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  • Katie Emerson

It's not a "9 to 5" type job

At Pen to Paper Ghana we all work very hard and give our time voluntarily. However we love doing it so much it really doesn’t feel like work.

Somehow, whether you get up at half 5 to go and meet people to talk about building a well, or you stay late after the literacy classes to talk to some of the pupils, it never seems like work. That’s why at the weekends, we continue our work with Pen to Paper Ghana. Every weekend we visit a couple of the pupils at their homes. It’s great to meet their families and talk to the parents about the programme, as well as providing the students with some extra one on one literacy teaching.

Two weekends ago we visited Priscilla and Serwaah, sisters on our programme and met their mother, two older sisters and a brother. For us, we think it’s important for the two sisters to help each other, so we wanted to help them to realise they can improve by supporting each other in the home environment. We encouraged them to test each other with work cards and helped them to appreciate they can practice their reading anywhere, for instance reading signs and notices in the streets together. We also helped them to explain the concept of phonics to an older sister, who was 15 and also struggling to read.

In the afternoon, after a further, bumpy motorbike ride, we visited another of our pupils, 15 year old Wendy. Although her parents were not in, it was interesting to see her living environment and meet her 3 year old sister. We spent some time going through letter cards with her and getting her to start to teach the idea of phonics to her little sister. We then took a walk around the local area with her, before embarking on the journey home.

Last weekend, we visited two different girls who lived in the same area, 14 year olds, Mabel and Angelina. Meeting them at the side of the road, the first thing we noticed were new scars on Mabel’s neck. The area is currently under curfew due to a violent incident in the area, so everyone has to be in their homes from 8pm to 6am. It is not uncommon for the teenagers in the area to roam the streets at night, and Mabel explained the scars were from the police beating her due to her being out later than 8 pm.

After introducing ourselves to Mabel’s mother, we had a long chat with her about the programme and discussing Mabel’s absences from the class. With her mother’s acknowledgement of the importance of reading and our programme, we felt confident her absences would reduce. It then started to rain and with her family and friends all huddled around inside, we spent time going through some word cards and teaching them all to understand that letters have sounds.

We then walked across the street to a stall where two of Angelina’s aunts were sitting outside, heating a small stove to cook some food. Her mother works extremely long hours selling bread on the street so we were unable to meet her, but we had a long chat with her aunts, who were very thankful for the programme. As it approached 8pm and still raining, we decided that getting wet was better than getting caught in the curfew, so we took a very wet journey back home on the bike!

Meeting the parents and siblings, and seeing the environment in which our pupils live, is not just interesting but also important in understanding our students better and appreciating their difficult lives. We will continue to visit each of them, and will be running a parents’ meeting this week to bring them all together to share and express their ideas about the programme.

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