Working life and dining with MPs
Sep 28, 2008
|Well we’ve had an interesting week starting our new jobs and settling into our new home. We’ve moved in with Anne and Stuart who have been very welcoming and they have been showing us some good local places to eat and shop. The flat is comfortable although there are some places you can’t sit and one bed that can’t be slept in because of bugs. We are waiting for the fumigator to come by so that it’s sorted out but they have already been waiting 3 weeks so I’m not sure if this will be happening any time soon!
VSO Ghana have been busy in preparations recently because they have Keith Hill, Labour MP for Streatham, over for 2 weeks donating his advocacy skills to try and lobby Ghanaian politicians for more rights for the disabled. It’s a scheme that VSO have set up and 12 MPs have taken it up going to developing countries to try and help. A lunch was organised for him on Monday with the VSO staff and current volunteers so we went along to meet him. He’s a pleasant guy and seems keen to try to make a difference, although he wouldn’t be drawn into a conversation on what he really thinks about Blair and Brown. We ran into him later in the week and he looked quite tired out. He may be popping around to the flat next week for dinner. A politician popping round for tea, this never happened in Farnborough!
We both started in our new work places this week. I (Alexis) am working for the Ghana National Association of the Deaf (GNAD) which is based on the Ghana Federation for the Disabled site, about 10 minutes walk from where we are living. Other charities are also based on this site including organisations for the blind and physically disabled, as well as a rehabilitation centre. GNAD gets the least amount of funding out of all these charities and receives nothing from the government so has to rely on donations from other charities or large corporations. The headquarters for this national organisation consists of two small, poorly lit rooms (to accommodate 7 staff) and one very old looking computer. The phone doesn’t work which means internet access is pretty much wishful thinking. I find it astonishing that it is a ‘national association’ yet the only way they can be contacted is if they are visited at the office, which isn’t really feasible if you come from northern parts of Ghana.
It has been a very slow start for me. Before starting work, I hadn’t fully appreciated how much of a communication barrier working with deaf people was going to be. My new boss is deaf so I have been unable to have any sort of a conversation with him. Instead of using British or American sign language, they have decided to go for the useful ‘Ghanaian sign language’ option which may not help them around the world but means they can have it as part of their culture. But it doesn’t help me much, even with my basic BSL knowledge! I have so far learnt the alphabet, ‘how are you’ and ‘what is your name’ – slow but steady progress!
What I have come to realise is that nothing moves fast. I have been given nothing to do so I think I will have to assess what I can do to help and just get on with it. On my first day, one of my colleagues watched TV, read the paper and listened to the radio all day - no work was done! It was quite surprising that he didn’t even pretend to be working! It continued like that for the rest of the week pretty much until I was almost climbing the walls with boredom. I have asked if I can come into the office in the morning and work at home for the afternoon and they seem ok with that which is a big relief! Don’t get me wrong, everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming but I’m just not used to doing nothing for long periods of time. On a positive note, I was taken to a disability awareness meeting which was interesting. I was given my Ghanaian name by Edmund, the man with polio that I was sitting next to. It is Akua Asaawah, which comes from the day I was born and means good provider.
Our daily pattern of life has changed hugely from back home. We are living in a fairly busy area of Accra and things start going at around 6am. Noises waking us can vary. Sometimes it’s the roosters crowing to each other (although this can start from around 3am), other times it’s the shoe shining man banging his box every minute, on the minute right underneath the window, it can sometimes be the man downstairs who has just bought new speakers and likes to use them to their full potential - even if the sound is somewhat distorted - or a combination of all three plus many more! At the beginning of the week we were struggling to cope with the sudden jolt awake but we have changed our sleeping patterns and are going to bed pretty much no later than 9pm and getting up at 6am with the rest of the crowds. This has proven easier than we first thought as we are getting up when the sun rises so it seems quite a natural thing to do.
I’ll pass you onto Richard to tell you about his teaching experience so far…
I arrived at Mount Mary’s school half way through the morning lessons on Tuesday. I met all the classes and was then asked to invigilate some exams that final year students were doing. It was a maths exam and at first there seemed to be constant whispering. In true teacher fashion I kept shhh-ing. It took me about ten minutes to realise that they were talking because they were swapping rulers, protractors and compasses. Each student did not have all of these things. After realising that, I relaxed and started reading the paper. Some of the questions asked were comparable with A level questions I was asked a few years ago. These students are 13 and 14! The standard of education does seem high. I invigilated some more exams as the week progressed. It was a good introduction to the school and the resources available. During some exams students had to share papers. On Thursday I took my first lesson. I did an icebreaker so I could try and remember their names and then did a lesson on nouns. I think it went well although one child fell asleep. I’ve heard before that children do fall asleep in lessons because usually they are up early working before school. I am hoping that my lesson was not too boring although it’s a bit shocking that a child is working that hard that they might fall asleep. In some ways I hope my lesson was boring which was why she fell asleep! I’ve done some more lesson plans today although I am still not sure what syllabus to use so I might have to wing it to start with.
Hope all is well in the UK. I hear that the weather has improved since we left (although I'm sure you are not sweating as much as we are!)