Archive for the ‘Volunteer Spotlight’ Category

Volunteer Spotlight: Bouyem Bat Caves

Friday, February 19th, 2010

We were fortunate to be able to join any school field trips during our stay.  One trip was an excursion with the Primary 4 class.  With the 26 students we piled onto the old school bus and headed off to the Buoyem Bat Caves.

Although the town of Bouyem was only located 8km away, the road there was quite bad.  There were large ruts in the road cut out by the heavy rains and the bus struggled through it.  Luckily we were warned that we would need long pants, shoes, and hats for the day because the trails and caves would be muddy.  We had to pick up a guide first from the town before traveling to the trail head.


The cave went in fairly deep, required getting low again but then opened up to reveal caverns with a ceiling high enough to stand in.  We could hear the bats in the cave before we entered.  The guide explained that these were smaller bats, but there were thousands of them inhabiting the caves.  We could not see the bats at first, only hear them whizzing by our heads.  In this cave, there were two openings in the ceilings that let natural light inside.  The cave was said to be inhabited by the local tribes people seeking refuge during a war many years ago.  This was seen by the evidence of cave drawings and worn rock carvings present on the cave floors and walls.


On our way to the third and final cave, we stopped upon a rock face that had an amazing panoramic view of the lush countryside.  The children had a blast playing on the rocks and it was difficult to get them to leave.  We finally arrived at the last cave which the guide described as containing much larger bats. He also mentioned that we would not be leaving through the same way we entered.  This cave was the most impressive and also had the most history to it.  It was discovered by hunters for the Ashanti tribe.  They caught a bat, cooked it, fed it to a dog, and when they realized the dog did not die, they knew they could eat the bats.  They held the bats as sacred and bat meat became a large part of their diet.  Eventually a war broke out, and the chiefs had to hide in the caves for shelter.  Some people died in the caves, and so out of respect, our guide did a ceremonial libation to the chiefs before we entered.  He took some schnapps, spit it into the air then said a prayer and poured it on the ground.  He offered for us to drink some, but because we wanted to hike out alive we kindly refused.  The libation was to ensure nothing bad would happen to us in the cave.


This cave again required us to crawl on our hands and knees, but this time through a narrow passage.  Bats were flying everywhere as we tried to maneuver through a small tunnel.  It was quite the experience.  The tunnel finally opened up to a large room with a ladder to climb out.  We climbed the ladder and then had to scurry up vines to fully get out of the caves.

The guide caught one of the larger bats and brought it outside for us to hold.  Its wingspan was about a foot and a half in length and it was one of the weirder things I have ever held.  Its bones were so thin and light I thought it might break when it flapped its wings in my grasp.  Its wings were made out of a flexible and stretchy, leathery skin.  The bat tried biting me when I held it, so I held it just long enough for a picture before handing it to an eagerly awaiting student.


The tour was finally over and we headed back to where our bus had last left us. We had come full circle and the trip had taken a little more than two hours, not bad with all the kids.

Volunteer Spotlight: Kindergarten Graduation

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Today was the day of the esteemed and much awaited day of Kindergarten graduation.  For some reason, it is a very big deal in Ghana.  An elegant set up was created for the event complete with large speakers, chairs and tables.  The event was supposed to start at 10 am, but like always it did not begin until noon.  The entire lower school was in attendance as well as all the teachers.  Many members from the Parent Teachers Association as well as the Ghana Board of Education were present for the ceremony. To our surprise, nearly every parent of the children was sure to make an appearance.  The music, as always, was being played at a ridiculously high volume, and it was the same songs over and over again.

Kindergarten Graduation 1

The ceremony began with a prayer and then introductions.  The event was run by the master of ceremonies and one of the school’s teachers, Somaila.  He does a great job controlling the order of the program and interacting with the audience.  The ceremony contained many traditions, the first of which involved the kindergarten class standing coming on stage and performing a song for the audience.  The students then proceeded to change into athletic clothes to play games.  Everyone transitioned over to the fields to watch the children compete in tug of war, sack races, and spoon balancing races.  It was adorable to watch and the parents enjoyed the fun competition.

Kindergarten Graduation - Sac RaceKindergarten Graduation - Tug Rope

After the field games had finished, the students changed into their cultural uniforms.  They performed a play and then a cultural dance they had been working hard on all semester.  Still in their same uniforms, each child stepped up to the podium and recited a poem of their choice.  This took some time as you can imagine, but it was a pleasure to hear the students that were strong public speakers.  For students that performed particularly well, parents and others from the audience would throw money at them to donate towards the school.  One boy cried every time he had to speak publicly, this brought much laughter from the student body and I felt so bad for him.

The class then went into the library to change into their blue graduating gowns complete with caps and kente cloth lining.  During this time, the lower school held a dance competition to pass the time.  Finally the kindergarten class returned in their robes and strolled two by two onto the center stage to receive their official diplomas.  After each student received his/her certificate their picture was taken with their respective parents who were in attendance, which was mostly mothers.  Every mother in the audience seemed to be carrying a baby which I also found interesting.

Kindergarten Graduation 2

The ceremony crawled on in typical Ghanaian fashion with more announcements and presentations. I was amazed at the patience exercised by the rest of the lower class school-mates that continued watching attentively.  Many pictures were taken throughout the ceremony by a hired photographer and I was flabbergast to see some parents in the audience already holding printed pictures of their child!  I discovered later that the dj’s had brought a printer on site which the man was using to print pictures straight from his digital camera.  It was actually a great idea and the man was surely turning a nice profit.

After many grueling hours the ceremony finally came to a close. Mmaa and Bill both looked very pleased with the way things went and it was great to witness such a meaningful milestone event in the children’s lives.  It was especially nice to see Mohammed, one of the children from the house, graduate with his classmates.

Kindergarten Graduation

Volunteer Spotlight: Class Trip to Cassava Factory

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

On our way back from the Bat Caves the class stopped at a town that specialized in the production of Gari, a food made from the processing of cassava root.  We arrived at the factory at around 3:30, the sun was still hot but it made for lighting that was quite dramatic.  The entire village was based around this factory, which did not look like your typical factory encapsulated in one building, but rather spread out throughout a section of the town.

Cassava Factory

We first saw a woman cutting the cassava root by removing the outside and revealing the white starchy inside.  Next, the starchy remains are fed through a pulverizer attached to a conveyer belt.  This crushed the root into a finer white powder.  The people who ran these machines would get covered in the white powder and it was a heat producing process contained in a small room. Inhaling the particles seemed inevitable.  The powder was then taken outside, water is added to it and it is packed into large bags to ferment.  The bags are then placed in a oversized vice where the water is pressed out of the cassava and it is left to dry in the sun.  This did not smell so good.

Cassava Factory - Raw Material Cassava Factory - Crushing Process Cassava Factory - Drying Process

After this process the product is sent to another woman who places the cassava on a large metal stove with fire underneath.  The woman moves the powder around with metal ladles to ensure the product is evenly toasted.  This section smelled like smartfood popcorn for some reason.

Cassava Factory - Mixing ProcessCassava Factory - Waste Pile

The mother of one of the students actually worked at the plant and so she stood as the children asked her many questions they had formulated during the tour.  The children did this for a solid half hour and were very interested in the production method.  Meanwhile our group had attracted a good deal of attention from the local townspeople.  Children huddled around our group and would stare at us.  It was quite the interesting experience.  The final product made was called Gari.  It is a traditional food of Ghana that they use to add to dishes to enhance flavor and increase thickness.

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