Tuesday, 14 May 2019 / Published in Blog

On March 31st, of 2019, ‘Angela’s Story’ was published. One of our readers reached out to us and expressed their desire to give, anonymously, to Angela and her family directly. On May 12th, of 2019, we hand delivered that donation to Angela, at her home. We arrived at the house in the late morning and awaited Angela’s return from church. We had told her, earlier in the week, that we would be coming over to take the girls out for the day. She had no prior knowledge of this donation. We explained to her that we had posted her story and that it had been read by those we’ve shared it with. We informed her that one of those people had been moved and wished to help support her and her girls. The anonymous donor donated 500 Ghana Cedis (about $100 U.S. dollars) to Angela and her family. Angela was very calm; but we could see the happiness in her eyes. She took solace in the generous donation and thanked us saying “God bless you.” It was a very happy and blessed Mother’s Day for Angela and her family.

Another donation allowed us to take the girls shopping for school supplies that day. We were given 300 Ghana Cedis to spend and the day to spend with the girls. Thanks to the donations we received, we were able to get the girls two boxes of pencils, five standard notebooks, and two extra long notebooks. We let the girls split the leftover cash to use on things we couldn’t locate, such as backpacks. The day was uplifting and there were smiles all around. We would like to thank our donors for thinking of Angela and her girls and for helping us support them.

Angela and her girls could still use help, your help and support, to put food on the table, to go to school, and to have the most basic of necessities. With your help this could be made possible. There are many ways you can help: donate, support a cause, and/or get involved. You can donate directly to the Play & Learn funding by going to https://playandlearnfoundation.org/about/#palUSA and clicking the ‘Donate’ tab or email us at playandlearnghana@gmail.com to find out other ways to help. With your support these stars will shine!

Thursday, 09 May 2019 / Published in Blog

Habiba is eight years old. She joined our team at Play & Learn in 2017. Habiba started school for the first time in August, 2018 at the University Staff Basic School, in Staff Village. She lives at Madina New Road, with her family. This is a poor community where poverty is prevalent. Kuburatu, Habiba’s mother, is unemployed; but still manages to find money by washing clothes for other people and selling waakye (a local dish) on Sundays. Her biggest concern is money. Kuburatu and her family need money in order to survive and for her to get a job. Habiba’s mother expressed that Play & Learn has been quite helpful to her and her family. She told us that one of the best services Play & Learn provides is giving the children clothes, food and drink, and books. When Habiba started school, Play & Learn paid for her books, Levy’s and school uniform. This was made possible through our scholarship program. Every term/semester, Play & Learn works hard to make sure that Habiba has everything she needs for school; so her mother doesn’t have to worry. Even Habiba sees the recognizes the ways she and her family have received help from Play & Learn. “They (Play & Learn) help me go to school. When my mother doesn’t have money, they spend money … for us to go to school.”

Habiba’s first day

Habiba is one of our brightest. She is extremely intelligent and is always eager to learn and explore the things she has yet to know and understand. At University Staff Basic School, Habiba is practically a straight A student. She receives excellent remarks in almost every category and her teachers have described her as hardworking and being active in class. Habiba is a passionate reader. She loves to read, when given the opportunity, and is an active participant in the Play & Learn Mobile Library. We asked Habiba to tell us her favorite thing about Play & Learn, to which she responded “I like the teachers (tutors).” The people who have helped her learn are those that Habiba is most appreciative of. We also inquired about her favorite subject. She told us that her favorite subject to learn was math. When asked why, she said “I have never seen maths before, that is why I like it.” Learning about new things is always an interest of Habiba’s.

Habiba’s report cards from Fall 2018 and Spring 2019

Her personality has been described as that of a ‘Boss Lady.’ Though soft spoken at first, Habiba is very expressive in everything she does and always knows exactly what she wants. One of these desires is to grow up to be a lawyer. “The way I see people, like, stealing; I want to put them (bad people) in prison. That is why I want to be a lawyer.” Habiba has a big heart and wants to cater to the good and punish the wicked. Despite the fact that her family has little to no income, Habiba recognizes the difference between right and wrong.

Being that she is one of our brightest students, we are very proud of Habiba. Here, at Play & Learn, Habiba will continue to grow and develop into the strong young woman we can see inside her. With further nurturing and support, her star could shine even brighter. There are many ways you can help Habiba: donate, support a cause, and/or get involved. You can donate directly to the Play & Learn funding by going to https://playandlearnfoundation.org/about/#palUSA and clicking the ‘Donate’ tab or email us at playandlearnghana@gmail.com to find out other ways to help. With your support, her star will shine even brighter!

Monday, 06 May 2019 / Published in Blog

On Saturday, 30th March we held the second event in our Mental Health Awareness Series. The first event was a Mental Health Awareness Walk on campus last year which focused on the state of one’s mind. This event was a Mental Health Awareness Talk that focused on explaining mental health and starting the awareness and education process. The event was organized as a panel discussion led by our hostess Danso Adepa, from Women in Debate, and our moderator Sirena Flores, a PAL volunteer. Danso began by engaging the audience asking them what mental health was (to them). After a few participants described what they thought mental health was, Danso, herself, said that “state of mind is important … You can’t trade it for anything.” She then directed the question to the panel.

The panel was made up of six representatives: Nandy Ntiamoah, Health and Safety Coordinator at Millennium; Kista Kallavus, UG International Student; Kwadwo Fosu, Child Protective Services Specialist; Kweasibea Bosompem, Entrepreneur and Founder of Future Ladies; Janet Maame Serwaa Arkoful Awotwe, Former SRC General Secretary (UG); and Emmanuel Dziwornu, Clinical psychologist, Total House Clinic. Janet was the first to respond to the question “what is mental health?” Her answer was, ” … it is the absence of mental illness…” Emmanuel followed up, by saying, “Mental health, I feel, is a rather broad area. If you want to define it … you will be leaving some things out.” The follow up question asked, “Why is it important to discuss it (mental health)?” Emmanuel responded with, “In our society … we demonize it … we see people (in Africa) who have mental illness as being possessed … if we are still in that state, it means that people seeking help will not be forthcoming. We need to de-demonize … and make people aware that it is not caused by a spirit.” Janet continued from that idea by telling our audience that “(we) need to think of mental illness as a medical condition … your mind is also part of (your body).” This speaks to how the change, in the way this society views mental illness, can start.

Sirena then asked our panelist a series of questions to help our audience get a better grasp on what mental health and illness encompasses. The first question she asked was, “How widespread can it (mental illness) be? Can you or I have mental health issues?” Emmanuel took the lead on this question stating, “Yes, no one is immune; if you can have headache, you can have mental illness. Everyone is at risk.” Nandy jumped in, explaining that everyone has ups and downs; we cry, we grieve, we get stressed out. It is normal to be sad every once in awhile. However, some people get stuck in this sad place and that is when mental illness can start. Someone becomes sad and stays sad for a long time and then becomes depressed. Nandy then proposed her own question, “Who speaks for those who cannot speak? … Those who go to that (sad, dark) place” and can’t find their way out. She was talking about the people who become depressed and can’t pick themselves up, who don’t know where or how to find help, and those who feel they can’t talk about it (mental illness). Emmanuel then told us a short story, “I remember treating a client, with an anxiety disorder, and I had to tell them I suffered a serious condition before they came. And she said ‘really? you’re not supposed to be like me’ that was the point …” that anyone, even your therapist can have mental issues. Kista had a similar story about when she first got diagnosed “when I first told my friends that I had depression … one of them came to me later and said ‘… after hearing you talk about it (depression) I think I am in the same place.’ I would never had thought that she would be in the same boat; because it doesn’t always show.” She continued to say that even your close friends, who always appear to be happy all the time, can be suffering. These people need to know that they won’t be judged or scoffed at if they ask for help. They need to hear that they are in a safe space where they can be open about their issues. Sirena built off this point to say that having this talk and discussing mental illness can create that needed openness here. Which was the purpose of holding this event. Danso shared her experience after losing her father. She said that when she heard that her father had passed she became numb for three weeks. She could react to the situation, because she was young and didn’t quite understand. She said that no one could have understood what she was going through. However, that mindset, in an adult is not healthy. Kwadwo then jumped in and starting comparing the time he spent growing up, in both Ghana and the United States. He agreed with what Emmanuel had said earlier about mental health being demonized in Ghana and shared with our audience that, in the U.S. mental health is discussed in schools and children are encouraged to talk with school councilors about any, and all, problems they may be struggling with. Kwadwo continued to say that it is important that Ghana find a way to implement this tolerance and approach in order to move forward and past the idea that mental illness is caused by spiritual means.

Sirena then asked, “why do you think mental health is not an area taken seriously?” Kwadwo discussed that part of the reason mental health is not taken seriously may be because of religion. Not saying that there is anything wrong with religion, but the emphasis on the church might be the issue. “You go to church, seek out your religious leader, who you talk to when you’re having issues … and our culture is rooted in that … the religious leaders, most times, are not trained in mental health … so they’ll direct you to pray, recite hymnals, meditate.” When in reality you need a professional. He then continued to say that many people are under the impression that admitting you’re struggling or need help will make you look weak. Therefore, people are less likely to seek out help, in Ghana. Kwadwo said that eventually he went to find professional help without consulting any friends or family. “My father didn’t understand, my mother didn’t understand … I feared the aspect (of) what my friends (both Ghanaian and American) would think.” He proposed a possible solution “If we can get back to addressing the root cause, which is making people feel comfortable, more people will come out.” Kweasibea added to Kwadwo’s point by saying that she asked students, who did seek out help, how their friends reacted after hearing about the help they were getting. “The people still don’t get it… they don’t understand why they sought help …. we need to create awareness here.” Kweasibea agreed that religious leaders are not equipped to help those with mental illness. “You shouldn’t just go in and sit down with your spiritual man … you should go in and understand what depression is. Most of us here probably only know that depression has to do with being sad. No. It goes beyond that. The whole mental illness topic deals with your emotional state, psychological state. You go to a pastor about it and he is not being able to tell you the most basic, necessary things about it. You won’t get anywhere. This is why we should focus more on awareness.” Nandy spoke up, bringing it back to an earlier point, “I believe that, in our part of the world, mental health is seen as a weakness.” She told a story of a man who lost his wife and unborn child on the same day. Six years later, he was still seeing professionals. “When he tried to talk about it … people said ‘oh, you’re not a man.’ ‘you have to be strong.’ So people are finding it difficult to talk about it.” Kista brought it up that others may say ‘oh, well others have it worse than you do.’ Her response to this was “That doesn’t make your issues any less valuable.” Just because someone else is struggling more than you, does NOT mean that you don’t have the right to seek help and get to a state of better mental health.

The final question was “How do we create a school environment that is mental health aware?” Kwadwo suggested that we start with the very young people. He explained that children in primary school could be given screenings to gauge where they are, mentally, and record any changes as they get older. This would also serve as the best time to start telling children about mental health and what they can do to get help. These children would grow up thinking that mental health issues are normal and can be treated. This takes out the fear and stigmatization that plagues our opinions and current way of viewing mental health issues. Emmanuel also posed the idea of placing counseling/mental health clinics within the student clinic and hospitals. This would help those who feel that going to the counseling center would label them with the stigma that comes with having mental health issues. The other panelists gave their suggestions as well. The main point each suggestion brought up was talking about mental health issues, the importance of mental health, and raising awareness; much like this event was doing.

After the discussion came to a close, we asked some of the participants to reflect on the Mental Health Awareness Talk and give us some feedback. One participant said “the talk was very informational, I honestly got a lot out of it. I’m really glad this program is being implemented at this university because it’s something that needs to be talked about.” Another student agreed saying “I’m really glad I was able to take part and listen to the discussion that went on … just because I do think it’s something important to be aware about, especially on college campuses. Mental health is something that is not understood completely by a lot of people; but it’s also something that really serves as a really underlining problem. I think that it’s a really great step in the right direction. I think there’s still a long way to go. However, this series is a great way to get to that final goal.” Our final participant left us with this reflection, “the main thing I took away from this talk is … the breaking down of barriers: the stigmas and expectations that sometimes come with mental health issues and talking about mental health issues. This talk was really important because … it was an important first step in starting to change those (stigmas) and starting to talk about mental health in a different way, that’s more inclusive and more accepting and that’s really important.”

This event was made possible by Play & Learn with the cooperation and support of USAC Ghana (partner), Nivea Ghana, and Women in Debate (UG).

Sunday, 31 March 2019 / Published in Blog

Angela is a mother. She has five beautiful children: Charlotte, Juliet, Lucy, Alice, and Beatrice. Charlotte (17), Juliet (14), and Lucy (11) all engage in Play and Learn, where they train their minds and bodies. They learn how to play football and are given tutors to help them with difficult subjects (math, science, and English).

Angela and her family live in Accra, Ghana, in a small, cramped space. The only shelter they have is a five-by-five foot ‘shed’ where they sleep. The cooking, laundry, washing, and bathing is all done outside of this little shack. When asked to describe her living space, Angela said “I live (sleep) here, in this trash (gesturing to the shed), it is not safe. And sometimes you’ll be sleeping, people will come in, to open the door, and it’s not safe.” The door has only one bolt on it, it is the sole obstacle preventing intruders from entering the only shelter the family has.

Angela wants but one thing. She wants her girls to have a better life than her.”My hope is they should learn good. They should become someone. And maybe one day people will sit down and say ‘this woman(Angela), didn’t go to school, but have to managed to help her children.’ So every day I pray to God, God should give me strength. If I can work for them then they can be something.” Angela’s parents abandoned her at the age of seven. She traveled to Cote D’Ivoire, where her grandmother lived, to live with her. When she turned eight, Angela’s grandmother brought her to some else to live with, “To be with a person, so through the person, I learned how to work. And survive.” Through this way of life, Angela never had the opportunity to get a proper education or go to school. She only had the person she worked for to learn from. “What I learned, how to sell. First I was selling water. First I was there, I was selling water so I learned how to sell… Through them I’ve learned how to go (to) someone and find a job to survive.” 

Angela described her greatest challenge as her children, caring for them and giving them the life she wants for them. “… how to feed them? How will they go to school? It’s difficult.” The source of this challenge is the lack of income her household has, “…sometimes, you’ll be waking up and you don’t have money.” This leaves Angela with limited options. She told us that she can borrow food, sometimes; and when she gets money, she can pay or trade with those she borrowed from. Her only other choice is not one she is proud of. “I go to take it by force. I don’t ask them. Because, it’s there. My children, they are hungry. I need it to give it to them.” Angela said that if she can’t provide for her girls, they might go looking for someone who can, “… the moment you don’t give them food they can follow men. And I don’t like that. So sometimes I took food by force.” We asked Angela to tell us about her family or anyone else she considers family, to which she responded “No. Only them (her husband and children). Because, it’s them that is why I’m living. If I don’t have any more food, I can’t go to my family (parents, grandmother, ect.), because they won’t give me… So it’s only them, they are my family.”

When asked to tell us about her girls, Angela said “My children, they are very, very humble. And what I give to them, they appreciate it. And then if I have support from someone, to help them learn, I think maybe they will be someone in future.” She also agreed to tell us about Charlotte, Juliet, and Lucy as individual girls, about their personalities. “Charlotte. Charlotte is a girl who understands. She respects. And she like a book a lot. She will sometimes go to school and they tell her, she bring me, she’ll (need to) buy a book and I don’t have it and she’ll start crying. And sometimes I’ll say ‘I don’t have money to help you go to school’, she’ll stop crying. She’s a girl who wants to go to school. Because she say she wants to be a lawyer. So that is her whole focus.” Charlotte is the oldest of Angela’s children and she is a smart girl who wants to make a difference. We asked Charlotte why she wanted to be a lawyer and she replied, ” … to enforce law. Implement laws … to make good laws for the people not the bad ones.” She wants to make all education free; so that brilliant people, no matter how poor, can go to school. 

(Charlotte, far right)

Juliet is the second oldest and Angela says that “… she’s a girl, sometimes if she need something, I know her, she gets angry. A lot. Because she knows that ‘if my mother doesn’t have, I should go away.’ So she’ll get angry. And she likes reading. She likes going to church, she likes dancing. Both of them they like dancing. Juliet likes dancing more than Charlotte. And she say maybe one day, she wants to be a doctor.” When asked why, Juliet said, “I want to be a doctor, because there are not many doctors in the country to help to take good care of … those who are sick.” She has a good heart and wants to help those in need.

(Juliet, middle left)

Lucy, the middle child, is spirited. Angela gave us the follow description of Lucy, “Lucy, she’s a girl she doesn’t like bathing. [laughs]. She doesn’t like bathing, but she’s a girl who is brilliant. In school, they say she know paper a lot. The moment you give it to her she will try her best and do it. If it’s that one, she is a good girl.” Lucy, as well as her sisters, loves school. We asked her what she wanted to be, to which she responded “A teacher, I wanted to be a lawyer but then I said no I want to be a teacher.” 

(Lucy, far left)

We asked the girls to explain to us how they heard about Play and Learn and why they have continued to participate for three years. One of Charlotte’s friends had told her about Play and Learn and that Coach Nana (founder of Play and Learn) was looking for more girls to join. Charlotte told us that her mother, Angela, did not want her to go. Charlotte says it was because there are bad people, Angela says she thought Charlotte would get hungry and not have food. Either way, Charlotte eventually convinced her mother to let her go and find out for herself what Play and Learn was like. After that first day, Charlotte invited her sisters to join her and the three of them have continued to go for the past three years. When asked why Play and Learn was important, Charlotte said, “It is to help us become someone in the future. If you want to be a police, doctor, lawyer they have people who can help you through that. So it interest me.” Angela also responded to why Play and Learn is good for her girls, by saying, “(Play and Learn) Is helping them, educating them, and talking to them, and sometimes if they be needing something, they will ask them…And maybe the children need a book, and I don’t have it. The moment the children go there– and have money, to give it to them. Paid. So that place has been doing a good job. There is not anyone who can do that…Play and Learn is good. Now these days, if you don’t learn, then you can’t be someone. If maybe, I was like them, maybe I can have a support to support them. I haven’t reached where they are.” 

Angela wants to be able to support her children in their education, “It’s about the education. And how they eat. And where, maybe they can learn.” Charlotte understands that there is a little more need, “help me further my education and financial problems … it will help my family.” 

We asked for any final words for our readers and viewers, Angela said “God should touch their (your) heart. These days helping people is not easy. But God touch their heart and they should just watch my children. They should just help me educate my children. If right now, I don’t have anything to thank them, maybe one day, God will help them. Because right now I don’t have anything. Maybe if they are thankful, maybe one day God will help them, so they should just help my children.” Charlotte responded in a similar fashion saying “Helping someone benefits something in future (it) makes that person, who is helping another, get more blessings from God.” 

Angela and her girls need help, your help and support, to put food on the table, to go to school, and to have the most basic of necessities. With your help this could be made possible. There are many ways you can help: donate, support a cause, and/or get involved. You can donate directly to the Play & Learn funding by going to https://playandlearnfoundation.org/about/#palUSA and clicking the ‘Donate’ tab or email us at playandlearnghana@gmail.com to find out other ways to help. With your support these stars will shine!