By my second week at Fulani, the volunteer roster had changed, many of my original colleagues had returned to the UK and some equally lovely new people had arrived.
One of those whose stay overlapped the two groups was Daniel, a trainee teacher back in the UK and all round great guy. A group of us started to think about what we could do to create a legacy that would benefit the Fulani school. Dan’s teaching background prompted him in the direction of developing a curriculum for the older class of approximately 15 children, aged between 11 and 18. At face value this initially seemed extremely ambitious, but swept away by Dan’s enthusiasm and reasoning a small group of us began to meet after school to discuss our best way forward and start setting out plans.
While ambitious the development of the curriculum made compelling sense. Although we had all arrived at Fulani at differing times none of us had any great understanding of what had previously been taught. So it was as though we were starting afresh and we wondered, in our blindness, whether the work carried out by earlier volunteers was being repeated by us. Once we all became established it also became clear which children were learning at a faster pace than others.
The planning of the curriculum allowed us to grow as teachers, as it meant we really thought about the key steps that needed to taken by every pupil. We set stages of learning within English and Mathematics and this enabled us to make assessments on each child’s ability against each of the stages, so we were better able to focus our teaching to help improve and stimulate every pupil.
As is often the case the forum that we created began to focus our minds not just on the matter at hand but also brought about discussion on related issues. We had noticed that many of the children began to flag after the mid-morning break and struggled to concentrate, so collectively we decided to contribute to a kitty to buy them each small pouches of drinking water and some plain cracker biscuits. At that time the Fulani community had no access to clean drinking water and the open air concrete tank that had been built next to the school to collect rainwater was empty despite this being the rainy season, so we identified a lack of water as a potential inhibitor to concentration. Although not scientific concentration did seem to improve after we introduced the water at break times.
The development of the curriculum and sorting out the corresponding teaching resources was a real team effort. Dan led the curriculum development and was ably supported by Val, with me chipping in with thoughts. Meanwhile Meg had the arduous task of sorting through the masses of teaching resources and did a stellar job in bringing order to the learning resources, text books, educational posters and toys, etc. which up to that point had been in a chaotic state on a landing outside the lounge of our volunteer house and ordering them to match the curriculum stages. Further help was enthusiastically given by Jenny, Heather and our other Meg.
The result of our curriculum work:
The following week we were joined in the house by Jackie, Jess and Sophie and while I now forget whose idea it was we decided at our weekly house meeting that we’d cook for the community at Fulani. There were two main reason for this, we were concerned that a couple of the children showed signs of hunger with distended stomachs and also for us it was a gift to the children as an expression from us all as to how much Fulani meant to us, how it had touched our hearts and was something deeper than just a place to teach.
We chatted to Fred, the head of the volunteering organisation about our idea and began discussing the practicalities. When the question was asked, “Who is going to cook?” I ended up putting my hand in the air. I’ve always seriously fancied myself as a chef and am confident in a kitchen back in Europe. But this wasn’t to be European cooking as, in conjunction with Fred and our local co-ordinator Richard, we decided upon serving up a traditional Ghanaian meal of rice and beans to feed up to 40 children.
The next day we all went to the market in Mpraeso, the local town, and with Richard as our guide we purchased the ingredients. Collectively the group of us clubbed together to fund our purchases of rice, beans, palm oil, peppers, garlic, onions, scallions, spices and herbs.
The following morning the pressure was on, while the others caught the tro-tro to school I remained at our volunteer house preparing to cook. Now confession time, I had never even tasted the rice and beans combo that I was about to make, let alone cooked it. I suddenly felt a little lost as I was keen to make a good impression and serve up a dish that would more than meet the approval of local taste buds. Turning to Richard for help and some guidance, he decided that now would be a great time to wind me up and tease me. He succeeded, I was seriously out of my comfort zone!
Luckily, superstar Alberta arrived at the house to help and guide me and I set about preparing the ingredients while she provided instruction, did a lot of stirring and provided the essential taste testing.
A couple of hours later with the food ready I was in the back of a taxi, with the laden pots in the boot, on my way to school in time for lunch. As I made my way across the field to the school building I could feel my own excitement building in my stomach at the surprise that was about to unfold.
We set up the pots and pans on a bench just outside the school while the others organised the children into lines. We were a little concerned as to whether pandemonium would ensue, as when we had started to hand out crackers, chaos often ensued. However on the occasion we needn’t have worried, all the children lined up to be served and they even all took seats on the school floor and waited for everyone to be served before beginning to tuck into their lunch. Any concerns I had about quantities were also assuaged and we were able to provide lunches for the parents that were there and also feed ourselves!
This simple gesture further strengthened the bonds between us as volunteers and the Fulani community. It was another joyous day in the middle of nowhere