One of the best parts of our Second Annual Yo Ghana! conference was that students paired up with new friends from different parts of the country and then interviewed each other about their lives, like Emmanualla, a ten-year old from the slum of Nima and Salma, from Tamale in Northern Ghana. We'll be publishing a booklet of those interviews in Ghana. It was so cool to see them getting excited about being knowledge creators.
Our Ghana conference has finally arrived here in the year of 2017! Here are some awesome things that have been going on!
June 30th: "Karen [pictured above] had a busy Thursday between teaching a Spanish lesson at St. Paul and scrimmaging with the Winneba Soccer Club."
July 1st: "What a great day at our Annual Conference! Teachers explored and discussed innovation teaching methods, students worked on learning and writing each others' stories, and much more!"
July 1st: "About a dozen of our students with guidance from two teachers put together a wonderful short play on a classroom lesson in less than 24 hours that they performed for us! The level of creativity is amazing!"
July 2nd: "More workshops on innovative teaching today for the teachers and maths, poetry, and oral history for the students. And lots of awards and hugs and love. We are excited for next year already!"
July 5th: "Karen and I [David del Mar] got to do an oral-history workshop today for about 100 students at Dahin-Sheli, teaming up with Mr. Nantoma and Madam Hani. Then it was off to ECG to present exercise books to our letter writers. Great fun, and the dedication of Ghana teachers is inspiring!"
July 6th: "Thursday we had a wonderful time visiting and dancing with the staff at Kamina Barracks.Mr. Nantogma again hosted us at Savelegu Senior High School, and his wife provided a delicious lunch. Then Karen taught some U.S. dance at ECG."
July 7th: "Friday we returned to Dahin-Sheli School as a dozen students presented what they had learned from elders about how they, the elders, had learned traditions and the challenges in the modern day to passing them down. Well done! We hope they will pursue the oral histories much further in the coming school year."
Onwards to more fun!! (Seems like that fun is resonating based on the photo below!)
One of our amazing volunteers, Sarah Florig, had an article done on her in the WestLinnTidings paper outlet! This article concerns her journey to Ghana and her goal of improving cultural awareness all over our globe (especially Ghana!). Thank you Sarah for your amazing and tireless work!! See the link to the article below:
Mr. Adbulai Joseph teaches at the Evangelical Church of God School in Tamale. He has been one of Yo Ghana!'s mainstays in organizing, sending, and receiving letters from and for his own students, but also for several other schools, work that can consume many hours at all hours of the day or night. He also helps his school to identify hard-working students whose families need some help with book, uniforms, and other fees. The school has a fund for such uses that Yo Ghana! contributed to.
He was one of the stars of our first conference in Ghana, the Winneba "Sharing Our Stories Conference." He presented a paper and then organized the participants into a WhatsApp group so that they could stay in touch!
Yo Ghana! is blessed to have you in the family, Mr. Joseph!
Yo Ghana! Board Member Dorcas Mensah spoke in April at the SKOLL World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University on the “Kindness of Strangers.” She explored how people of privilege might approach deep inequalities and prejudices, not only binaries of black and white, rich and poor, male and female, but labels such as “refugee” and “migrant.”
“What label have you given someone,” she asks, “that has deprived them of your kindness, your empathy, and your love?” Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7bRNEgLIno.
Mr. Noah Christopher Kurzenhauser joined the Yo Ghana! family a little less than a year ago. He was a Young Leader in Action with the World Affairs Council in Oregon and has been recognized multiple times for his work bringing Iraqi and American youth together.
Noah has taken that experience and put it to use directing our very first Skype program, which links L & A Academy and Martin Luther King School. Despite many challenges such as a substantial time difference and technological hurdles, the project has been a great success at helping dozens of students feel a much deeper sense of connection to each other. He is also a Coordinator and has taken over our social media program, expanding our Facebook page by about 50% in just a few weeks.
Noah is one of our most effective and relentless engines. Thank you for your hard work!
Mrs. Debra Tavares, a teacher at Reynolds High School, started working with Yo Ghana! in September 2016. When asked which of our projects she would like her students to participate in, she basically said, "all of the above," and then added some more. Her students, immigrants and the children of immigrants, have exchanged letters, written poetry, and taken photographs and done journaling around their complex cultural identities. As the photograph suggests, she loves nothing better than helping a student to find her voice.
Deb also welcomed a group of Portland State University students into her classroom and has treated them like colleagues, even attended the class at Portland State Monday nights to help them debrief and plan. She is passionately committed to helping her students to succeed and to collaborating with anyone who shares that commitment.
Our third Yo Ghana! Star Winner this year is Mr. Gilbert Nipaba Brew, founder and proprietor of Nipaba Brew School in Sampa.
He may be the most hospitable person in Ghana, which is hard to do, as Ghanaians are known for their hospitality! His school does an outstanding job of teaching literacy at a young age, and more than 150 of his students are exchanging fine letters.
He has also been essential in assisting St. Ann's Senior High School with sending and receiving letters and was a big part of our very first Sharing Our Stories Conference last year in Winneba. He did a fine presentation on teaching literacy through music and movement and brought one of the largest contingents to the conference.
Thank you for your hard work!
Yo Ghana! Star Awardee Mr. Ibrahim Ibrahim is a regional leader in social sustainability and specializes in helping immigrant students explore their complex cultural identities through photography.
He began a pilot project at Reynolds High School this school year for Yo Ghana! that has been very fruitful.
He also has a knack for seeing the best in youth, a leader who thinks about how to create more leaders.
Mr. Kankam Mensah Felix is one of our Yo Ghana! Star Awardees for 2017.
Kankam has probably sent more letters from Ghana than anyone else. He has been at it for nearly six years now, working with Yo Ghana! before we were even called Yo Ghana! He sleeps at his school when he sleeps at all, and this year has stayed after school with dedicated students to participate in our very first Skype program, a pilot project that has gone very well thanks in large part to his dedication.
As you can see, his students love him!
The Catholic Sentinel just published a wonderful article on Yo Ghana! Check it out here.
The extensive piece by Katie Scott draws on interviews with co-founders Elizabeth Fosler-Jones and David del Mar as well as teacher Bryce Driscoll, student Elizabeth Temple, and supporter Matthew Essieh. Thank you, Katie, for capturing so eloquently our attempt to, as you put it, "deepen cross-cultural understanding and build relationships through the art of letter exchange."
We are also delighted to announce that Yo Ghana! Project Coordinator Noah Kurzenhauser, one of our volunteers who seems to never say "no" and always has a smile and a word of encouragement, has been selected to be part of the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program offered by World Learning Inc.! Noah will spend four weeks in Washington, D.C. and two other states working with youth from across Iraq and the U.S. to facilitate cross-cultural understanding and collaboration.
World Learning works toward building "a just world, driven by engaged citizens and thriving communities"--exactly the sort of work that Noah excels in and that Yo Ghana! aspires to.
We are proud of you, Noah!
The Beyond Footnotes series of KPSU radio station and the PSU History Department recently interviewed Yo Ghana! President David Peterson del Mar about his book: African, American: From Tarzan to Dreams from My Father--Africa in the US Imagination.
Click here to listen to the forty-five minute interview. Much of the content is about Yo Ghana!
The book will appear in mid-July and is dedicated to Mr. Brando Akoto, a Yo Ghana! board member who passed away late in 2015.
For more information about the book, consult the Zed Books website.
Tuesday night had already been a full day when I arrived at the Troutdale City Hall. I was there to talk a little bit about Yo Ghana!'s partnership with Reynolds High School, but mainly I was there to support two of our students. One of them was Rando, a small and determined Muslim girl from East Africa who has been interviewing family elders to relate their journey through civil war and refugee camps to America. Her voice started very faint, then became stronger and stronger as she shared the remarkable story, and the council members' eyes filled with respect.
About two hours later I boarded a transit train and heard the voice of Diana calling to me, another one of our students, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who in the rainy night was in charge of her little brother and wheel-chair bound mother, all of them struggling to understand a new language and new skills such as how to negotiate the transit system in a wheelchair. But they seemed much more resolute than frail.
Then I joined an apartment full of Ghanaians full of joyful expectation. The wife and children of a leading volunteer were about to arrive, ending a separation of nearly five years. When they stepped into their new home it exploded with noise and joy. The eyes of the three young children were wide. Twenty years from now they'll still remember that night, and by then they'll be doing great things.
Americans often ponder going to Africa and helping Africans. But Africa is also coming to us, and Africans' resilience, warmth, and determination are helping us now, will help us far into the future.
Some 80 people gathered Wednesday for our Student Showcase at the St. Andrew Church Community Center. Students of Deb Tavares (shown above) shared compelling stories. A boy from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who is just learning English related how his father survived and escaped war; a Muslim girl from East Africa spoke of how she has come to love wearing her hijab; and a student from Mexico showed a photograph of the truck his father uses for his landscape business, a job that leaves him exhausted, but "this is how we make a life."
Yo Ghana Board member Dr. Labissiere shared the delights and fears of growing up in Haiti and how coming to the U.S. brought new challenges of racial and personal identity. Yo Ghana Project Coordinator Ibrahim Ibrahim emceed, young Maddie from Fowler Middle School read some fine letters on overcoming hardship from Ghana, and a bunch of students received awards. Students and teachers from Reynolds High School, Vernon School, St. Andrew Nativity School, Fowler Middle School, George Middle School, Campfire Columbia, and Judson School--all the way from Salem!--attended.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, the distinguished philosopher born to an English mother and a Ghanaian father, remarks in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers: "when the stranger is no longer imaginary, but real and present, sharing a human social life, you may like or dislike him, you may agree or disagree; but, if it is what you both want, you can make sense of each other in the end."
Thank you to our students for their courage in sharing their stories and the attendees for listening. I think we are well on our way to making sense of each other--and much more.
Please join us for our second Student Showcase on March 29, 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the St. Andrew Community Center behind the church at NE 8th and Alberta.
The event will feature a variety of student work, including some of the best letters from Ghana and the Pacific Northwest on overcoming adversity, life stories collected by students at St. Andrew Nativity and Reynolds High Schools, and photography and immigrant identity projects from Reynolds High School. We'll also pass out some awards to top letter writers.
Yo Ghana! project directory Ibrahim Ibrahim will emcee, and he and Dr. Yves Labissiere, a Yo Ghana! board member, will speak about their experiences as second and first-generation immigrants to the U.S.
Admission is free, and we'll serve light refreshments.
Here is part of the fine letter from Nasiata Allah-Kabo, our top award winner among introductory letters by Ghana senior high school students. She attends St. Ann's Girls' School in Sampa. One of our judges praised its "great explanations of culture and tradition."
Your letter was received on the 14th of October 2016. In fact, I was filled with much joy and pleasure to the extent that even words can't describe my happiness for having you as a pen-friend. To be frank, I really enjoyed and understood every single expression in the content of your lovely letter.
Anyway, my name is Nasiata Allah-Kabo. Nasiata is my first name and Allah-Kabo my surname. I am an 18-year-old girl and in the final year (high school). I am a Muslim by religion and a noble student of St. Ann's Girls' SHS (SAGISS) which is a Catholic School situated in Sampa, Brong Ahafo Region, Ghana, West Africa. I am a citizen of Ghana by birth who hails from Sampa in the Brong Ahafo Region.
You know what? I enjoy eating rice with vegetable stew together with egg. What is your favourite fruit? As for me, I really enjoy taking oranges after every meal. Just exactly the subject you prefer, that is when it comes to learning? I enjoy English Language a lot. I love reading story books with opened heart and opened mind. Especially during my leisure time. What do you love doing at your leisure time? I enjoy reading a story book called "The Blinkards" written by a Ghanaian playwright called Kobina Sekyi which was written to ridicule the blind imitation of the European culture by Africans. After school I will like to become a midwife since my aim is to help women in labour to have a safe delivery. And you, what is your future career?
Yes, unless I forgot, I will be going to the Nurses' and Midwifery Training College after school. This is because I want to study more about safe delivery. I will also attend a school of journalism and become a worldwide famous journalist. I have no siblings and live with my grandparents. The people of Sampa including my family celebrate a festival called the "Krube Festival" during Ramadan. Earnestly speaking, it is one of the best cultural heritage among the people of Sampa. During this festival, the girls dress in nice clothes with beads around their neck, waist and wrist together with something special made from sack called "sokuo." They dance waving it into the air, meaning they are thankful to God for his protection throughout the whole year.
This school year some of our schools have elected to include poems with their letters. The two schools leading the way are King School in Portland and L & A Academy outside of Accra. Mr. Justice Joseph Prah and Mr. Daniel Arkoh Fenyi have been judging the poems.
Here is the work of our leading poet from Ghana: Ofori Emmanuel of L & A Academy. Mr. Prah praises his poems for embodying "simple aesthetics . . . tied to childhood experiences."
I am from Africa the beautiful places.
All kinds of plants such as mango, orange, pawpaw,
apple, banana and watermelon and animals. And
the person I missed most is my mother.
I am from my apartment, yellow and blue
colors, one front door, five bedrooms and two bathrooms
I live with my lovely family.
The virgin moon is out tonight
And it shall be our only light
As we look for a game to play.
But the virgin moon has something to say.
Being the queen that rules the night
She looks so lovely and bright.
With a baby firmly in her palms.
And watches us as we play.
And here is the Black Star award winner from King, a poem by Ja'Shanique Broussard that Mr. Prah praises for its use of hyperbole, alliteration, and irony.
I am from a very
cold city rain, wind, and storms.
From a small city with Thousands
of people EVERYWHERE!!
I am from a big family
With 17 cousins
12 boys and
I am from 6am mornings
By a highway and a mall
From an hour ride to
I am from a class of
2021 in 5 more years
Then I'll be free From
10 years at King
School to Benson
I am from Portland, Oregon
111 people move
From nothing to do
But yet somewhere to go
I am from the
ONLY CHILD to
Hoping that there's
From already hating my cousins to
in a big enough
House for 2 people ONLY!
I am from growing up
To a saying
"You dont want that old butt whoopin because that new
Butt whoopin aint gonna
Teach you nothing"
From not knowing what
That saying means to now
Knowing by growin up.
I am from wondering how
Is going to be when
I grow up from knowing what I want
To be and knowing if Ima make it.
I am from eating soul food
To eating other
Like Ghanaian food
Fufu, Kenkey, Peanut butter stew
Spinach stew is my favorite
From not just eating
But using different things
That they use
Like an African sponge,
I am from Erica
one of my friends, dad
Letting me make Fufu for the first time! It
was really fun and different and it Taste so
I am from listening to
Hip Hop and R&B Like
21 savage, Sydney Renae, Ibefoolyn Etc. To
trying new music
From now listening to all types of music
Like Eric Bellinger, Lloyd,
From listening to jazz to go to fall asleep
This is an unusually long post for an unusually strong essay from one of David del Mar's History of the U.S. Family students at Portland State University this past term. The students took part in an international discussion with young adults in Ghana about family life, then wrote a short essay using the discussions as evidence. Yo Ghana! is excited to be working with some older students who are doing ambitious, analytical cultural comparisons.
"Drastically Different Family Obligations and Matching Beliefs About Tension"
Amber Scout Brown
Ghanaian and American students have radically different experiences of their obligations to family but their beliefs about the tension between these obligations and their individual freedom are uncanny in their similarity. The discussion between these 40 or so students demonstrates the archetype of all adolescents realizing that interdependence is the gracious balance between selfishness and selflessness.
Ghanian students described their childhood experiences of obligation as being necessary for the basic survival of the family while the majority of American students described their obligations as a form of parenting to instill responsibility. Courtney writes that she was “fortunate enough not to have financial responsibilities” to her family, which illustrates the stark difference of Ghanian and American children’s obligations. Jessica and Abi both expressed the same sentiment by writing respectively “I started earning money for…unnecessary things” and “I was expected to pay for my own leisure activities.” Moving on to the comments of Ghanian students really exposes the juxtaposition of the American and Ghanian obligations. Emmanuel described needing “to leave to look for drinking water before school” and Lucy described doing dishes before and after school, helping her mother cook dinner, washing all of her siblings clothes, and “the most difficult aspect” when they “ran out of water in the house.” Lucy writes, “My mum and I have to travel far in search of water on top of all those chores.” Not one of the Ghanian students mentioned that they needed to do these chores in order to have other freedoms like playing with friends. However, it was a common theme for the American students to see their chores “as their ticket to freedom,” as Cara put it.
Each student from Ghana and the U.S. acknowledged a sense of tension between freedom and obligation but generally held the same belief about that tension, gratitude for the opportunity to have served and been served by their family. Of the Ghanian students, Qhurb elaborated on this by writing that he hopes to be “a kind of man who will grow up and set the family free of the bondage of poverty.” Eminence writes that he promises “to learn hard in school so that I can pay back to my parents for always supporting us.” Of the American students, Amy commented “Hopefully I’ll be as good to my children as they were with me.” Leigh added to the praise of family obligation with her comment, “ I am grateful for my supportive family and help them as much as I can.”
Joan’s comments on realizing that her actions impacted others perfectly sums up the mindset of a naive child. “I was not comfortable with that knowledge. I wanted to be free and run wild.” It is evident through our discussion that this mindset did not last into adulthood.
Although Ghanaian and American students had vastly different experiences of sacrifice, their welcoming attitude towards it was uncanny. Both groups of students expressed extreme gratitude for their parents’ sacrifices and embraced the tension it caused knowing that it resulted in their strength, accountability and drive for success in adulthood.
Yo Ghana! will be having its first Student Showcase 10:00 a.m. this coming Monday at the gym behind St. Andrew Catholic Church at NE 8th and Alberta. In addition to our students sharing their oral histories and poems and top letters, Mr. Baba Wague will present an African story. Admission is free, and light refreshments will be served.
Here's a portion of Tomas's fine oral history, about his older sister. He will present the rest on Monday:
Dolores remembers a childhood in Guatemala that was very different from in the U.S. She would eat the tamales that her mom and grandma made on special days. She loved the sound of the marimbas. She also had dogs that she would play with every day. On certain days, she would go with her family to special places when something was being celebrated. An example is the feast day of Guatemala's archangel, Santo Rafael. She would wear something called a 'chan,' which is a dress-like skirt that girls and women wear to special occasions.
Dolores faced many challenges while in the U.S. She only knew one language, her native language. In the U.S., the main language was English. Dolores didn't know any English, so talking to people was hard. To overcome this, she had to take ESL classes. As years passed by, she learned how to speak English more fluently. Dolores also got to learn Spanish when she was in ESL.
Ibrahim Ibrahim just returned to Portland after presenting at the Global RCE Conference, an United Nations University initiative on Sustainable Development, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia!
Mr. Ibrahim spoke of the photography program he initiated last year for students at a Portland elementary school; students from immigrant families took one meaningful photograph a day and then wrote about how the photograph expressed their shifting identities.
We are thrilled that Mr. Ibrahim will be leading a similar project for Yo Ghana! in January with a school in both the Pacific Northwest and Ghana. He is a Young Leader in Action at the World Affairs Council of Oregon, a student at the Oregon Islamic Academy, and has a big heart for service.
Our very first Student Showcase will be Monday, Dec. 19, 10:00--11:30 a.m. at St. Andrew Nativity School's gym behind the church at NE 8th and Alberta in Portland, Oregon.
Students such as Miss Meklit (pictured) will be presenting from their oral-history projects, some of our poets from nearby MLK School will be sharing their work, and students from across the Portland Metro Area will be sharing their favorite letters from Ghana.
Mr. Baba Wague Diakite of Mali will be presenting an African story, and we'll premiere some new videos about our work in Ghana. Ms. Elizabeth Fosler Jones, who co-founded Yo Ghana! at age fifteen, will emcee.
Admission is free, and light refreshments will be provided. No reservations are required. We hope to see you there!
On November 21, six middle school students who had been studying for ten weeks with Dr. del Mar presented their work to 100 of their peers, teachers, and guests at St. Andrew Nativity School. Two of the students interviewed each other, two interviewed older siblings, one interviewed his mother, and one interviewed her grandmother.
The students learned a variety of skills, from how to ask a good question to when to use a quotation and when to paraphrase to how to organize a strong paragraph to how to take accurate and useful notes. They also learned how to get up in front of a large group of people and share their work, not an easy task!
Yo Ghana! has for years focused on letter exchanges. Last year the students at Angel's Academy did several independent-research projects; some presented their work on the life of a fisherman at Yo Ghana!'s Sharing Our Stories Conference. St. Andrew is the first school to complete a set of oral histories or life stories, and we'll soon be sharing them with you, and they'll be sharing them with their partner school in Ghana and at upcoming events, such as our Student Showcase at St. Andrew on December 19 at 10:00 a.m.
We hope that inviting our students to dig more deeply into their cultures and to push themselves harder will bring deeper exchanges and transformations. And we are proud of Tomas, Chrisani, Meklit, Parfait, Lexi, and Lizbeth for leading the way!
Most of the entries will be from Dr. David Peterson del Mar, the President and co-founder of Yo Ghana!