Saturday, July 4, 2009

STARS '09 (with Jack as the bite victim)

It’s been about a week and I still feel euphoric about the STARS conference at KNUST in Kumasi. If you’ve been following the blog, you probably know all about THE conference that took up whatever time I wasn’t spending on my day job. There’s so much to say, but since I have so many pictures at the bottom, I’ll try to limit how much I’m typing out here. Or, you can read the brass tacks nutshell version for June 2009 in Ghana and proceed to the pictures- This month marked my first year in Ghana; I hosted 2 new Peace Corps trainees (AKA Vision Questers) at my site for a week; STARS 2009; Culture Week with my students in Wenchi; I spotted the exact type of car my dad drives.

Ok. STARS! STARS STARS STARS STARS STARS. STARS. What took months of planning and fundraising turned out to be an excellent conference for some of the brightest and best high schools students of Ghana. The event, which lasted from Sunday (when students arrived for dinner) to Saturday (when students and their Peace Corps teachers went back to their towns) was a lot like a week-long summer camp. In fact, my favorite part was how close the students got in such a short period of time. Like I said in one of my previous posts, Peace Corps Volunteers teaching high school chose two of their best students- a boy and a girl- to go to one of the top universities in Ghana and participate in several different sessions covering a range of topics. The students slept in the dorms, and some of the PCVs stayed the entire length of the program as Group Leaders. Also helping out were Ghanaian students who came to last year’s STARS- so each group had a male and female PCV Group Leader, one Junior Group Leader, and ten students coming from different regions of Ghana (students from each school were split up). As for those helping to organize the event, we stayed at the Peace Corps sub office a few minutes away from the university.

So before the event, I did some of the fundraising and media coverage for STARS. At the event, I was more or less in the background with a few other volunteers, making things happen and maintaining happiness for the architects of this year’s STARS. I would have liked to be a Group Leader, since they had all the fun working with students, but there were many behind-the-scenes jobs that someone had to do. Also, since I teach junior high students, I kind of wanted to see what goes into this event so I can perhaps help create something similar for my own students next year.

I did bring two students though- Florence and Edward. Both of these students go to a high school about 2 hours from my site in Koforidua. I knew Florence because her father is a lorry driver in my town, and one holiday I helped tutor her in Biology. She came off as very bright, and has a good chance of going on to do medicine, which she explained to me was her greatest ambition in life. So I invited her and a male student to come to STARS. She chose the school prefect- Edward, whom I picked up in Koforidua on my way to Kumasi for STARS. I got to meet the boy’s father, who turns out to know my host father from training. My two students seemed to love STARS, and even though they were shy in the beginning, by the end they were rowdy and close with students who a week earlier were total strangers. My friend Corey, who was Florence’s Group Leader, held the opinion that Florence was a diva by heart. I second that, considering how high maintenance she is. I mean, in one conversation, she wondered how I could live in such a boring town as Otumi. God! One day I need to introduce her to NYC.

Each day the students would wake up early for breakfast, do activities dealing with life skills, and go to sessions covering topics like HIV/AIDS, leadership skills, college, and issues faced at school and in life. One day, students got to use the campus computer lab, and some of the students even got to use the internet. Each evening, after sessions and dinner, the night was never over- students did dramas, argued in formal Lincoln-Douglas debates (I was a judge!), had a dance (with lots of MJ coming out the speakers, considering the circumstances), and got heavily involved in a talent show. As for the guest speakers at STARS, I was impressed by how well some of them spoke and got the students engaged. Many sessions even allowed for students to ask the speakers questions. Even the Junior Group Leaders got to lead a session on how students could bring what they learned from the conference back to their schools.

At one point of the conference, I and a few other volunteers staying at the sub office took on one of the most curious jobs I’ve come across yet- While speakers were preparing for the next day’s session and students were conversing back at the dorms, I was given the task to scrub mold off of large wooden penises for the following day’s condom demonstration. As the ribald comments flew in the air like so many soap bubbles, we probably had exhausted every wiener joke there ever was or will be by the end of the night.

With all the frustrations at my site, it was nice to actually see mine and my fellow PCV’s hard work paying off. I also got to see several of my Peace Corps friends for a good week, and I gave updates during the conference to those sponsors I became close with during the months before STARS. Also, having access to Kim’s cooking was something only a volunteer living here a year plus could truly appreciate (think carrot cake, fajitas, strawberry jam baked goods, etc. in a carrot cake, fajitas, strawberry jam baked goods-less country).

Aside from being Ghana’s top chef, Kim, along with PCVs Matt and Melissa were the ones who organized the STARS program, and now that they are leaving in a few weeks, we’ll have to find someone to replace them. So thanks Kim, Matt and Melissa for breaking your backs for the excellent students of Ghana! Thankfully Peace Corps has a good health plan. Some more shout outs? Thank you Stella Kotey at HFC bank for getting 100 STARS shirts made, Rose Morrison for helping supply STARS with, what? over 200 bottles of Coca Cola beverages (the Kumasi factory was….overwhelming), Emma Morrison for coming through with TV3s coverage of the event, Peter Akomaning at Kingdom Books for supplying tons of stationary, Akin and Mike for driving me around Kumasi, and Tim C in the States for the generous PCPP contribution. I really didn’t want to rob banks to get the much needed money for the event, so I’m grateful to these people. Thaaaaank Youuuu!

Other than that, I also had two new Peace Corps trainees stay with me for Vision Quest a week before I was to go to mid-service medical and STARS. Both had just flown in and hadn’t been in the country for more than a week, just like when I did Vision Quest. I got the girl first, and she got to see first-hand the day-to-day life that I live. She observed me at school, and I introduced her to several of the people in my town. I did my best not to scare her away when talking about all the difficulties I encounter with my job, and I think she saw how much I liked doing what I do here. I think she might have been surprised by a few things, like the absence of most of the teachers, with a small argument between two of them, and another one randomly leaving for good, which meant I now had to indefinitely teach his Form 1 Math class. For my entertainment I had her do role call, and she didn’t do half bad with some of the students’ names, though my students and I still had a good laugh with some of her pronunciations (i.e.-Ntiamoah Ebenzer and Acheampomaa Mavis). All I know is she did not go back to the States after Vision Quest, so I must have done something right. Another guy came to my site towards the end, and I took him to see the chief, since I felt bad neglecting to bring my first VQer to meet him. There happened to be a few people at the palace that day and we spent a long time just talking. Apparently the chief recently wrecked his BMW when a taxi drove into him on his way back from his son’s wedding. He’s fine, but many of us, including one of the sub-chiefs, hadn’t known about this. Not a bad way to spend time with my Vision Quester- going to the chief’s palace and being regaled with anecdotes.

The week I got back from STARS, some of my students were going to a town called Wenchi to participate in a district-wide cultural festival, where many primary and junior high students would dress in traditional clothing and recite Ghanaian poems, play the drums, do dramas, and dance. Unfortunately, I was the only teacher to go from my school, but fortunately Stephen was able to show up to keep me company. Although our school did not do drums or drama, one of my students, Mavis, recited poetry, while the rest of the participating students at my school sang in the chorus section of the festival. On the way back to my site from Wenchi, I stopped abruptly on the street side when I saw the exact kind of car my dad drives, down to the color. This was also the first Hyundai I think I ever saw in Ghana.

The next day, classes went back to normal, and I did what I could to cover the material I desperately needed to finish teaching. I had been gone for almost 10 days, and all the work I left my students had not been done because while I was out, school was pretty much cancelled so students could practice for the culture festival.

I’m now at the Kumasi Sub Office celebrating both the 4th and my birthday with friends as we enjoy delicious burgers, carrot cake, and beer. We got to meet the new PTO for Peace Corps Ghana, and give him a barrage of questions in between bites into burgers. Right now, I am trolling the internet now to find out how I can make my own sparklers. I also have to add, at Jack's own request, that I mention how he was bitten by a person on a lorry the other day. Someone grabbed hold of his arm and left dental records near his tricept. No one at KSO was able to top that story.

Lastly, I just signed up for the 2009 Accra International Marathon- 26 miles of madness that I am now committed to run since I paid a hefty entry fee. This means from now till October I will be training my body not to collapse on itself under such extreme conditions. There are no paved roads in my town, just a dirt road with hills, rocks, and craters- if this does not get me prepared for the race, nothing will. My friend Andrew just informed me that he ran 18 miles today as part of his training. What did I get myself into? Wish me luck!!

Love ya! Happy 4th! I'm out! Pizza for my B-Day! Please visit my friend Lenore's website. She is raising money to get computers at her school. The link is here ---->

Niepoort Douro Vertente 2005


Work Song- Dan Reeder
Slow Down- Goose
Flicks- Frou Frou
Overdue- Bitter:Sweet
Let’s Go Crazy- Prince
Surfing On A Rocket- Air
Feather in a Baseball Cap- Architecture in Helsinki
0340 Crazy Tonight=Strong Teeth
Etude #3 in F, Op. 25- Chopin
Bad- Michael Jackson
Solo Dancer- Charles Mingus
Feelgood By Numbers- The Go! Team
The Nurse- The White Stripes
Rescue Me- Fontella Bass
Save Us S.O.S- hot hot heat
Beneathe the City- Iron and Wine
Get Down- Rhymefest
The Littlest Birds- The Be Good Tanyas
Sexyback- Justin Timberlake
Number One- John Legend

Florence and Edward

The dining hall at KNUST



Using the computers

Drama night

The campus tour

The talent show

The debate

Male bonding

Florence talking with TV3

Female bonding

Final night at STARS

Thanks Coke!

Thank you so much HFC Bank & esp. Stella Kotey for the shirts!!!


Fun with Kerry's glasses

The wooden penises

Hey now!

The culture festival in Wenchi: Dancing


Acheampomaa performing poetry

Getting ready

Talking Drums

At the culture fest w/ my students

The Hyundai!!!!!

Books you probably should read, soon.

The Great July 4th BBQ of '09

Jack, he's what's for dinner

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