Sharing the Joy of Reading with an African Child
for 25 years

Reflections: George Hutchinson

This experience of volunteering with the OCLF was not something that I had initially planned to do on visiting Ghana, but through a series of fortuitous events I found myself being introduced to Kathy and quickly leaping at the opportunity to take part.  Any apprehension that I may have had on the flight over from England about what lay ahead of me in Accra for the next month was quickly dismissed with the welcoming hug that I received from Joana, or as I would quickly come to realise, ‘Auntie Joana’.  With such a greeting, or ‘Akwaaba’ as they say in Twi, mirrored by our taxi man back to the guesthouse, I was sure that I had made the right decision in volunteering and could not wait to meet the children and throw myself into the program.  Yet, due to the antisocial timing of my flight, on arriving back at the guesthouse I was treated to my first experience of Ghanaian mango accompanying a light breakfast and was then instructed to take some rest until later in the afternoon when Auntie Joana would come to collect me in order to introduce me to the children at her library.

Later that afternoon we pulled up outside the Kathy Knowles Community Library to the sounds of screams of delight and excitement as the children played and socialized together within the little compound.  Though a little shy at first, I came to be good friends with a number of the older children who were on vacation helping out at the library.  Often over lunch we would venture into Osu in a little gang to visit one of the children’s parents and even try some of their cooking at their food stalls.  Groundnut soup quickly became a favorite.

Situated on the edge of Nima, the OCLF’s guesthouse started for me as a safe haven in an otherwise largely alien environment However, as the days went by and I found myself immersed further into the Ghanaian way of life, it became home.  Even the sound of goats wandering in search of food around the guesthouse became normal, though was quite a shock on my first morning when I stumbled across half a dozen of them outside my doorstep!  Over my first weekend I had the pleasure of being given an in depth tour of Nima and its neighbouring community, Maamobi.  I was shown everything from the various markets and stalls, to the little collection of ‘spots’ that cater for the crowds of footballers and their friends in the late afternoons.  Despite being hard to relate to, the two neighbourhoods had a great charm to them that couldn’t fail to make you smile at the scenes around you.

With my first full day of teaching the children under my belt, any complacency I had had surrounding the task I was about to take on, was quickly diminished.  For the large part the children’s eagerness to learn is something to be admired, but I think they quickly made note of my lack of teaching experience and so proved impossible to keep interested and entertained.  However, I quickly came to pick up on a number of techniques to engage the children with the activity in question, something as simple as clapping your way through an addition exercise can easily get a whole class active and eager to take the next turn.  Over the four weeks, we exchanged knowledge and at times it was so refreshing to be taught about the different regions of Ghana and their corresponding dominant dialects and religions.  I was even taught a few new words in Scrabble, but I tried to just put that down to the different rules we have for the game back home!

With the annual ‘Culture Fest’ scheduled toward the end of August, I was lucky enough to experience the children practice their dance routines and drama acts.  I had been a little apprehensive for them at the beginning of their days of rehearsal thinking they had a long way to go in 10 days, but true to Joana’s words, the children put in a huge effort and pulled it off in spectacular fashion.  One of the older boys even taught me a little dance – something half way between an Elvis ‘leg jive’ and something a bit more suggestive!

Although the children’s charm is hard to forget, one of my highlights were the adult literacy classes that I took part in twice a week as part of the Reading Clinic scheme that the OCLF was running throughout the vacation period.  It was at these sessions that I really saw how far the value of literacy goes in ones life, and it was so great to take part in the learning process as effectively teaching the phonetic alphabet and building three letter words is not something that comes very easily!

In all, I had the most fantastic trip and all that I saw and took part in has compelled me to come back when I can.  Joana’s hospitality is truly something to be envious of, she is one of the most caring and good natured women that I have ever met and much to my own mother’s great annoyance, I will not stop talking about the delicious suppers that I was treated to in Ghana.  While I spent the majority of my time at Joana’s library, it was encouraging to see the same energy and passion that was on show there at a number of the other libraries that I visited, namely the Nima Maamobi Gale Community Library and Learning Centre, and the Accra College of Education Community Library.  I would like to thank everyone that I met and spent time with for putting up with me and making the whole experience so enjoyable, and I look forward to remaining in close contact until I return.