By Sonja Welch
“Broni Coco Machi!” means “Good Morning, White Person!” in Twi. During our time in Babianeha this week, children were constantly singing this to us. Everywhere we went, kids were singing and waving at us. I felt like a huge celebrity everywhere we went! I never thought our mere presence could make them so happy. I had so much fun waving back at them and shaking their hands. I just wish I knew more Twi, so I could interact with them more. This was the case in Sunyani too, but they liked practicing their English with us more than their Twi. Whenever we visited the school there, they would also stand up and say, “Good Morning. I am fine. How are you?” in unison. And so many of them wanted to shake our hands and take selfies. It was really cool!
[Children Singing “Broni Coco Machi!” in Babianeha]
Besides being paraded around the town and waving at children, we did get to do some actual project work this past week. On Monday and Tuesday, we visited Ridge Experimental School B in Sunyani, where we conducted a hand washing demonstration, a women’s health workshop, and a STEM education demonstration. During the hand washing demonstration, we taught the children in all grades the importance of hand washing and how easily germs can spread. Lianne did this by squirting some liquid soap in a few kids’ hands and having them shake hands with their fellow classmates. They all laughed as they had to interact with each other and make everyone’s hands sticky. Fletcher, the ICT coordinator at the school, walked around with us and asked the kids questions to make sure they were paying attention. Whenever he asked what they learned and only one person would answer, he commonly said, “Who is coming?! They have not said all. You’re being selfish with your knowledge!” We laughed about his word choices later because we were so shocked by them, but we were still extremely grateful for Fletcher’s presence. Although through unusual methods, he still made sure the kids were listening and engaged in the demonstration.
During the women’s health workshops, Lianne and I helped about 50 girls learn how to make reusable sanitary pads with some kits she made. They also liked to laugh a lot and work together. Two of the female teachers even helped us out with instructing them. One teacher would repeat what we were saying to the kids in Twi, and the other teach made sure to take selfies with us while we were instructing! I thought it was hilarious, but she did end up helping girls make their kits too.
[Sonja and Lianne with some of the Kids at Ridge Experimental Schools]
[Some of the JHS students at Ridge Experimental Schools]
Josh worked with the kids on STEM demonstrations both in Sunyani and Babianeha. He had the kids work on their creative and designing skills by building small boats with aluminum foil and having them test them in a couple basins of water. The boats were supposed to be designed to hold a large load without sinking. This was tested by adding nails to the boats. Some sank with one nail, and others couldn’t be sunk by even 25 nails! All of the kids had a blast doing it. They’d egg each other on about their boat designs and boast to each other if their boats held more nails. The teachers in Babianeha were especially enthusiastic about the project since it related directly to what they were teaching at the time. They helped us out even further by tying it to their lessons on buoyancy and upward and downward forces. I just wish we had more time in the schools and more demonstrations to do. The way all of their eyes lit up made you really feel like you were making a positive impact in their lives.
[STEM Demonstration in Babianeha]
[Team Ghana with the JHS students in Babianeha]
During our time in Babianeha, we also had time to talk to the directors of the community center, which is basically a computer lab for the students. It was fun getting to know the uses of the community center and learning about their needs. It was crazy to realize how much we take for granted something as simple as a printer in the United States. My goal is to find a sustainable way to make sure they can access the resources they need in order to give the kids at the school a great education.
After visiting the community center, we met with the headmaster of the primary school. We discussed the needs of the school, and it was great to learn that he would also like us to do STEM demonstrations with the primary school students. At this time, I also noticed all of the kids were outside with machetes chopping the grass! I thought it was so unusual, but the headmaster explained that because of the uneven layout of the land, they can’t use lawnmowers to keep the grass cut. I guess if it works, it’s fine, right?!
[Children Cutting Grass with Machetes in Babianeha]
Later that day, we spent some time working on Charles’ project. We headed out to the monkey sanctuary close by. His goal was to gather some stories about the place and the monkeys themselves. When we arrived, the place was much different that I had expected. I pictured a tourist town, but it was actually a small village. When we arrived, we met with an old man who agreed to take us out to the forest to see the monkeys. And boy did they not disappoint! There were monkeys everywhere! There were many times where we got so close that we could touch them. We brought bananas with us, and the man had some dried corn in a jar he could shake around to attract the monkeys. He let us feed them the bananas and corn, and it was so cool! We even saw baby monkeys clinging to their mothers!
[Tour Guide Attracting Monkeys at the Monkey Sanctuary]
This man also only spoke Twi, but we luckily had Evans and Solomon there to translate for us. He explained to us how monkeys were very sacred to their community. In fact, they were given the same respect as humans. If anyone killed a monkey, they would also die for their crime, and the monkey would be given human burial rites. We even passed by one of the graves on our way through the forest. We also learned about how the town came to be, but that’s a story for another time. Charles plans to post a collection of the stories we learned later on.
[The gang at the Monkey Sanctuary
Back: Josh, Solomon, Sonja (Me)
Front: Evans, Charles, Lianne]
The next day, we went to the Chief’s Council Meeting. Unfortunately, the Chief couldn’t be there since he was away in Accra at the time. But meeting with the Council was still a really cool experience. Charles asked them for stories about how the town came to be and other folklore they may have stored away. I asked them about any needs they had within the community and if there were any projects they’d be interested in partnering with Michigan Tech on in future years. They talked for a little bit in Twi and Monaa, and they decided that they’ll give us a document with the information we seek in two weeks. It wasn’t how we expected it to go, but I think it still worked out well! We were all really nervous coming to the meeting since we didn’t realize how many people would be there or all of the formalities we would have to go through. It definitely made me more nervous about it since I didn’t want to accidentally offend anyone, especially in this context. We were in the presence of some of the most respected elders in the community! I can’t even imagine how much of a disaster accidentally disrespecting them would be.
Overall, our week spent at Ridge Experimental Schools and in Babianeha were very eye opening and successful. We would especially like to thank the Opuni family for hosting us. They gave us a place to stay and cooked meals for us every day! My favorite meal was always breakfast since Evans’ mom would make us a breakfast sandwich and milo (basically hot chocolate). We would also really like to thank Evans for carting us around everywhere and putting us in contact with people. We would have been so lost without him!
[Typical Breakfast at the Opuni’s in Babianeha]
[The Gang Getting Ready to do some STEM Demonstrations at the JHS school in Babianeha
Left to Right: Evans, Josh, Sonja (Me), Charles, Lianne]
Medase! Thank you for following our journey. We’ll have more updates next week!