Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The last Hoorah

It is lovely to have soent the final evening in Ghana back in the Spiritan house where it all began. The welcome here is very special from Fr Jas and all those who pass through. I attended 6.30am Mass here this morning which was a lovely way to wrap up the trip and even those who could not rise at that hour could listen to the prayers and the voices singing in beautiful harmony from their beds. The girls are finalising their packing now, Anne is in work mode and is in meetings to gain feedback and to assess some of the Aidlink funded projects here in Ghana.
We will go to a local tourist market soon for some last minute retail therapy and then return to have lunch and prepare for our journey to the airport and onward to Amsterdam and Dublin and Galway.
Thank you for keeping track of our journey on our blog. I hope that it helped you to share in this wonderful privelege that we all have enjoyed.

KoSa Beach Resort

Most of us rose at 6.30 this morning (I won't name names) and went for a walk along the beach. The sand is fine like brown sugar and we all enjoyed a good pedicure. Today being Tuesday there are no boats on the ocean as Ghanaians believe that Tuesday is the day of the week that the Godess of the sea gives birth to new and plentiful supplies. Today is seen as a fertile day and couples who pledge their marriage on this day are assured of 10 children. Even our driver reminded us not to swim today as the sea will take you away.The truth is that the waves and the currents are so strong that we had decided even before travelling here that swimming would not be an option. We'll have to stick to the our own piece of the Atlantic at the Flaggy Shore.

The girls are now catching a few rays on the beach before we depart.We will reach the capital, Accra in about 2 hours but then it will take 3-4hrs to cross the city to Adente and the Spiritan house for our final evening. Traffic around Accra is a nightmare and you just have to go with it and enjoy the roadside sights. I do pity the drivers though, its like driving through one long continuous "Red Cow" roundabout.

We are now at the stage of looking back and trying to reflect on all we experienced. Tonight we will take time as a group together to discuss our highs and lows, our expectations before travelling and the reality we have lived.

I believe that the highlight for all of us and for different reasons was the time in school. This was what it was all about, having an immersion into a new culture, an experience of a developing country first hand. But, you can never be sure how it will all pan out. The truth is that each one of the girls has been brilliant, they have engaged fully in every new task and there has not been one word of complaint. They ate the food they were given, drank their water at Anne's request and got a decent amount of sleep each evening all of which kept them well and able for the long days and the heat.

The staff of Notre dame could not have been more welcoming and really understood that we wanted the girls to get as close as possible to a real experience of school life and that they did apart from the opening and closing ceremonies. Yet, we do understand that we did cause a stir and that everyone was very aware that this was no ordinary week in the life of the school but we all know that a break from the routine can be very positive for all concerned and this was how it was looked upon in Notre Dame too

Will this trip be life changing? I don't think that any of us would dare suggest that the 2 weeks together will shape these young lives but I do think that it will be character forming. I do believe that perceptions have been changed or maybe even formed having never been considered before. Minds have certainly been broadened and our hope is that in making decisions later in life that more informed decisions will be made. These could be big decisions like career choices or even more simply like shopping decisions. The truth is that we will all slot back into our respective lives as one has to live in the society to which they belong but every now and then we will draw upon the bank of memories, the images, and the friendships formed and that will bring a smile to our faces.

Having Aidlink facilitate our trip has opened up so much more than we could ever achieve on our own. Anne's long experience in Africa brings a richness to this project that is hard to quantify, but, definitely doors have been opened to us to give us access to African life. Anne is development education in action.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Tourist Trail

Kakum National Park
Today we travelled to Kakum up the mountains. The Ghanaians are very proud of their mountains and forests and justifiably so. The girls and Eileen and Br Constant and our driver Omo all followed the trail and crossed the rope bridges across the forest canopy. Myself and Anne having been there before and done that did not feel the need to hang on to the treetops for dear life again. Needless to say the girls bounded across and enjoyed it all. We also had a bit of retail therapy in the craft shop and some nice presents will make their way home shortly.

The crocodile enclosure.
Lunch was in a restaurant sitting out on the lake in which swam a number of big ugly crocodiles. Thankfully we were the only hungry animals and the girls minus Maria (sensible girl) all had a pet of a crocodile. Why I ask myself ?? Gladly all got back on the bus with limbs intact and more great photos.

Elmina Castle
World Heritage Site. A great guide told us the story of Elmina and the slave trade from West Africa at the hands of the Portugese for 150yrs, the Dutch for 235yrs and the British for 50yrs until Ghanaian Independence in 1957. A thoroughly harrowing story but the message of forgiveness and acceptance of the past is another reason to admire the people of Ghana. I suppose like the concentration camps in Eastern Europe although I've never been there I've heard people say that you can feel the sadness and the evil in the walls of the buildings. This is very much the case too in Elmina.

Under the Coconut tree

Literally, as I sit here looking out at the Atlantic Ocean hammering the coastline.Its early morn 6.30am, muggy and humid. We are now on the tourist trail, an industry that the Ghanaians are trying to promote both because of the beautful landscape and the rich cultural history..We slept in individual huts, the girls sharing 2 & 3. Today we will visit Kakum National park and Elmina Castle.
Before leaving Bantama yesterday we attended Mass, the girls enjoyed the choir but not as much as the previous week. Then the long journey south taking in all the sights as we went - up through the mountains, past orange groves and palm trees, their nuts used to make oil and downhill again past paddy fields with people selling their wares along the road. You can identify the different land uses by what you see on sale from plaintain (looks like green bananas), to snails in their shells the size of a tennis ball, to rabbits and grass cutters ready for the stew pot, to terracotta pots made from local clay.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Entertainment

Back to Notre Dame for the last time. Yet again another thunder storm and heavy rain which actually helped to cool the air.
A full programme was laid on for us of dancing and singing and poetry reciting and our girls got a great reception as they played and sang and as Lucy danced. Rachel and Jenny were dressed in local cloth including head gear and they strutted their stuff in the fashion show.
This was followed by closing speeches, presentation of gifts and warm goodbyes.
A simple "thank you" seemed totally ineffective for all the kindness and the warm welcome that we have enjoyed this past week but as we said in our speech it is not really goodbye but just farewell for now as we hope to return again.
The girls met their own classmates and there were many hugs and promises of letters and facebook connections and we all returned to our hotel a bit deflated but with the warm glow of having many new friends.

The Royal Visit

The main Chief and his sub chiefs hold court each Friday morning to hear any cases and to settle disputes. We were lead in to an inner courtyard at the palace (not quite Buckingham but no the less intimidating and formal). The main Chief sat on his throne (great photos). We shook hands with all present moving right to left as is the custom and then took our seats. The Chief linguist began proceedings asking what was the mission of our visit and translated our answers, all proceedings are carried out in local language even though English is pretty much understood. We each had to introduce ourselves and I'm afraid the girls were referred to as "only students". Lucy and Rachel at 17yrs old were given a little more credit as they are nearer adulthood.
It was explained that all were wearing black because they were in mourning. A local mechanic had died and his funeral was in process outside, a procession of motor bikes and clapped out bangers backfiring and making as much noise as possible to give him a good send off.
Very graciously we were welcomed to Fiapre, the district name and told to think of here as home, as Galway. The Chief wished us good health and that the tropical climate would not be unkind to us and a safe onward journey. We were given our leave humbled and very honoured at being given a presence at court. The girls were in awe of it all and truly enjoyed the experience. I can only imagine the distraction we must have caused for those gathered to have their cases heard. I'm not sure if we hightened their anxiety or distracted them for a while from the job at hand.
Imagine then our surprise when in the evening as we prepared to go back the the school for the final evening celebrations when I got a call through the door
"margo, come quick, come quick" from Eileen. I automatically thought one of the girls was hurt when the next line came (the slight delay was due to the 2 flights of stairs) "the Chiefs, the Chiefs are here". I descended the stairs trying not to look too surprised and greeted our visitors. Whatever about attending court it was quite a shock to see the robed men sitting on the foyer couches. Maria arrived soon after me and as she rounded the bottom of the stairs her eyes were like saucers to the merriment of our guests.
Again the linguist took charge and explained that it was custom to reciprocate our earlier visit. We realised that the Chief himself did not have to visit but again that we were being honoured. The other girls joined us moving right to left shaking hands with the assembled party. This time the Chief was happy to converse in English and we enjoyed a pleasant conversation.
I'm afraid that I was reprimanded, I disgraced our party by crossing my legs and was told I could not do so in front of the Chief. Thankfully the Chief was not insulted as he said he understood that this was not our custom.
The Chief then placed a traditional scarf around each of our necks and with final good wishes they took their leave. We were left a bit in awe at what had just happened but delighted at the experience.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Day 4 - In School...

Thursday 23 June

This morning gave a good insight into Rachel and Claire's study habits.

Rachel came to breakfast with sheets of paper in her hand saying cool as a breeze that this is my maths homework and I haven't got it finished.

The others helped her to put some shape on it and off she toddled pretending it was all her own work.

Claire got into the car with the text book in hand and crammed for her English test trying to ingest the definitions for "personification, irony and oxymoron". In general the girls are quite in awe of the level of teaching and learning, some of the curriculum is familiar but some is at a higher level or taught differently.

Myself and Eileen visited the 1st year classes and talked to them about Ireland and our school system. There is great interest in our history and our school rules with questions like do we allow mobile phones and what kinds of punishment do we use. .

At the end of the school day 4 of the teachers gave of their time to give us a talk on Ghanaian culture and customs. We enjoyed this very much.It was good to hear about the Chief of the region as we have been invited to visit the local Chief tomorrow morning.

At 4pm we returned to the school for the sports session. This included trying out the traditional games which involved much clapping and dancing. Seamount girls took on Notre Dame in a friendly Ireland v Ghana basketball match and did Mr Cuddy and Ms Feehily proud. The final score did not reflect effort in the blistering heat and after consuming about a gallen of water each they were ready for more,

Staff night out

A very pleasant evening was enjoyed by all hosted by Monsignor on behalf of Bishop Matthew who is in Germany at present and included the school staff.We thanked the Monsignor and the Diocese for allowing this project to happen and conveyed the good wishes of our Board of Management and warm greetings from Bishop Martin. Again, our girls did us proud and produced the instruments and sang and danced to the utter delight of all present. Even our 2 drivers tried to copy some of Lucy's nimble footwork.They are now all tucked up in bed and are very aware that tomorrow brings with it their last day in school. I think i'll be bringing the tissues.

Day 5 - Last day in school

Plan fot the day

· Attend 1st class

· Go to visit the Chief

· Back for the remaining classes

· In the evening return to school for the entertainment and the closing ceremony

I expect the girls to be tired this morning as there was a ferocious thunder storm again last night, one rumble of thunder seemed to roll into the next with a few cracks thrown in and what could only be described as strobe lightening that should come with a warning for those affected by bright lights.

Tomorrow morning we begin our journey southwards towards the coast and the Atlantic ocean. I kid you not mothers but the girls are saying they can't wait for Mass on Sunday morning, all 2hrs plus of it! There may be a break in communication as we are not sure of connection as we move about but I will continue to write up the blog and post it when i can.

Sunyani market: Wednesday 21 June

After school a couple of the teachers came with us to the Wednesday market, the big shopping day in Sunyani, basically Dundrum Ghana style. It was huge with lines and lines of stalls stretching away as far as we could see. Our guides took us to the areas we would find most interesting and we could have bought anything from jewellery to deodorant to a new bra, freshly made peanut butter, rope, yams and fish looking up at ye for dinner and for starter a lump of cow-hide to make soup !. The colours, the noise, and the smells enthralled us all and we caused great merriment in our gaping and pointing.

We had already decided that we would have no evening event today but that after dinner we would come together to reflect all that we had seen to date and maybe to answer any queries that have arisen.It was fitting to have this space to take time to talk about what had happened in St James' and to pray for the boys who had died, their families and their teachers. We talked to each other our highs and lows and our impressions of life in Ghana. There was good sharing among the group and we all enjoyed this time on our own.

Friday June 24 phone call

Hi All,

I'm just off the phone to Anne and everyone is well and happy. There is however no internet connection at the moment so they haven't had a chance to update the blog.

It's Friday and the girls are currently in class for their last school day in Notre Dame. I'm told they're practicing very hard for their big performance at this evenings entertainment event at the school.

Blog entries have been written for Wednesday and Thursday and as soon as there is internet again they'll be posted to the blog for us all to read and enjoy!

Hope everyone at home is keeping well.

All the best for now,

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Some sad news

We are saddened to report that 2 students from St James' died tragically in the electric storm last night. Because of the connections of the school with Ireland and Aidlink Margo and Anne visited the school to pass on our condolences to the Principal Fr Alex and the staff and to say prayer in the school chapel.
Beannacht De lena n-anam.

All in school


I just spoke to Anne on the phone from Notre Dame Secondary School. The girls are in class and Margo and Eileen are teaching.

They'll post later in the day.


Tuesday 21st June

One of the most fantastic days ever and i'll start at the end.

Its 10:15pm. There is an almighty surround – sound – fireworks - display of a thunder and lightening storm raging around us.

I've just sent the girls and the mature adults that I am traveling with upstairs to shower as they have just been dancing in the rain in full thunder and lightening tecnicolor to the amusement of the hotel staff singing and doing the moves to Mamma Mia in full voice. They are dripping wet from head to toe.

Previous to that we have just returned from dinner in Samuel's house. Samuel was in Ireland on the St. Mary's trip and his parents wanted to have us all to dinner. it was a very kind and generous offer. Fr Alex joined us and brought Samuel with him home from boarding school for the couple of hours. This was an enormous treat as during term time he usually sees his parents when they are allowed to visit once a month.

This afternoon was a particularly memorable occasion and especially for Eileen and the girls on their 1st visit to a poor village. Today we learned the meaning of “absolute poverty” - when the people are so poor that they do not have either the financial or the human resources within themselves to see a way out of poverty. The people were poorly dressed with no English living in mud thatched huts. Some adults and children had a bad cough and many of the children had pot bellies showing signs of worms and/or malnutrition.

We saw development work in action. We had come from the training centre where young farmers were trained to breed rabbits and grass cutters {like bushrats} and where training on mushroom growing took place. The women of this village had been trained as mushroom growers with the help of Aidlink. When questioned about the mushrooms the women explained that the project was not working because of the lack of water. The water borehole was in place but not working. Anne discussed with the village elders what needed to be done and how the people themselves could contribute. This shows that development projects need to be continually monitored and evaluated to see if they are working and to sustain them.

The girls although shocked at the conditions made friends with the children and were truly humbled at being invited into the privacy of a rural village and allowed to share in the life experiences. Very poignantly the women wanted to ask what was it the girls were looking to learn when they say that they are coming to learn in Ghana – a hard one to answer simply.

This visit opens up many questions for all of us and we will try to sit down tomorrow afternoon so as to discuss some of the thoughts and questions that we all have.

This morning the girls attended classes which for Rachel and Jenny included PE. They are getting on so well with their classmates who cannot be more friendly and welcoming. While the girls were in class myself and Eileen and Anne with Madam Margaret, the principal went to meet the District Director of education to get an overview of education in the area. The main problems are lack of government funding and lack of personnel to carry out the duties demanded by the inspectorate....sound familiar ??

So, all in all a very busy day. I am writing this at 11.50pm. I got up this morning at 6.30am and will set the clock now for 6.30am again.

Thankfully, the storm is now a distant rumble.

Oiche mhaith !

The comments are so lovely. The girls (internet permitting) will get a chance to view the blog tomorrow afternoon so add your comments before then. Margo.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Monday 20th June: 1st day at school.

The girls excelled themselves today. Although they were nervous they embraced the chance to be part of the school day in Notre Dame. We were welcomed by the tricolor flying and a cead mile failte banner and the beating of drums. Everyone introduced themselves, everyone shook hands - all very formal and proper. A quick tour of thr compound and the girls went to their individual classrooms. Jenny to science, lucy and maria to business and clare and rachel to arts. All students are divided into these 3 areas in which they chose 4 electives as well as 4 common core subjects.The girls were major hits and made many friends on day 1 and answered many questions about their own lives and no doubt more will continue tomorrow

In the afternoon a drumming and a dancing teacher arrived and to the general hilarity of our bus drivers and any passers -by we deemed to keep a beat and strut our stuff. Lets just say some succeeded better than others without naming names... A thoroughly exhausting and thoroughly fun time.

This evening dinner was at the kind invitation of the Notre Dame sisters in their home, lovely conversation and sharing of school systems and structures.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Sunday night,
The last blog finished abruptly, technical difficulties but bear with us we are trying to communicate. The hotel has installed wi-fi this past week and we certainly plan to test it out. ignore spellings, grammar etc. i try to post as quick as possible and before Ms Fitz takes out the red pen as English teachers love to do.
The girls have been sent to bed to be ready for breakfast at 7.15 and off to school.
8 teachers from Notre Dame called to see us this evening and to discuss the week's extensive itinerary and the learning objectives. Ms Donkor, school principal gave a talk on the school rules !! and you thought Seamount was strict. no-one has been frightened though and all are very excited. This is the heart of the programme and the girls are well prepared.
The highlight so far according to the girls has been Sunday Mass.
Oiche mhaith....

Hi all. I'm under the trees, in the shade, listening to the girls practising for their concert later in the week. We were relaxing over breakfast early this morn when the welcoming parties began to arrive. Firstly, Augustine from Notre dame with his wife and 2 children splendidly attired for mass. Then Fr Alex from St james's schoolacross the road with a student, samuel, and a welcome basket of fruit and chocolate from the students family.

Off we went in convoy to mass. Met Naomi and teachers and 10 girls from Notre Dame. It was a feast for the eyes and the ears, all 2hrs 40mins of it and yes we shimmied to the altar akwardly while the parishoners moved rythmically and sang at full force. We were greeted from the altar by name and Anne on our behalf accepted a gift of more is good. The girls loved it all. They are all smiles and enthusiastic.

i believe that some of that joy may turn to nerves soon as they have been asked to go and change into their school uniform to meet the teachers in a while so as to prepare for the week ahead. This is the big part where they will separate out into individual

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Sat morn,

Hi everyone. We are all in great form having slept peacefully in the Spiritan house in Accra. We will now head off to Sunyani where we will be based for the next week. We received a céad míle fáilte Ghanaian style and it is lovely to be met and greeted. Weather is warm and sticky but bearable. All are drinking their water and keeping hydrated.
Today all are looking forward to the journey and seeing the Ghanaian countryside as we go.Hope the connection will remain with us as we go.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Stargazing ....

Yes, the boys jumped at the chance to have their photo taken with the Principal of Seamount College in Dublin airport !!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The night before

Well, its 4 years on since the last trip to Ghana (that blog!) and we have managed to grow the project and are now heading into an immersion visit.

Last night was a special experience where we gathered together for Mass which we celebrated for those travelling, their families & friends, Anne from Aidlink, Helen from our Board, the 3 sisters, Geraldine, Sheila and Fr Casey to pray for a safe and memorable experience.

The event made it real and exciting and now we are looking forward to meeting at 3.30am Thursday night/Friday morning to head to Dublin and from there to Amsterdam and onward to Accra.

I'm so looking forward to meeting those we met before especially Br. Constant, Naomi and Augustine (the teachers who came to visit Seamount College last year), and to be back in Bantama where myself and Geraldine taught. I look forward to seeing all the improvements to the school buildings there helped by the St. Mary's crew.

I'm also looking forward to the plane door opening and feeling the blast of heat, seeing the vibrant
African colours, hearing the cacophony of sounds, experiencing the hustle and bustle - people everywhere, everyone walking along the roads, never silence.

I'm going to miss the girls and Brendan and hope they enjoy their holiday time and they'll keep their diary too so that we will have so much to catch up on when I get back.

Its a privilege to travel with Eileen and Lucy and Claire and Maria and Rachel and Jenny, to be with them on their first African journey.

I also feel very fortunate to be able to go back again for my 3rd journey to Africa with Anne and to be witness to the real and true friendships that she has formed.

I hope we all get to savour each day and have a great time together.