Giovanna Panzera - I remember the morning that I stood before my class of adoring Grade 6 students, many much taller than my small five-foot frame, and I began singing and pointing to my body parts.
"Head and shoulders, knees and toes….knees and toes…knees and toes…” There was this immediate sea of smiles (given there were only about 16 students facing me, perhaps a pond of smiles is a better analogy), and much laughter. Everyone was mimicking me and enjoying the sounds of their voices and the movements of their body. And we were learning…under this palm-thatched roof, without walls, with a dirt floor, and with a single slate of black board being held up by two sticks. The learning happened in spite of our surroundings, which seemed so modest and limited to my Canadian eyes.
And yet each day as I walked the sandy road to Dekpor Basic School during my four-week stay, and I saw the children in their environment – playing soccer with a ball they constructed out of plastic bags, using sticks to draw a hopscotch grid in the sand, making elaborate fans from the leaves of palm trees, caring for younger siblings on their backs, carrying water in buckets on their heads sometimes about half their size to their distant homes – I was continually struck by their happiness. That in spite of the apparent lack of things we grow accustomed to in Canada – these children were not lacking in their strength of spirit, love of life and joy of learning.
Reading books – which we had brought through generous donations from Canada – brought excitement to their eyes. Singing simple rhymes and songs in English made them shriek with anticipation. The beating of the drum, to which they marched to class each morning, gave wind to their steps and there was a pride in being in that classroom. Perhaps because the learning that happened there represented a hope for what could be for them in the future.
I was inspired by their hope. I was humbled by what they and their families are trying to do with very few resources to support them. I feel honoured to have been a witness to what these students and teachers are achieving in this very small, rural village in Ghana. And I feel compelled to share what I have seen, with the aim of paying tribute to their struggles but also their love of life. This continues to inspire me.
And when I think back to that morning when my students were trying to mirror my pantomime, by touching their knees and touching their toes… I think how lucky I was to have been there with them in those moments. What I learned in those moments will help sustain me – and provide hope that in building relationships, the best learning is possible.