great time doing so. Having spent lots of time in KG classrooms in the UK, Isla decided to help the KG teachers to develop their play-based approach to learning to ensure children were getting the most from it. The teachers were extremely receptive, taking on board all the new information. They made small changes to their daily routine, rearranged the classroom so it was more accessible for play and learned the importance of interacting with children in play and how to do this. The results have been really positive and it’s clear that the play-based approach is becoming strongly embedded in KG.

During the Christmas holidays we also decided to re-decorate the KG classrooms, giving them a fresh paintjob and new alphabet and number walls to help facilitate learning. Not being expert decorators we were helped by Emmanuel, our headteacher, and a few of the other teachers who came in on their Christmas break to help us, which was much appreciated. Especially as they were able to tell us the paint was meant to have been diluted when we were about a third of the way through one of the rooms!!

As well as working with KG, Isla has redeveloped the phonics planning to make it more appropriate for children who have English as a second language. The phonics progression has been slowed down to enable children to strongly embed their knowledge of sounds and key words. The plans have been made with the teachers in mind; trying to make them extremely clear and simple to use. Alongside the redeveloped planning, Isla has run several training sessions on phonics and has worked individually with teachers to help improve their practice. Phonics is an area where Emmanuel has a strong focus for development and we hope that the new planning will help him with this.  

One of our aims while we were here was to assist with the project management of the building of the new Junior High School, alongside the existing Primary School. Luckily for us Mike, project founder and coordinator, had done a lot of the groundwork in advance of us being here, and we had a contractor set up to do the build. Our role has been getting the contracts put together and arranging purchases of materials and payments to the contractor, while ensuring the workers are turning up to work! While it took a while to get used to Ghanaian timings (nothing ever happens when it is supposed to) and bureaucracy (a lot of it) this has been really rewarding and exciting to picture what it will be like for the children when it’s up and running.

Joe has also been using his experience as an accountant to help out with the financial side, updating some of the processes around the tracking of income and payments for the charity and creating a budget for the next financial year, as well as performing a pay review, which resulted in a pay increase for all the teachers, to make sure they’re fairly rewarded for their great efforts.   

Those are the bigger things we’ve done, but we got just as much enjoyment from the week to week involvement in the school. From taking the Class 6 pupils for their weekly swimming lessons, after school football training, talent competitions and litter picking clubs, the happiness and fun of the pupils is absolutely infectious and something we’ll really miss.

While here we’ve been living with Mike in the volunteer house which we have loved. The house has all the home comforts you need as well as some very friendly/cheeky kids that live next door who have taken to singing us songs while we cook our dinner. Mike is the perfect housemate, teaching us to cook delicious local food, immediately sorting out any problems we had, and keeping us very entertained over dinner with his hilarious stories and life advice.  

Everyone says it who has visited Ghana, and particularly SEP, but we’re really going to miss the relaxed pace of life and the consistent friendliness of all Ghanaians we meet. Mike, Emmanuel and everyone else around the school have been so welcoming and it’ll definitely be a big culture shock going back to London. We hope that it won’t be too long before our next visit!



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