While short, my trip was a truly life-changing experience. Some cultural observations that will stick with me (in no certain order):
• Ghanian people are naturally trusting. Smiles abound, without fear or apprehension. Even in a traffic jam, friends are easily made
• Somehow life is lived despite the amazing lack of resources, planning, or order
• Education is not a right, it’s an extreme privilege
• Healthcare is mostly absent. It seems almost half the children have severe colds
• Construction is everywhere, yet nowhere. Concrete pillars with rebar can be seen in any “developed” town but it’s rare to see someone working
Today the impact of the Empower Playground system came full circle for me. I’d be lying if I said that after the first two days of installing new systems I wasn’t skeptical about whether the villages would be able to implement the light and learning. Not until you experience the complete lack of resources is it possible to understand how challenging hope can be. So when we started our day I was anxious to visit a village that had an Empower Playground for over a year.
We began the day driving an extra half hour beyond Madavunu, the village we visited on day two. After arriving in Bigada, we boarded a wooden paddle boat on the Volta River. It was about two kilometer paddle to the shore of Pediatorkope, an island village and a certain contrast to yesterday’s mountainous region. Oysters are a staple of the diet here. In fact, the shells are built into small mounds outside of every residence. The homes are the same mud huts as I saw in yesterday’s village but more dispersed. Somehow the river, sand, and shells make it seem more tropical and sanitary. If forced to choose from my three ‘village experiences,’ I would live here.
The smiles, welcomes and appreciation for our visit were familiar. We first went to the back of the school to the playground to see the equipment in use. This was not simply a demonstration for the “Obrunis.”’ It seemed so natural to see the children on a playground that it almost made me forget that this is far from the norm in a Ghana.
After watching the children play, we were offered a fresh mango, then finally we saw “the light.” We went to a junior high class room, where approximately 20 children were studying with the Empower lamps. The brilliance of Ben Markham was immediately clear. As I peered over the shoulders of students, I had to test my memory to complete the long division they were practicing. I stopped to ask a few of the children what they enjoyed more, math or reading? One student shared with me his favorite story of the “Magic School Bus,” one I know well from reading with my own children.
Before leaving, the school master visited with us for a bit. I asked him if the lights had made a measurable difference. While I knew they did, I wanted some data because, after all, that’s how we Americans measure progress. He told us that after only one year, the Basic Education Certificate Examination had risen from a 50 percent passing rate to 72 percent. But only by being there and seeing those children happy to study by lamps did I finally appreciate the full power of the program.
Play. Light. Learn. So simple, and so appreciated.