Archive | July 2012

The Women of Mafi Tsati


When I traveled to Africa last time, I remember the most common question from students and teachers alike was, “Without corporeal punishment, how do you control the students?” So, I would explain that we have other forms of punishment to hold students accountable. One Principal in Tanzania explained that it’s the treat of the caning that works; they don’t end up caning very often.

Well, at Masi Tsati yesterday, I witnessed more caning than I care to. Maxwell had to attend to some emergency business in the neighboring town, so the “Head Teacher” had all 6 classrooms (approximately 200 students) in his care. During the normal Wednesday morning routine of lining up according to class and having morning songs and worship for an hour, some of the students in the back were fooling around. A random group was selected to come to the front of the whole school to be caned and made an example of.

I could see a typical teaching life anywhere unfold in front of me (minus the caning); frustrated teacher, too much messing around, frustrated teacher takes action, and innocent students suffer the consequences. There is one boy that I’ve taken a particular liking to–he’s in 5th grade, but looks more like he’s in 7th. He’s really helpful in his village and has one of the saddest faces I’ve ever encountered. I was watching him during the morning routine, and he wasn’t messing around, though he was one of the students in the random group the Head Teacher selected for punishment. My heart hurt watching… He’s tough and will of course be fine, but there’s something so depressing about injustices.

P.S. There are many, many kids I’ve taken a particular liking to, not just the sad-looking one.

No Substitute

There are four teachers for six elementary classrooms and four teachers for two junior high school classrooms; go figure. Two of the elementary teachers didn’t come to school today, so even though there are extra Jr. HS teachers, they won’t come over and help with the rest of the classes (200 feet away from their building).  And there are definitely no substitutes here.

Community Service

(Wed. July 11th)

The teachers at the school want the kids to be involved with the building of the new kindergarten wing to learn community service, so today, many of the classes helped dig and haul sand to the project site. Not only does this involve the kids in a community service project, but it also speeds things up for the handful of locals who work on the site on any given day.

Village “Bankless Bank”

(Tues. July 10th)

Today I had the privilege of learning about a village lending system called the Bankless Bank (Mafi Tsati Fafali), which is truly like a micro-credit union.  Becoming a member of the Bankless Bank is voluntary and all who join (currently approximately 30 members) contribute a small amount to this common cash “savings account” when they join. The group meets once a week, at which time each member contributes what they can, and if they have nothing to contribute there is no penalty. Records are kept in small, green notebooks–one for each member. Those members who need a loan, can borrow up to three times what they have put into the pot, have one month to pay it back, and repay it with a 5% penalty. For example, if someone has put a total of 100GH (Ghanian cedis), he or she can borrow up to 300GH, but must repay 315GH within the month. When someone is sick, they can borrow and pay back without interest. The total earnings from this group account is divided among its members (not sure how often…) At the end of each weekly meeting, the money in the community “account” is placed in a safe box with three padlocks and three members are asked to each lock one of the locks and be responsible for the key until the next meeting. Anyone interested in starting one with me?

Local Lizards

Is there an app for that?

(Sun. July 8th)

After saying goodbye to David Lettero, my friend Maxwell and I walked to the next village for a visit. In the afternoon, I got some practical, hands-on knowledge of roasting gari. Cassava root is the staple food here in the Volta Region and the fertile soil provides a plentiful harvest for most of the year. When the cassava root is ground into powder the locals call it gari, and gari is mixed in with different foods (like Red Red) or just eaten plain by the handful after roasting. The smell of the roasting gari is reminiscent of popping popcorn. Wish I could impart all the smells of the village in these photos. Is there an app for that?

The Davids

My favorite boy in the village, David, with Dave Lettero from Oregon, who came to install solar on a medical clinic in the neighboring village. It was an amazing process to watch and so much fun to have someone to share stories with! Little David kept asking me to take him with me to America! I’d love to bring his whole family over (Augustina, Jose, Grace and David).

Harvesting Cassava Root

(Saturday July 7th)

Thanks to Augustine, the amazing woman who prepares my meals each day (Grace’s and David’s mom), I got to walk to the local farm and harvest some cassava root with them. The earth is so fertile here and the cassava root pulls from the ground with no trouble whatsoever. The “shaving” of it is another story…