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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 4, January/February 2005

Project Overseas

by Louise Gonsalvez

In the spirit of volunteerism, as a Longfellow admirer, I take up "the battle to help a brother in his strife." My Project Overseas task co-ordinator and I are to teach business and computer skills to women working in Ghana National Teachers’ Association offices, GNAT. As with many voyages, the journey alters our perceptions. Expecting to deliver skills to advance the women’s positions and economic status, I am rewarded with my own lesson: Amid poverty, disease, and near non-existent infrastructure, the human spirit can still soar with reverence and joy. The key ingredient is valuing one another and revering the opportunities each day affords.

I am reluctant to leave the coastal beaches of Accra, to embark upon our long journey to the distant north. Yet, that is where we experience life-altering events. "Honk, honk, rattle, rattle, crash, beep, beep," and we are on the road to Tomale. Overloaded trucks on the red-earthed road to deposit books, soccer balls, and frisbees to a remote village. We are greeted by cheering children, Blonnie! Blonnie!—many of them have never seen a "white woman." Mud huts, thatched roofs, and we are escorted to greet the chief. After the ceremonial presentation of the books, we are presented with 200 pounds of yams and a bleating goat digging in its heels. A van full of supplies and suitcases, gifts we must not refuse.

Our first day of classes, and we are greeted with singing by our students. Their voices are as melodic as a fine choir. In Ghana your name reflects the day of the week upon which you are born and your sibling position in the family. I become Abiba Manu or Ama Mensa, depending on whether I was born in the southern Christian area or the northern Islamic area. But within a few days, I am greeted as Sister Louisa! To these women, a week of professional development, is valued no less, than a week-long seminar at a resort. They demonstrate reverence for learning, commitment to work, and a youthful vigour to carpe diem. Their educational highlights are Yahoo.com and Google.com, as these were their vehicles to another world. Their chatter resonates on the return from our grassroots Internet cafe. The women’s hearts capture my soul, and I’m the one most grateful for this experience.

Louise Gonsalvez teaches at Sparwood Secondary School, Sparwood.

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