Volunteering at the Lotus Children’s Center
By Shannon Rupp
For many years, I have had the desire to experience living and working in continental Africa. This past summer I finally had the chance to look for and pursue a volunteer opportunity. While looking for the right placement I came across a website called Kids Worldwide and was immediately drawn to the nursery school program and Neohumanist Education philosophy used at the Lotus Children’ Center in Accra, Ghana. A great deal of my work and education background is in public health and programme management. At first I wasn’t too sure how these skills would serve me as a volunteer in the school. However, I wanted to pursue this programme anyway, as I had just finished an MSc in International Child Health and wanted a chance to put that knowledge to use. So, I applied quickly and was accepted.
I ended up having the opportunity to first travel north to work on a rural schools project. I left to spend two weeks in the village of Dipale just outside the city of Tamale and also Gbali. My two weeks there were a great adventure for me and started my instruction about all of the obstacles facing education in Ghana. I learned very quickly that although primary education in Ghana is free that doesn’t mean that everyone has equal access to it. I found out that because the villages are so remote that there are no government schools close by. The government will only sanction schools in those areas if the communities themselves will begin the schools and run them successfully for at least a year. Given all of the difficulties I saw in the villages it seems like an impossible task. These villages need help to get the schools started and they are motivated to see their children learn. In Dipale they have a beautiful school building and enough teachers for a primary school sanctioned by GES but many of the children are not showing up to school or are dropping out early (mainly the girls). In all the villages I observed that most of the students were behind for their age and class levels and these deficiencies were most apparent in the subjects of Math and English.
After returning to Accra I wanted to learn more about these issues with education particularly, teacher shortages and curriculum problems. As I became more involved in life at Lotus Ananda Marga School, I began to see a pattern in my work and encounters with people. One of my tasks as a volunteer at the center was to tutor one of the girls in her homework. She is actually from Dipale, and I learned that she was very behind the other students at Lotus when she arrived the previous fall as she could not speak English or do maths well. She is very bright and learned very quickly, but that is because she was receiving a good base and education at the Lotus where there is a strong focus on both subjects. She was representative of the other bright children I encountered in Dipale, where they are not receiving enough of a base or time in the classroom to develop their full potential.
I was also helping Didi with some of the administrative tasks in the school. The teacher candidates coming to interview for open positions at Lotus were struggling with the basic math and English skills questions on the testing exam given in the interview. It surprised me that this problem with low skills in these subjects was not just a problem seen in rural villages but that it was wide spread even in Accra. These issues about education really piqued my research interests. It also coincided with a project that Didi needed help with. Several years ago, WWD Ananda Marga had purchased land in Ghana. Their original idea was to build a Teacher Training Center and experimental primary school that would teach the Neohumanist philosophy. However, in order to continue the project they would be in need of funding to secure the land and begin building the school. This meant a project proposal would need to be written. This was a great opportunity to put all of my research skills and experience so far in Ghana to good use! Given everything I have learned about education in Ghana a project like a Teacher Training Center is vitally important for the country as it will help to improve education in Ghana. I believe that the teacher shortages, curriculum problems and apathy about school attendance would begin to disappear if many of the principles taught in Neohumanism, about love and respect for all life, would begin to spread throughout education in the country.
It has been an amazing opportunity to use my skills in a way that I didn’t expect and to put all of my experiences in Ghana into practical use. Overall, I have had a wonderful time in Ghana. I have seen many interesting things, met a variety of people and learned about myself. Some of my best times have just been spending time with the girls in the Ananda Marga Children Home helping with homework, bathing and playing. Life can be hard here through cultural misunderstandings, water and electricity shortages, messy roads in the rain, etc. But, one thing I have learned throughout all of my travels that has even held true in Ghana is that at heart people are the same everywhere. They love and laugh and hurt the same and have a story to share with you if you’re willing to listen.
Shannon Rupp (Sa’dhana Devi) is from Alaska, US. During her stay in Lotus she developed a hand book for the school; wrote a project proposal for our Teacher Training Center project; helped with Pre-school teacher training and conducted a free medical camp. Lotus welcomes female volunteers willing to work with the children and education.