Friday, March 20, 2009


On Wednesday, I talked to one of the teachers, Madam Lizzy, as I tried to help some of my girls who were in trouble. I asked her please not to lash them, but she was so angry at the girls that my pleas didn’t move her. Sister Dorothy was standing nearby, and after Lizzy went back into her classroom, she lectured me for a few minutes on how Ghanaian children need the cane in order to behave, that they don’t know how to respect or keep quiet without the cane. Basically, what I got from her was that Ghanaian children need to be “controlled” (she actually used that word) and are incapable of being good unless they are whipped into submission.

I wanted to cry. I can’t believe that these kids are being brainwashed into thinking this! Sometimes, when they’re noisy in class, I become very frustrated and ask why they’re making so much noise.

“It’s because you don’t use the cane!” they admit. “Miss Kate, you should lash us so we’ll be good.”

In 4B, they were being a little noisy during class that morning. We were supposed to be learning about the present perfect tense, but some lessons are more important than even grammar. I told them briefly about my conversation with Sister Dorothy, how she thinks that Ghanaian children can’t be good unless they’re caned.

“I don’t believe this,” I told them. “I know that each and every one of you is so good deep down. Even if you make noise and do bad things, it doesn’t mean you’re bad. You’re good.” I looked at their eyes as I said this, and I noticed that they all were listening attentively. I continued, “But if you don’t start acting like it, no one else will believe it. If you want people to respect you, first you must respect yourself. Who remembers what they said in worship this morning about the greatest commandment?”

Henry raised his hand. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” he recited.

“Thank you! Clap for Henry.” The class clapped their African clap for him. Clap. Clap. Clap clap clap. Clap. “This means that you should treat other people the way you want them to treat you. Do you want someone to talk while you’re talking?” I said.

“No,” they chanted.

“Then why do you talk when I’m talking?” I went on to give them examples of behaviors that they shouldn’t do. Do they like it when someone hits them? Insults them? Doesn’t share with them? Then why do they do that very thing they don’t like being done to them to other people?

“It all comes down to this... please respect yourselves. If you respect yourself, you will respect other people, and if you respect other people, it means you respect yourself. How many of you want to become heroes?” I asked.

Every boys’ hand shot into the air. We talked about the heroes they wanted to become. Spiderman. Superman. Batman. Ben 10. Atom Man. I named some of my personal “heroes,” real people, my friends in America who are really awesome. Why are those guys my heroes? I described to the class the ways in which my friends are my heroes. They behave like gentlemen. They don’t use foul language or insult people. If I’m feeling cold, they let me use their jacket. If we go somewhere, they open the door for me. They treat me with respect. They never get into fights for no reason, but if a bad guy ever tried to hurt me, I know my heroes wouldn’t let them.

What do all of these men have in common? “They all treat other people with respect. They fight for goodness, to defend other people. If you want to become a hero like Spiderman or Batman or my heroes, you have to respect other people. You have to respect yourself.”

I looked around at all the girls in the room. “How many of you want to become ladies when you grow up? Princesses?” All the girls raised their hands. “If you want to be a lady, then you need to respect yourself. You need to respect other people. Treat everyone with kindness and do to them what you want them to do to you. Think about all the princesses in the movies. Were any of them mean? Did any of them insult people or beat their friends? No! They respected other people. They were kind to everyone, and they respected themselves.”

When we finally got back to the present perfect tense, I noticed they were much quieter than usual. Whenever one did speak out of turn, I just reminded him or her, “Ah! You’re not respecting yourself!” and the room became wonderfully quiet.

I repeated the lesson when I had class in 4A. When one of the kids, Akyena, was talking, I went to his table and said sharply, “Akyena! You don’t respect me!”

He instantly became very quiet. He looked at me and said, with as much sincerity as a nine-year-old is capable of, “Miss Kate, I do respect you.”

“Then why are you talking? If you respect me, then you won’t talk when I’m talking.”

I didn’t hear a word from Akyena for the rest of the period (unless I called on him, of course).

This happened a with a few students, but after each reprimand, the student who was talking became quiet for the rest of the lesson. It made me feel so... respected. Without a cane! I don’t know if it will last, but I’m hoping and praying it does, that these kids can learn to respect me and to respect themselves. They shouldn’t let themselves be caned.

At school’s closing, I was looking for some of the girls who were in trouble with Madam Lizzy, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. A few minutes later, I saw them running towards me from the volleyball court, completely out of breath.

“Miss Kate! A dog almost bit Nana Ama!” Ohemaa shouted.

“It’s true! We were walking back from the bathroom and it started chasing her!” Karen exclaimed.

“What?! Nana Ama, are you okay, sweetheart? Did it bite you?”

“It didn’t bite me, but it almost did!” Nana Ama said, and she was shaking all over. She looked like she was about to cry. I know that feeling! I glanced over and noticed the dog had gone to sit next to the open gate between the school’s compound and the convent’s yard.

Sister Dorothy happened to be coming out of a nearby classroom, and shouted at the girls for chasing the dogs. They breathlessly explained that they had just been walking back from the bathroom when the dog chased Nana Ama for no reason. I became very mad, because the dogs are supposed to be locked up during the day. The nuns are often negligent on this point. (Last month, one of the Class 2A boys had been chased by a dog when he went to the bathroom during French class.) I know exactly how terrifying it is to be chased by dogs, so I told Sister Dorothy, perhaps a bit too sternly, that these dogs must be kept locked up when children are around.

“If you don’t like it, make it go back inside,” Sister Dorothy said.

“Fine!” I shouted. I strode forward and picked up a big stick that was lying on the ground. When the dog saw me approaching, it sauntered back into the yard. I was suddenly filled with such a rage at that dog for attacking my Nana Ama! I bolted across the compound, running as fast as I could, stick in hand raised like a spear. When I whipped around the gate and into the yard, angry as a mother bear, the two dogs who were standing there took off running. I hurled the stick at them with all my might. It didn’t hit them, but I think they were pretty freaked out. They disappeared into the side yard.

I’d like to add that this was the closest I’ve ever come to hurting a dog. Even in the depths of my hatred for dogs, I never touched one. I’ve started carrying a stick around the yard when I’m walking alone for protection, but I’ve never actually had to use it on the dogs. If a dog comes too close, I just smack the stick onto the ground, which scares the dog enough to keep it from biting me. I don’t see the point of hitting a dog unless it’s for self-defense. Karma!

When I came back into the school compound, I was greeted by cheers from children of all classes. “Aye, Auntie Kate! You can run, proper!” Kids left and right congratulated me, amazed to see a teacher running at top speed like that.

Nana Ama ran to me and gave me a huge hug, thanking me. The other Class 4 girls gathered around, putting their arms around me and telling me that they couldn’t believe that I just ran across the compound so fast like that.

“Of course! I couldn’t just let that dog almost bite Nana Ama!”

“You’re a hero, Miss Kate!” Ohemaa exclaimed. “You’re a hero just like your hero!”

“You’re my hero, Miss Kate!” Nana Ama said. “Oh, thank you!”

Indeed, I did feel like a hero just then, fighting for goodness, fighting to protect my students from the evil dogs. I kind of like being a hero. It’s a good feeling. :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So I came across this on StumbleUpon, and I couldn't help but leave a response of some sort. I think it's such an amazing thing to do, such a random seeming choice to make...going to Ghana after graduating college to teach French? I am about to graduate with a degree in French in a month, and I thought I was adventurous just contemplating going to Philadelphia! :P I've only read this one entry, but I'm impressed, and I wish you the best.