Sunday, March 13, 2011

3rd of 3 (or maybe 4?) -part camp series

I left Buduburam in 2007, and about a year later, Buduburam School for the Deaf closed. Many of the teachers were returning to Liberia, as were many of the students; the school had a break-in and some of the resources were stolen (the TV and DVD player along with some of the DVDs in sign language – uggh, sad); for different reasons, some legitimate and some suspicious, the school was closed down. When I was moved to Accra at the end of 2009, I was asked to follow up with the deaf children who were still on the camp. There were 6 deaf children that could be found on the camp – and that included one “new” 5-year-old girl, a Ghanaian whose family was now living on the camp. Two former Ghanaian students, who were still interested in school, were able to be located in Kasoa (the nearby town where they lived). From time-to-time, Blamasee (one of the former students) and I made rounds to visit the families and the former students.

Marie Mah, a little girl who’d give me these big hugs every time she saw me and would sign to people that she and I were going to get married one day, has grown to be a young woman (well, not a woman, she's still a sweet little girl, just now in a young woman's body) over the past 3 years; Rachel, probably the oldest of the students (she’d been in her mid-20’s when she began school in 2006) was still around; Aaron was a student about Blamasee’s age, who’d begun attending school after I left the camp; Blessing was also a “new” student – she’s probably the least educated of all the former students, and probably knows the fewest signs; Mary is the 5-year-old “new” girl, and the one who’s mother is the hardest to find at home; Hovee is one of the Ghanaian students who came from the near-by town of Kasoa – also one of the brightest students we had; and Marvelous, also from Kasoa area, was always the biggest comedian of the group. All the students were in their teens (with Blessing at the youngest end and Blamasee and Aaron at the older end), except for Rachel – late 20’s – and Mary.

In May last year we went to the audiology department to get updated check-ups on the 8 “children”. Then, early in June last year, we arranged for the 8 students and one family member for each to head to Cape Coast School for the Deaf to begin the registration process. We found out the list of things needed, the time-frame, and filled out some forms for basic information on the kids. In July, a teacher for the deaf [P-Mommy (possibly spelled P-Mamie – at least that’s how I always spelled it in my mind since I never had to spell it anywhere else), who can also go by “P”, and whose real name is Phyllis - and I met back in 2004 when she was volunteering on the camp during the break between school years where she taught in California. We’ve kept in touch since then – mostly through these blog updates] came to Ghana to volunteer in whatever way I could best use her. The timing was perfect – school was to start at the end of August/early September, a lot of other things were going on, and following-up to see how far the families were doing in gathering the long list of supplies needed and trying to judge what was really possible for the families to do and what was actually needed was very time-consuming and not the most enjoyable task. P took over making rounds with Blamasee once or twice a week, she prepared check-lists, made notes of the visits, encouraged the kids and their families, shared her observation of family situations and motivations and did as much to prepare the kids and their families as was possible.

P left in August and I was also going on a small leave in early September – so, I planned one last meeting for the 8 students and families who were preparing for Cape Coast School for the Deaf. I made it clear that this was our last chance to meet. We had to meet at 8:30 because by 10:30 I needed to leave. One mother was there early. Wow. Yet, by 10:30, we hadn’t started the meeting – only 5 students and parents were there – and 1 had only just arrived. I explained the purpose of the meeting – for them to meet each other, offer advice, work things out like transport, etc. because I wouldn’t be around to help out any more. I told them that after I got back to the camp in the early afternoon (I was taking several of the kids with disabilities to the orthopedist who was making his bi-monthly visit to a nearby town) I would come around and see how things went and what was decided. As I drove off to the meeting place for the kids with disabilities, another one of the fathers for one of the deaf students called that he was almost there. So – they ended up with 6 parents at the meeting. No problem – when I got back to the camp I made rounds to the 6 who live on the camp and called the 2 from the nearby town. I knew the long list of supplies needed was expensive, and a donor organization made it possible to assist a bit with some of the expenses. Thanks to P, I had an idea of about how much might be needed to assist the parents. For the two families that didn’t show up for the meeting – there was no good excuse, so that was the end of my efforts with them at this time. Sorry for the students, but at the same time, I realized I couldn’t keep pushing or putting in more effort than the families or the students were doing.

As I went around and visited the families, all was fine until the last family. The first 2 were grateful for the bit of assistance being offered and made promises that they’d be able to do the rest. Blamasee is pretty much on his own, so I made arrangements with someone else to help out. And then the 4th family – the family that seemed to me to have the most family members around to help out and also seemed to always be doing well enough – started to complain, saying they didn’t know if they could do any of it, saying it wasn’t enough money to help them, and getting more and more attitude. I wasn’t in the mood – end of a long day that had actually been going well until then – but, I had missed lunch and it’s not a good time to give attitude when it’s 4 in the afternoon of a long day and Steve hasn’t eaten since early morning. They were told that if they can’t help to get their family member to school to just let me know – the assistance being offered wasn’t given with their name on it, and there were others who could use it. Anyway – I was getting my own attitude, and getting pissed off – they grudgingly made promises that they’d get their student ready for school and make sure he was enrolled.

I stormed off, finished the day, and didn’t go back to the camp for another month.


When I next came to the camp, a month later, it turned out that of the 8 students we started with, only 3 actually made it to school. I was happy for those three and very proud of their families. I knew it wasn’t easy for the families, but they did it. It was really kind of amazing. As for Blamasee, he was the first of the deaf students I met when I came back on the camp a year before and he’d been making all the rounds with me. His family doesn’t offer much support to him, and he struggles to get by with doing small jobs here and there – he’s a hard worker, but, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into now, he doesn’t keep his small jobs for very long. I know his family isn’t supportive, and I know he could do something on his own to meet some of his needs, but he didn’t come up with any of the supplies needed – and the money left to help him out wasn’t enough to pick up the entire tab. Sorry for Blamasee – he watched his friends go to school while he, the guy who was always asking about school and who very much wanted to go ever since the school for the deaf on the camp closed, couldn’t go.

As for Aaron, the student from the family with attitude – he also didn’t go. And it turns out that for some reason, his sister took him to Ivory Coast for something. Mary, the youngest, didn’t go; and Rachel, the oldest, also didn’t go. Marvelous also didn’t go – there are some family problems there, so, for whatever reason, it didn’t work out.

What I found when I returned to the camp came with mixed feelings – excited and happy and very proud of the families of Marie Mah, Blessing, and Hovee - - and angry, annoyed, pissed off and out of patience with the others. By chance I ran into Mary and her mom in the market that day – and the mother started making her excuses – “no money”. Meanwhile, my thoughts were, “sorry – but I also saw no effort. Every time when we gave a message about the day/time we’d come by, you were out. You’re the one with the largest extended family here, and there’s been the least follow-through.” I’m sorry for Mary, though, and may still try to do some follow-up with them in the future. But at that moment – too late.

For the next couple of months I continued to see Blamasee from time to time. He'd continue to go around the camp with me, visiting some of the families. He still wanted to get to school, and I began trying to figure out how much support to give him. A couple of months into the school term it seemed like a good idea to go with Elizabeth Dede and Blamasee to visit the 3 who did get to Cape Coast. It was a chance not just to see how they were doing, but to encourage and push Blamasee to really put in effort for himself, to work towards earning some of the supplies he needed to get to school the following term.

me with Marie Mah and Blamasee

It was great to see them in their uniforms, excited and happy to be there, and it was a nice reunion for them with Blamasee. It was also good timing – we arrived at the school just before the headmistress was heading out to send the list of students’ names to the government for the following term – and she was able to add Blamasee’s name to the list just in time.

Elizabeth with Marie Mah, Hovee and Blamasee

me with Marie and Blessing, who was sick the day of our visit

I also called Marvelous’ dad to find out what happened – and, like I said, some family problems. He brought Marvelous to the Harmony Center on the camp one day so we could meet and see what to do. I gave him the contact information for the school for the deaf in Cape Coast and he immediately called the guy who does the intakes and arranged for a visit. The father put in a lot of effort that day, coming to the camp from Kasoa, finding his way through the camp to the Harmony office, making the calls and arrangements. I was impressed and had hopes that Marvelous might be ready to enter school by the following term – it wasn’t certain, though, since they’d delayed and Marvelous’ name was not on the list that Blamasee’s name made it on at the last minute. Now, though, it was up to the father to work it out.


At 10:18 PM, Blogger MJ said...

It's such a shame that they all didn't make it, but at least some of them did----and how sad that the one family with the most was also the one to do the most complaining about things instead of being grateful for what they had and what they could have with a little effort.


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