Working with OSD

This was sent to me by one of my contacts at OSD – amazing stuff that a team can accomplish.  Makes me even more motivated to keep on trucking with my international idea.  I second Melissa’s sentiments – TY to everyone who made and continue to make all of this possible!!
As many of you may remember, we hosted a students vs. staff basketball game to collect donations to send to a deaf school in Accra, Ghana.  We had Jessica Wynn, a student from Wright State University, come and talk about her experiences volunteering at the school in Accra.  She showed us pictures and explained about the academic and residential conditions of the school in Accra.  OSD IVDL students also collected items and brought donations to our IVDL Immerision Experience last year.  The donations were plentiful and we were excited to get them where they needed to go, but we experienced a couple of roadblocks:  it would cost us approximately $800 per box to ship the items (combined we had more than 12 boxes of donations); and African customs could charge a hefty tax to the recipients (ie school for the deaf in Accra) on each box, which they of course couldn’t afford. What could we do?  We had to get this stuff to the schools/students who needed it so badly! 

With the help of Joyce Cain-McGraw, we got in contact with our security guard, Amad Fontie, and asked him if he knew how we could get these items to Africa.  If you don’t know Amad, he is from Sierra Leone and is constantly figuring out ways to get needed items to his family overseas.  He also has family members who attended school at the Sierra Leone School for the Deaf and Blind.  He helped us by including many of our items with the items he sends over to his family members.  He also had two family members come in town and they took donations back with them in their carry-ons.  If you see Amad, please shake his hand and thank him for helping us help some very deserving students!

With the help of Jean Parmir, we met Amanda Kaiser who is an interpreter in the Bexley School system.  She planned a trip to Ghana to volunteer at a deaf school this past summer.  We touched base and I asked her if she would be willing to take some of our donations.  At first she planned to take just enough to fit in one suitcase but before I knew it, she was making arrangements to take extra duffle bags full of supplies.  Here is an article that Amanda wrote for the local Bexley newspaper about her trip:

“This summer, I traveled to Cape Coast, Ghana, Africa to work with Ghana National Deaf Children’s Society (GNDCS), an organization that teaches, advocates, and coordinates services for deaf children.  I initially learned about a separate organization called Friends of Cape Deaf through the RID publication VIEWS.  It was through Friends that I was able to contact GNDCS.

I knew it was a trip meant to be when I learned that a student from Wright State University, Jessica Wynn, had recently done a presentation at Ohio School for the Deaf (OSD) about her experiences in Accra, Ghana – the capital.  She inspired the student body and the staff to such a huge degree that they decided to hold a school supply drive at one of their basketball games.  In all, they collected over 100 pounds of school supplies!! (I know this because I had to follow the airline’s strict weight guidelines.)  I was able to take almost every single thing that was collected for our deaf friends in Ghana!

Initially, before I started researching Ghana, I pictured the Disney movie, The Lion King. After reading several travel books focused on Ghana, I felt somewhat prepared and ready for anything – just flying by the seat of my pants!

The friendliness of the people also made things easier.  Ghanaians help each other without a second thought.  If there’s a stalled car in the middle of the road, everyone around will stop and get out to push it out of the way.

In Ghana, my role was to advise GNDCS personnel about how they can better fulfill their mission of providing for and supporting deaf children in Ghana.  The challenges the organization faces are numerous:  late diagnosis of hearing impairment, poverty, lack of technology, cultural stigmas about hearing aids, and lack of information about deafness.

I experienced many memorable moments during my time in Ghana — from students checking for my immunization scar to the time I was “tasted.”  On many occasions, I was inspired by resourcefulness of the Ghanaians.  For example, in a situation where we would use rope or bungee cords to tie down pallets, they reused plastic bags and tied them together to make a long piece of “rope”; then using that, they tied down their cargo.  Amazing.

I was particularly aware of the vast differences among educational systems.  In Ghana, it isn’t uncommon for a teacher to have another commitment or have a last minute something pop up and leave the students on their own for the day.  I happened to be in such a classroom one day and have the opportunity act as a substitute teacher.  I wrote the fill-in-the blank exercise on the board that the head teacher had left for the students to complete.  As they turned in their work, I graded each one and was surprised at the low marks.  I was heartbroken about the lack of book knowledge these students have, or rather, what they haven’t been provided.

It really hit me hard and made me appreciate, more than I ever have in my 31 years, that I live and work here in the United States where there are standards and specific practices for teaching.  I was grateful also that, although there are still major hurdles to overcome, in the U.S., “disability” is handled more constructively than in many places.

I gained a great deal of humility while serving in Ghana and I hope to share that this year with Cassingham students.  The Ghanaian people are grateful for every ounce of anything they have.  Whether it’s a pencil or a pair of unbroken sandals to wear to church, the “make do with what you’ve got” attitude is definitely prevalent there.

The other thing that I hope will seep into my work is a never-ending drive to better myself and my surroundings.  Although much of the area I visited is extremely impoverished, those who have had the opportunity to receive an education aren’t merely satisfied with basic levels – they want to go as far as they can.  I expect to model that attitude for those I encounter.  I also hope to spearhead a movement that will be able to connect schools internationally to serve as teaching models, resource sharing opportunities, and provide the opportunity for cultural enrichment across the miles.  As I share my newfound knowledge of Africa with students here, I hope that they in turn will gain an appreciation for all that they have and all the opportunities that await them in their future.

Amanda Kaiser is an ASL interpreter at Cassingham Elementary School in Bexley.”

This entire project began with a letter from a college student…and became something so much bigger than we ever could imagine!  Donations were given to at least 5 different deaf schools in at least 3 different areas of Africa.  I can’t begin to thank all of the people involved in making this happen.  What an amazing effort from such a small community of people!

Thank you…
         Amad Fontie and his brother and sister-in-law
        Joyce Cain-McGraw
        Jessica Wynn
        Amanda Kaiser
        Jean Parmir
        Kristin Saxon, Julie Stewart and their IVDL students
        OSD Students and Staff
                        …for helping us, help others!

Thank you,
Melissa Lago-Jones

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  Gandhi

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