It has been almost one year since I first saw their photos. Bright and full of joy, the faces of children in vibrant violet uniforms looked back at me from my computer screen as I sat in my Portland home exploring the “Media in Ghana” blog by past students. One photo in particular had moved something inside me: the upturned face of a little girl with eyes outlined in blue and a smile bursting with happiness. I had heard of the program, a product of the School of Journalism and Communication, but I never had imagined I would make it this far.
Last Thursday, our group piled into the Obroni Bus bound for the heart of Nima, a slum community near the center of Accra. After Eric dropped us off amidst the bustling traffic and assertive street vendors, we were led through a maze of narrow alleyways, stepping over gutters of gray water and shaking hands with the occasional resident. Finally we emerged in the courtyard of the Anani Memorial International School, but you didn’t have to see the school to feel the jubilation. As we approached, the rumble of laughter and excited squeals became overwhelming, and the saddened spirits of our group took a dramatic turn towards pure exhilaration and anticipation.
Following our first few moments in the courtyard, the principal of the school, dressed in a handsome ivory tunic, led us to our seats for the students’ performance. We squeezed ourselves into the wooden desks adjacent to our hosts, and soon the production began. The band of musicians played their drums and marimbas while the teachers led the student body in song after song. As the students came to “This Little Light of Mine,” I couldn’t hold it in any longer. Tears of pure euphoric happiness filled my eyes, and as I glanced at my friends, I wasn’t surprised to see them experiencing the same sensation. Through music we spanned continents and cultures. Through music we were truly connected to these children.
I have never seen so much energy and talent in a group of children so young. We sat mesmerized by the dances and songs, cheering and applauding each performance. Little boys and girls, some of only six and seven years, bravely and flawlessly recited French poetry while others displayed their counting skills with song. The older students flaunted their rhythmic talents with a mix of traditional and modern dances, and eventually they invited us onto the stage to join in to show off our dancing skills. From the sprinkler to the funky chicken, we demonstrated dances from home and also attempted to mimic the moves of our hosts.
Finally, after presenting our donations of toys and school supplies to the gaggle of anxious students, we were able to play in the courtyard. Throughout the hectic scene, I would take a moment from my bubble blowing (a popular attraction to the younger ones who scrambled over themselves to blow a few sparkling soap bubbles, yelling “Madam! Let me try!” to get my attention) to scan for my friends. Each was busy learning hand-clapping games, giving photography lessons and cuddling toddlers, and a feeling of gratification brought a smile to my face.
In the center of a disadvantaged community, in the heart of a metropolis of over four million residents, the children of the Anani school were taking the first step towards their future success by seeking an education. And their families, almost all who live in this community of poverty, are doing everything they can to give their children a chance to be something bigger.
Our experience with the students brought out the child within myself, and as a freshly graduated adult, I’ll treasure that feeling. I didn’t have to be from the same country or culture or background to recognize the similarities between the children in Ghana and the children in the United States – the sparkle of innocence and ability to be silly and free of worry.
As the children were called into their classrooms and our group was gathered back into the alley, I looked back to wave goodbye to my new friends and saw a familiar face. The same little girl with the eyes outlined in blue, with the enchanting smile that called to me from the computer screen, was waving goodbye while she ran back to her desk, back to another day at school.