Going, Going…..Ghana

I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this whole “mom of a senior”  thing all year.  Although I have not yet had the time to start writing the book that compares the 10 months of pregnancy to the 10 months of birthing an “adult,” I am certain with every fiber of my being that I am currently in the third trimester, experiencing full-on Braxton Hicks and all that uncomfortable stuff that happens while you are somewhat scared of what the future holds but completely ready to kick the alien devouring your space out of your body and into the world.

The trip to Ghana that I begin today initially was to take place in November, similar to prior trips.  However, plans changed, ideas changed, the focus changed and it so happened to land in the space of time just before the busiest, most emotional month that I’ve seen in a long time.  In addition to high school graduation, the stars aligned to include moving and getting a new puppy.  (WHAT?) However, instead of thinking of our school’s most recent trip to Ghana as adding to the chaos, I am choosing to think of it instead as a harbor, a space in time requiring selfless action and reflection.  This is no trip of relaxation.  Rather it is a bunch of long, hot, boring days highlighted by the ability to connect, help and learn from a culture on a completely different level than your own.  The goal was first to get our sister school’s village safe with clean water and knowledgable hygiene practices.  Now we’ve moved to sharing some deeper thinking practices in the school in order to prepare a future that includes more girls going to secondary school and hopefully to university.  When I consider this prospect, I am thrilled with the full circle of investing in a girl’s future as I celebrate and acknowledge the privilege I have of my own graduating and moving on to university.  Education is the answer to everything, amen?

A watershed moment is an event that turns the action of future events.  I’m praying for this trip to be a watershed in that it provides future hope for a secondary school close to the village, that the curriculum strategies we share are instrumental in future development in our sister school and that I am once again intuned with the simple Ghanian mindset and lifestyle.  In this helping of others, I hope to get my own mind wrapped around the changes that are down the road with the girl that drives me crazy while making my heart whole all at the same time.

One of the seven largest watersheds in Africa is located in Ghana.  It’s called the Volta Region.  Likewise, Volta in poetry means a turn or a rhetorical shift or dramatic change.  If I’m looking for a watershed, it looks like I’m headed in the right direction!

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The Parent Trap

I’ve been waiting.  I’ve heard the saying all my life, “this hurts me more than it hurts you.”  As a parent, I’ve been frustrated, angry, sad, and bewildered by the choices my children have made.  However, I can’t really say that I’ve felt exactly like they did when they screwed up or worse…until this week.  Can I tell you that it really sucks?  Can I also tell you that I’ve never felt more like a parent?

I work in education so I hear tales of big, ugly conflicts between parents, coaches, and  students.  Parents get angry, cry, blame, defend, deny, accuse, and flat-out threaten to undo the very foundation of the institution when something goes wrong in their children’s lives.  Now, I am blessed to see all sides of the situation.  My advice wouldn’t change from the beginning to the end of it, but I can tell you that I certainly gained some perspective and compassion for all sides.

Here’s a rundown of what I learned:

  • No parent has the right answer all the time.  My ex-husband and I ran the gamut of emotions when we first got the news.  What was the right thing to do?  Hell if we knew at that very moment.  Go with the gut, add a strong dose of logic and reason, top with compassion and go with it. Toss everything you’ve got at the wall and hope it sticks.
  • When your child loses something that they really, really want, it feels like it’s your own personal loss.  Seriously.  I had no idea that I could feel this for my kid.  I cried as much as he did and I couldn’t stop.  I knew what he was feeling when he woke up yesterday morning, knowing that reality was about to hit  him in the face.  I winced when he mentioned his pain as it floated across his consciousness.  Why?  Because I’ve been there.  And here I am watching the closest thing to my existence go through the aftermath of pain that I’ve felt before.
  • For a few moments, I did exactly what every other parent does.  I Monday morning quarterbacked the situation to death.  I found fault in every system that was in place. I second guessed my part in it, what was going on with the leaders, the effectiveness of the boundaries, and on and on.  Why? Because I’m at this stage in life, as a parent, that I’m well-practiced in exhausting all the options of any particular situation.  But, I believe that using these skills are just a mask for the real reason we do it.
  • I think the main reason parents want to bail their kids out when they screw up to the point that it hurts is this:  to squelch their own pain.  Hey, we can own our mistakes but to be taken off guard and feel the pain with our external heart?  Stop, can’t do it.  I’m gonna go into warrior mode because I can do SOMETHING about THIS.  However, we are missing the lesson if we do this.
  • In looking back over my life, the sleepless nights with anguish over my screw ups were game changers.  Reflection and reconciliation can help facilitate change no matter what the age.  This is not something that I want to deny the people that I love to experience, is it?

To kill the suspense or ideas of grandeur, he was kicked off a sports team because he was being a punk when he was expected to be a leader.  He is also considered to be better than his actions, so luckily he will have many more chances to prove his capabilities.  On the bright side, he told the truth, he was reflective, he was remorseful, he was brave in his apologies and he took the blame for many on his own shoulders. What I am telling myself and anyone that will listen today – when a loved one reaches a place that they screw up and it hurts you…resist the urge to fix.  I sit in a new level of connection today and while I am praying hard that this is the one thing that makes an impact and steers him away from the teenager foolishness, I know that we are likely to have many more trials ahead of us.  God, give me the strength of heart to handle and accept the consequences that any of my children get because, in that acceptance, I give them confidence that I believe that they are worthy of failure and capable of their own decision to be better with self-led determination.  Who am I to ever step in the way of that, no matter how much it hurts? My heart hopes that one day my kids are proud of who they’ve become because of the decisions they’ve made, not because of the carpets we’ve laid for them.  Other than the wrinkles and gray hair that this week has caused, it all will be worth it.

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Risk Taker

Risk Taker​:  We approach uncertainty with forethought and determination; we work independently and cooperatively to explore new ideas and innovative strategies.  We are resourceful and resilient in the face of challenges and change.

It’s crazy to think about really.  We live in a country that clean water runs to our homes with near 100 percent consistency, providing all of our daily needs to cook, bathe, drink, and clean.  And yet, there are entire societies that have no running water and must drink from an unclean water source.  Our country’s state of emergency is another’s daily life.  That thought alone makes one pause about the risk involved.  However, we teach that risk (healthy ones) are important to our growth.  We risk every day.  We ​drive cars, ​we, ride in planes, we drop our children off for hours in ​a school’s​ care, we try something new​, we fall in love, we make change.  I have two teenagers.  I talk to them continuously about the importance of ​risking their thoughts, their heart, their ideas. Risk allows being pushed to the edge of their comfort zone. Growth comes from there.

Water Is Life 2.pdfToday I took a risk that I’ve been thinking about for years.  Two years ago,  I was looking for an adventure and an attitude adjustment.  I wanted to see more purpose in my life.  I was a part of countless conversations with those in WATERisLIFE and I was so intrigued.  Here was an opportunity to make a difference in strange land with just enough familiar by knowing a few of the people involved.  I had my deposit ready, a check written and in an envelope ready to hand over.  I have a lot of food allergies though and it kept weighing on me that while visiting a remote village in Africa, turning down offered food by village hosts might just be the thing that did me in.  I met Mrs. Fine in the parking lot at OI, asked some more questions, and decided that it wasn’t my time.  I tore up the check and went back to life as usual.

Today as ​Mrs. Fine and I​ waited to board the plane, I thought about the timing of it all.  My allergies are still a pain.  The shots that are required for the trip were potentially dangerous to me and it took an extra trip to see my allergist (luckily he’s a cutie so the extra tests could have been worse) and then had to take ​four​ different trips to Passport Health to receive the shots slowly over time just in case something went awry​.  The difference is that I looked at my fear differently this time around​ and I was able to work past the risk to gain the reward.  It was a full circle moment acknowledged in that we can risk a bit at a time, even put it down for a bit.  Moving forward is still the most important part​.

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Odyssey and WATERisLIFE

The partnership started several years ago when an Odyssey family got involved with the WATERisLIFE organization, a nonprofit committed to bringing clean water to people lacking clean water around the world.  Odyssey is an International Baccalaureate World School believing that we belong to a global community.  Global-wide compassion, understanding, as well as job market competition will be just a few of the considerations on the horizon of our scholars.  It was with great enthusiasm that Odyssey partnered with such an important organization bringing ​a very basic resource​ to those in need​.  It allow​ed us to connect on a global level but to also work at a local level in our own community with the skills and knowledge that we obtain​ in the process.​

Mrs. Mil​akovich, (you may remember her by Miss Lusin) was the first Odyssey staff member to visit Ghana and our sister school in ​Kpaachiyili​.  The work she did there changed her life, eventually steering her career path to water conservation.  After every visit to Ghana, she returned to ​our​ school committed to educate the importance of hygiene and share a small view in to a world that our children can only imagine.  Mrs. Snyder is the new WATERisLIFE club sponsor for Odyssey.  She has a history of volunteering and service, mixed with a background in science and teaching.  She gladly took the torch of being the leader compassionately connecting our scholars to the children in Ghana and educating hygiene in the classroom.

My name is Stephanie Crawford and I wear a few hats at Odyssey, one of which is writing press releases and school stories for the Odyssey website.  I became intrigued with Ghana and WATERisLIFE several years ago.  I will write a little more about that later, but for now, I will share the goals of this trip I’m taking today to Ghana.  After some brainstorming between Mrs. Snyder and I, we decided to define the goals with each campus.   We will be educating on hygiene and sharing information about Ghana at the elementary campuses.  In the winter, we will do a Change Challenge to raise money, showing that every little bit helps and the youngest of us can contribute.  At the Junior High, we decided that interpersonal relationships would be the best way to connect on the other side of the world.  They are all about the social at this time, right?  Our PFS teachers have been working on establishing pen pals and writing letters to our fellow scholars that are the same ages.

Kpaachiyili liked the idea and have been working on writing letters back to our Junior High.  A “fun run” will likely be a fundraiser that we are earmarking in the spring, as well as the change challenge. This trip will help determine the involvement in the classroom with the Odyssey Institute.  Strategies and plans are being made to bring water from the well that Odyssey helped make at ​Kpaachiyili​ into the school, as well as continued education with the village on making and selling soap.  There are so many opportunities to bring in business, math, science, ​and art ​to our scholar​’s curriculum​.

Finally, ​I want to show that ​this is the perfect trip for Odyssey scholars. I decided to share the reasons ​why this is the perfect trip by connecting ​my ​adventure with the IB profile.  I knew it was a ​great​ plan when I realized my trip was 10 days long and that there are 10 IB profile attributes.

Outstanding!  So, here we go!

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Calling All Cowards

One definition of the word coward is a person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.  Well, well, well, I think most of us have a little coward coat hiding in our closet, don’t we now?  I mean, depending on the day, unpleasant to me can be as simple as getting up at 4:30 am to get that workout accomplished.  It’s dark and freeeezzzing outside…..ok, so it’s only 42 degrees, but in Arizona that feels super cold. 😉  I know that I’m not alone here because I watch us as a society check out when the sheer prospect of boredom or down time approaches.  Walk into a doctor’s office or look at any waiting line, and you will see every other person checking their phone for social media updates or attempting to master the 258th level of Candy Crush for the 15th time.  Most of us have courage to defend our family, stand up for a cause, contribute to a purpose for a short time……but how many of us care to sit in uncomfortable for very long at all, much less make it a daily proposition?

That’s exactly what I’m proposing though.  I’m sitting here on my couch after the return of my trip to Ghana, feeling a little sad because for a minute there (10 days to be exact), my life had a pretty defined purpose.  It was also a bit uncomfortable in as many ways as one would care to imagine.  It was: hot, dirty, far from home, long travel days, chaotic, boring, and overwhelming.  The result was simply amazing.  Work at a basic level leaves one grateful for the simple, humble for the opportunity and desperate to feel the community of humankind.

People ask what I took away from the trip and the answer is many things.  But what I sit with the most right now is that I don’t want to let go of living life with purpose while being a bit uncomfortable.  I challenge all of us cowards to consider how we can live on the edge of our comfort zone.  I’m going to share here on my blog what I wrote to the community of The Odyssey Preparatory Academy, the school I work for, while I was traveling.  It explains best why I went to Ghana and what I hoped to accomplish while I was there.  As I’m sure my long time readers can imagine, there are deeper concepts that I will be mulling over and will share soon.  In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season.  May you be a bit uncomfortable in all that you do.  😉

P.S. The opposite of coward?  Hero.

Amen.

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Communicator

Communicator – We express ourselves confidently and creatively in more than one language and in many ways.  We collaborate effectively, listening carefully to the perspectives of other individuals and groups.

 

Austin is the 14 year-old boy that went with us on this trip and I was curious to see how a child did on a trip of this magnitude.  The beautiful thing about this journey is that we all get different things out of it.  He has done an amazing job at being patient and going with the flow.  He has been a helper in the field making the water station and a champion of making the most of the time that we have here.  Has there been moments when I wanted to ground him?  Sure.  He’s a teenager, I’m a mom, he is predominately surrounded by adults, and has an opinion about most things.  Did I mention that we have a commute to the village and back every day that is an hour each way?  We are hot, squished in the back of a vehicle and the traffic is typical of every international driving experience you’ve ever had…..crazy.

 

Let me tell you what is amazing about having Austin here with us, though.  He communicates with the children in village in a way that is the most sincere and sweet that I could ever imagine.  I am in awe of how he connects with them.  The children look at me with trepidation, curiosity,  and if they are very little, fear.   In some cases, they test what I can give them during my visit.  With Austin, all they want is to play, and play is what he gives them.  He is a big kid and surely he can be intimidating to them.  Yet, has the most gentle spirit with them, they are drawn like a magnet.  His kindness and patience is communicated to them without needing to speak a word.  He is a friend for life without needing to tell them so out loud.  Sometimes, I’ve decided, what is communicated through actions is just as important as the words that come from our mouths.

 

I am blessed to witness this type of international communication through children here in Ghana.  Hope is found when we can find common ground at any level.  But, if that kid finishes my sentence one more time, he is grounded for sure.  🙂

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Reflective

Reflective –

​ We thoughtfully consider the world and our own ideas and experience.  We work to understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to support our learning and personal development.  ​

 

There are many things that I know to be true in my life and one of those things is that the people of the United States are predominately generous and caring people.  Like me, I’m sure many of them get frustrated, however, trying to choose where their hard earned money

​goes ​

philanthropically that makes the most difference and

​that ​

is trustworthy.  I’m halfway home and my reflection today is really an ode to the organization of WATERisLIFE.  I have been friends with members of the team for years.  I have listened to their stories and watched them grow with their efforts bringing in hygiene, sanitation and water to areas that are in desperate need.   I HOPED that they walked the walk that they talked.  On my tenth day with them, I can 100% say that I know that they are everything that I hoped them to be and then some.  But then again, I figured that out on day two.

 

What does it take to mobilize a team in a third world country, including a child

​,​

for ten days?  I will not bore you with the details but it takes a lot

​!​

Not to mention

​,​

this a working trip, meaning the team is there to GET THINGS DONE.  Much planning ahead is needed.  Organization with local leaders is happening constantly, and executing the job in a very short time frame must be done.  Oh, and did I mention they have to make sure everyone is safe, taking care of themselves properly, keeping in touch with worried family members, and generally juggling all of these areas at one time?  Not to mention, the work that is getting accomplished is satisfying a very basic human need.  I could not be more impressed.

 

I am very reflective about many things today.  However, I wanted to take a moment to recognize that I’m allowed to be reflective about all the amazing things I encountered this week due to a wonderful organization that made all of that possible.  Impressively.  I would absolutely put my teenager in their hands.  I hope to go back one day or to another project location.  Not often do you go into a trip knowing it will be a life changer, and I will be forever grateful to Odyssey and WATERisLIFE for the opportunity.  Changed, I am.

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Caring

IMG_0140Caring –

 

Today we went back to the school at Kpaachyili unannounced.  It seems that the similarity of problems of schools across the world are even more the same than at first glance.  Today, there was a teacher attendance problem.  We arrived before the headmaster and several teachers did not show up.  So, the headmaster took turns going into each of the 4 classrooms teaching the math and English lessons until substitute teachers arrived.  I took some video of the lessons that I will share later but the children were ready to learn!  While we were waiting for the teachers, Mrs. Fine reviewed some of the hygiene and hand washing practices, and the children did a good job remembering what to do when they sneezed and when to wash their hands.  We also video taped a couple of children showing the Odyssey school the proper way to wash hands.  They were very thorough and even paid attention to their nails!  We hope to show this to our scholars because it is a great reminder that good hand washing keeps us all healthier.

 

Today I chose the caring profile attribute because there are many ways to care and to make a difference.  The teacher attendance problem is because the teachers have a long commute from Tamale into the village with very little funding.  The student attendance problem is due to the students going home for lunch and not returning.  I have to admit, this morning I was angry for the hours of instruction lost to teachers not being present, even if I knew that the reasons are valid.   My phone doesn’t work here so before someone suggest I should have done my regular job at home and called substitutes, alas, I could not.  However, I would have if I could have!

 

The children would sometimes ask me to buy things for them.  One boy looked at my shoes and asked for me to bring him some shoes.  For a split second, I looked at my shoes and remembered how many times on the trip that I’ve complained in my head that my shoes were hot and bulky.  While sitting with that guilt, I WANTED to say, “Yes, how about the ones on my feet.”  Instead I said, “I’m sorry, I cannot.”  True caring, I’ve discovered over the years, is often bigger than making the person feel better in the moment or giving something that lacks sustainability.  With Love and Logic in mind, I asked the WATERisLIFE representative in Ghana to speak to the Chief and elders of the community (because this is the customary line of communication) and to suggest mothers taking turns cooking food at the school a few days a week so the children could stay at school for the whole day.  In addition, perhaps left over materials from other village projects could be saved and used to make a staff quarters for overnight sleeping.  I tried to sympathize with him, explaining the  education priority differences between Arizona and other states in the US and how we must rely on our community for additional help.  I bit my tongue and did not say, “You know, it takes a village.” Because well, that would just be too ironic to say, wouldn’t it?

 

I am thankful today for Odyssey, our parents, and our community who prioritizes their children’s education…….

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Thinkers

IMG_0148Thinkers – We use critical and creative thinking skills to analyse and take responsible action on complex problems.  We exercise initiative in making reasoned, ethical decisions.

 

People say that I should stop thinking so much.  I respond that they should just ask me to stop breathing.  It’s what I do.  I was blessed to be able to do a lot of thinking in Ghana.  In the beginning, middle and end of the hard work, it is customary to have a meeting and discuss what is happening (again I am reminded of American culture).  I would usually take that time to snap photos or to just observe what was taking place.  I did a lot of thinking, feeling, and absorbing in those moments.   Currently I am currently sitting in the London airport getting reacquainted with my western life.  I’d be lying if I said I looked upon the bright lights, shops, hot cappuccino, clean floors, etc in disgust.  I may still have dirt under my fingernails but I haven’t forgotten how to hold a glass of prosecco!  (I am worried about the upcoming Christmas season of excess, but hey, I’m always dreading that, so what really is new there?)   However, I just opened up my computer to catch a glimpse of the last photos I took and tears sprang to my eyes.  The connection to the people I met this week will be forever with me.  I feel very protective of them.

 

I had so much fun this week THINKING.  I was in constant awe.  I compared, I contrasted, I problem solved, I gave up on problem-solving, I contemplated, I pondered.  It is the part that will prompt growth in myself for the future.  It will be the part that will propel future choices, will shape how I look at the world.  But, it’s the connection, the emotion, that I felt with the country and the people that will fuel that change.  I can enjoy all that our country has to offer, but I no longer just think of myself as I do so.  I have faces, smiles, and curious eyes in my memory that I take along with me.  I say that WATERisLIFE works on providing the basic needs to people around the world and when you meet those people, the connection will be felt to them at a basic level as well.  No words needed, no thinking needed, just heart.  Save your brain cells though, the thinking will come later when you are trying to make their world a little better or when you are trying to hold on to what they showed you about the basics of life.

Blessings to you all!

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Balanced

Balanced:  We understand the importance of balancing different aspects of our lives – intellectual, physical, and emotional – to achieve well-being for ourselves and others.  We recognize our interdependence with other people and with the world in which we live.

Today we visited the village of Zali.  The village is a mix of Muslim and Christian.  We attended the Zali Baptist church where we delivered supplies and the eye glasses that Odyssey scholars provided in the  NJHS projecI can’t effectively tell you the rush of emotions that I have throughout the day.  I am in another land and yet the human spirit is the same.  They look at us curiously but they go about their business.  Most are mildly disinterested but occasionally I caught a child smiling at me with the slightest tug of their lips and the kindest eyes on the planet.  One young girl stood quietly beside me, took my hand and quietly held it for the longest time.  My heart melted.  Language is not necessary for becoming friends.  The 14 year-old student, Austin, that is traveling with us, played with the kids so hard he instantly fell asleep when we got back in the car.

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What I saw on the way to the village and on the way back can only be described as another world.  They have cell phones and motorcycles.  Goats, chicken and cows run along side the road, as well as over the road.  They have store fronts that sell water, dead animals, cut hair, work on motorcycles…..and much more.  However, it all seems very linear to me.  If someone is a banker, they are just one.  There isn’t a bank with management to visit.  At the surface, leadership is one person very far away from your daily life.    One of my questions (so many questions, sorry Adrisu) was at what age do children in Ghana start thinking about what they want to be when they grow up.  The reply was that they don’t think of such things until they are in senior school.  I let that soak in.  Children are not asked about their dreams.  Do they have dreams?  I instantly thought about our own culture where we never expect our dreams to ever be taken away.

 

We ended the day at a restaurant that provided me not only the best meal in Ghana, the best meal that I’ve had in a long, long time.  For the third time that day, the word “balanced” came up in our conversation.  And, so balanced is the theme of today.   May you find some balance today, I know that fI did.

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