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Monday, 4 August 2014

Eid Mubarak! or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Sharpening Pencils

Hello everyone! It’s Ben here. I’m usually a part of the Yumba School team; however this week things have been a little different.

On Sunday evening scholars from Saudi Arabia spotted the new moon, meaning that Monday would mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and the beginning of the celebrations for Eid. Celebrations lasted throughout both Monday and Tuesday, meaning that less project work has been achieved than expected. On the other hand, it has been a great excuse for a party!  While the UK saw large gatherings and celebrations in Trafalgar Square and Burgess Park in Birmingham, it is safe to say that things were done a little differently in Tamale...


Raqeebah, Pooja and Zarouk
cleaning rice the night before the party
Hardi, suggested that in order to gain a greater insight into Eid, Jade, Pooja and I should host a party to celebrate with all of the national and international volunteers working with ICS in Ghana. The numbers of expected attendees kept fluctuating, but we ended up catering for around 30 people! This required preparing and cooking enough food for everyone, which to begin with seemed like a herculean task, especially considering the extremely small size of our kitchen and the mountain of rice we needed to pick through in
search of unwanted grit.

Despite the odds, and some heroics on part of Raqeebah and Fatima, we were able to cook two large pots of jollof rice and beans, served with fried plantain and yam fries - enough for everyone, and with some to spare!

Our two amazing chefs; Fatima and Raqeebah
The food was accompanied by music, dancing and some (non-alcoholic) drinks provided by our guests. Overall it was a roaring success!

As fun as the party was, it is important to look at both Ramadan and Eid from a cultural and developmental standpoint too. Considering the majority of Tamale and our national volunteers are Muslim, our arrival in Ghana at the beginning of the month of Ramadan has meant we have only worked with them whilst they have been fasting. As one of the team leaders said to me, the effect of fasting during Ramadan coupled with the humidity of the climate here, has made it seem as if the whole of Tamale has slowed down.  Although the impact on the national volunteers has seemed relatively minor, it will be interesting to note how the project and the work dynamic both change, now that the period is over.

On Wednesday we were treated to another visit from Mr. Ali, the teacher training specialist. He guided us on a variety of topics, ranging from classroom management approaches, to how to keep your class captivated by the learning. Mr. Ali’s training has given us much to dwell on before we start at the schools properly next week, and hopefully his engaging and enthusiastic style of teaching will have rubbed off on us! 

What was supposed to be a relaxing Thursday morning at the schools (Tawfikiya, Tua Sunnia and Ticheli) spent introducing ourselves and assessing the students, was actually far more stressful than any of us could have imagined. We were meant to leave for the schools at 9 o'clock. However, when our team leader Nat arrived with the test papers we realised that the Year 5 papers (all 72 of them) contained the answers to one of the questions! It took a team effort, and although we were now running late, a sense of reprieve washed over us as we finally finished marking out each of the pre-given answers; we were relieved to be able to leave at last.

Everybody joining in to help sharpen the 264 pencils
Until, Jade (from her previous experiences in Uganda) had the foresight to open one of the packs of pencils, revealing to our horror that all of the pencils would require sharpening before we could leave and test the P1-3 students at the schools. 264 pencils needed sharpening, and time was against us; the schools were calling in frustration wondering where their volunteers were, sharpeners were breaking, and the taxi drivers were growing increasingly impatient! Each volunteer grabbed a pack and started sharpening (with the handily provided sharpener in each pack.) It was a valiant but time-consuming effort and after what had seemed like a lifetime, we were done. All test papers corrected, all pencils sharpened and all volunteers ready for the day ahead.

I guess this just goes to show (and may even represent development work as a whole) that regardless of all the planning that you put in, it can be disrupted by something as little as a bunch of unsharpened pencils! The easiest thing to do is just give up, but the right thing to do is to buckle down and do whatever you can to resolve the problem. At the end of the day, you just have to adapt your plans and make the best of a bad situation.

Friday was spent lesson planning and preparing for the week ahead - more about this, as well as the schools themselves, in next week's blog!

A word from out team leader:

Eid Mubarak, everyone! As you have heard from Ben, we have had a bit of a hectic week, squeezing the work for 5 days into 3 days - which is why this blog is so brief. We will let you know how the schools were next week. In between clearing the pencil shavings...

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