I returned to Ghana for the second time during the summer before 12th grade. I decided to go back because I wanted to develop a closer relationship with Bosomtwe than I had on my school trip, and deepen my understanding of the culture independently. My dad accompanied me, and we arrived in Accra on the 13th of July.
I took the opportunity of the independent trip to create a project based around the education and prevention of malaria in BCS. I had brought with me three bales of fifty mosquito nets, and a plethora of information on the spread, prevention and treatment of the disease. When asking Liza Lindgren and others who had been to Bosomtwe recently, they reported a disturbing lack of information on the disease, which would of course lead to many cases where the children missed school days due to illness. I planned to educate the parents and children, and distribute the mosquito nets among the school.
Our mode of transport from Accra to Kumasi was slightly different than my previous trips. We hired a car and driver to help us complete the seven-hour journey safely. Charles was an amazing guide; he was friendly and happy to answer my relentless questions about the people and landscape I saw around me. He taught me a basic level of Twi, the local language, and knew the ins-and-outs of the village better than anyone we could have hoped for. We were able to meet his family and formed a tight-bond; I still keep contact with him. I highly recommend hiring a car and a driver like Charles for anyone planning an independent trip, it was a great experience.
We stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast, with a Canadian owner. On the morning of the 15th of July we set off to find the school armed only with a very hazy set of directions. We eventually found our way and met Barnabas, the headmaster of BCS. I used the day to get acquainted with the teachers and students by teaching English, basic shapes and colors with the kindergarten class. I was quite nervous, so I only asked four groups of 4-8. As the week went by I would start to become more comfortable with the way of teaching and the size of classes, which would never fail to keep me on my toes.
On the second day I presented the basics of malaria to the students of BCS and their parents. At the start of the presentation I asked the parents if they knew anything about malaria, whereupon a round and very bored-looking mother stood up and mumbled, “malaria is a very dangerous disease”. Although she was correct, I could not seem to coax any more information out of the fifty-odd parents staring back at me. I started to understand the huge gap of medical knowledge which has taken over Bosomtwe. I used large whiteboard drawings of mosquitos for a simple explanation of the cause and transmission of malaria. I did my best to stay animated for the sake of the preschoolers listening to me as well. It still astonishes me that not one toddler was fidgety during the entirety of my two hour presentation.
I then opened a mosquito net packet to show the correct setup and usage. Each student was given a net to hang over their beds, but the students of the parents which did not attend the presentation were excluded. Barnabas explained to me that to be given a net, it was very important for the parents to be educated, to prevent improper usage or re-selling of the net. The parents which were absent were required to come in on a later date and listen to Barnabas’s explanation, upon which they would be given a net. My dad shared that he was a doctor when it was time for questions, which prompted a plethora of medical questions completely unrelated to malaria.
“What are these white spots on my son’s head?”
“Why does my daughter vomit and shiver after coming back from the city?”
“He has all the symptoms of malaria, help us!”
It was difficult to endure these questions because we did not have the equipment or knowledge to treat all the ailments. This is one of the reasons I want to return again, in order to develop a better understanding of the school’s medical knowledge and needs. I encourage anyone who is passionate about our sister school to think about these issues. How can we educate a multitude of people, instead of just one school? Does education even help to prevent sickness? What do you do if a proper clinic isn’t available? How can we help without intruding upon the culture and system of a rural area?
The next day I focused on the education of the older students, mostly 3rd and 4th grade. I tested their understanding of malaria with games and even asked them to demonstrate how to set up and open a net. With the younger children in the afternoon, I showed portrayed the transmission of malaria with the use of glitter. If one mosquito has malaria (a handful of glitter) and bites a child, traces of the glitter will remain on the bitten child, which means he will be infected with the disease. The children laughed at both the glitter and my feeble attempt at Twi as I constantly repeated the word for mosquito: Ton-Ton.
My dad and I used the rest of the week to teach the students more about the implications of the disease, in addition to touching upon nutrition, sanitation and other topics which I found important. It was motivational and touching to see the student’s openness towards me and my lessons, and their eagerness to learn. I made some amazing friends, both with the students and teachers. Charles also had a great time interacting with the children, and jumped at the chance to sit in on any of my lessons.
Although my last day at the school was sad, it was heartwarming to read the letters and listen to the words of goodbye which were shared with me. On our drive home I noticed a flash of orange and blue on the side of the road, and saw a group of the students on their way home. One of the amazing things about being on an independent trip was that I was able to ask Charles to stop so I could say my final goodbyes. Junior and Joseph tugged on my arm and asked me to visit their house, just five minutes away. They proudly showed me their mosquito nets set up and hung over their beds, their laughing faces beaming as they play-acted sleep under the breezy blue netting.