Sunday, 21 July 2019 / Published in Blog

We are proud to announce that we now have a new partner. Play and Learn has formed a brand new partnership with Trust Harvest. Jireh Azilah, the founder of Trust Harvest, used to go to school with our founder, Nana. Jireh said that, before starting his company, he would see Nana’s posts on social media and read about what Play and Learn was (and is) doing for the children in the surrounding communities. Jireh stated “When I started my company, as part of the company’s responsibilities, I felt like reaching out to kids and it just dawned on me … someone is already doing that.” He decided he wanted to help Nana and the kids. Nana said, “I have known Jireh for over 20 years now and when he called about his interest to have his company partner with PAL on Sundays to provide a healthy meal for the children, it was like a blessing and a much needed one.”

Jireh and Nana discussed what resources Jireh had and what he thought he could bring to the table. Through Trust Harvest, the Play and Learn children will now be provided with Oat Crunchies (oatmeal/granola packets), water, milk powder, and fruit cups every weekend during Mobile Library. Nana stated, ” PAL’S partnership with Trust Harvest couldn’t have come at a much better time. Most times on Sundays, children come for either mobile library or football training very hungry. We mostly identify this by their sad faces and inactivity or unresponsiveness to reading or training sessions.” Food is fuel and a healthy body supports a healthy mind. Nana explains, ” This (hunger) inhibits learning and makes things a little more difficult for volunteers, creating some problems. Sometimes through individual donations, and from PAL itself, we provide certain incentives, like snacks, to help build up energy and create something for the children to look forward to when they come to read. There is always a happy feeling and positive attitude when they have something little to eat and drink which makes reading and learning a lot more fun.”

Our new partnership with Trust Harvest ensures that these children have at least one healthy meal that they may not be able to get at home. Jireh shared “I hope the kids will invite other kids to come on board, so we can expand the reach (of Play and Learn)… more kids should be taking advantage of this opportunity.”

A few weeks have passed, since we partnered with Trust Harvest and we have seen a clear change. Nana reported “The impact Trust Harvest is making through this kind gesture is so immense for the children. We have more children coming for library sessions now than before, we have more children more eager to read and learn new words and we have children that are fed with healthy food every Sunday. Such an influence and impact cannot be underestimated especially due to its consistency.”

Together the stars of PAL and Trust Harvest will shine and impact more children as this partnership grows.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019 / Published in Blog

During the course of this semester/term, Play and Learn accumulated around sixty (60) volunteers. This post is our opportunity to share our thoughts and experiences with you. I, through the interviews I conducted with my fellow volunteers, have collected the opinions and memories of the volunteers of the Spring of 2019. The purpose of this post is for you to get a sense of what it’s like to volunteer for PAL and the impact it has had on us and those around us.

Our volunteers come from all different backgrounds. Some volunteers are students and some are not. Many volunteers are International students and others are Ghanaian. We all have different talents and those talents directed us to what role we chose. There are many roles a PAL volunteer can take: coach, tutor, mentor, media personnel, or general volunteer.

The coaches teach the Play and Learn children how to play football (soccer) and help them develop athletic skills. The coaches I was able to talk to were Coach Jude and Coach Jesse.

Coach Jude had a lot to say, during our interview. He told me about an interaction he had with a parent. This father came to Coach Jude and begged him to help his son. Coach Jude reflected that the father had seen Coach Jude as a role model and mentor in the child’s life and saw that it was important that his child learned from Coach Jude. Throughout his time with Play & Learn, Coach Jude has learned to empathize with children, feel what they feel, and understand their struggles. When asked why PAL is important, Coach Jude broke his answer into three groups: the kids, the community, and himself. Play & Learn’s focus is on helping the children, because the children are our future and they are what’s important. Play & Learn participates in community outreach – helping under-served communities and finding funding to help those in need. Coach Jude also reflected on what PAL has enabled him to do. He has been able to meet many new people and connect with the world, outside of Ghana. Coach Jude believes that PAL could benefit from having even more International volunteers. He said that the children feel very important and that they become curious and fascinated by the differences in accents, lives, and even hair.

Coach Jesse described his work as a coach as helping the children learn the tactical aspects of football, which also includes teamwork and discipline. One of his favorite memories with PAL has been the football match that was held this year: volunteers versus PAL kids. Coach Jesse said it was good to see everyone come together and have a good time. Through PAL Coach Jesse has learned to interact with others and understand children. He believes that PAL is important because it provides a sanctuary for the children, a safe place to have fun and be a kid. Coach Jesse hopes that PAL will stretch throughout all of Ghana, helping as many kids as possible.

I was able to talk to a few of the tutors: Jeannine, Emily, and Dela; whose role is to help their students with homework, plan lessons, and teach.

Jeannine tutors two girls. She teaches math and English and helps them in the areas they struggle with. Jeannine remembers a time when she assigned long division to the girls and they asked if she could give them harder problems to solve. She expressed, in our interview, that working with PAL, and children in general, is extremely rewarding and that it teaches one patience. In her opinion, Play & Learn is important because it gives back to the children.

Emily also tutors two girls. Aside from helping the girls with homework and preparing lessons, Emily likes to plan other activities for the girls. One such activity being tongue twisters. She recalled one of her most memorable moments with the girls being when Jessica (far right) taught Emily how to fetch water and balance it on her head. Back in the states, Emily has worked with children as a camp councilor, but “it wasn’t until Play and Learn that I realized how much children look up to us. They look at me like I’m superwoman- which I’m not. It goes to show how much of an impact you can have on someone, if you take the time.” When asked why PAL is important, Emily responded with “…these children don’t have people who can help them, with PAL they can see their true potential. I try to tell my girls that they are capable of doing and achieving anything. PAL helps empower these students.”

Dela is a Ghanaian tutor who teaches two boys. She expressed that through Play & Learn she has become more patient and has learned how to relate to the children and where they come from. Dela believes that PAL is important because the less privileged now have access to quality education (through PAL).

A majority of the volunteers describe themselves as ‘general volunteers,’ this is because what they do is … a little bit of everything. Sirena is one of these individuals and the only mentor I was able to interview.

Sirena holds many titles as a volunteer with PAL; she is a mentor, tutor, and a behind the scenes participant. Through mentoring and tutoring, Sirena believes that her role includes developing the kids’ reading skills and setting a standard by example. Sirena also visits La Bawaleshie Basic Schools (with many other volunteers) where the volunteers work on building on the students’ reading abilities. Some of Sirena’s behind the scenes work has included grant writing, planning events, and attending meetings. She acted as moderator during PAL Mental Health Awareness Talk which she expressed was both personal and important. When asked why PAL is important, Sirena said “Who else is going to do it (if you/I don’t, if PAL doesn’t). Some parents don’t have the money – Play and Learn is a resource for the under-served and underprivileged.”

Alliyah is another busybody. She is a tutor to two girls (Lucy and Sierra), she attends the Mobile Library and organized PAL’s Earth Day Project. At the mobile library, Alliyah listens to children read (as well as reads to the kids) and answers questions the children may have. The Earth Day Project was dedicated to cleaning up Ajax Park – where the kids meet. This gave them a clean space to play and learn. When asked to share a memory, Alliyah said, “…Going to Lucy and Sierra’s houses, seeing how they live, the community, getting a glimpse into their lives, you become a part of what they experience everyday.” When it came to the impact PAL has had on Alliyah, she responded, “It opens your eyes to certain things. It’s not hard to get something done, if you have the passion for it.” Why does she think PAL is important? ” Because it gives hope to the children, it provides them with people they can go to when their struggling.”

Some of the other general volunteers include:

Katja who would contact people, raise funds, and attend events. Arturo who used his memory of learning English as a second language to help PAL kids read. Paa Kwesi, a new volunteer, assisted with the Earth Day Project. Abena and Edna who help with Mobile Library.

Samiyah and Brenda who participate in Mobile Libary and visit La Bawaleshie to help develop the kids’ reading skills and abilities. Each of these volunteers do what they can, even if it’s not much. The kids bond with these volunteers and both sides are impacted in a positive way.

Tali and I worked together, as media personnel, on Angela’s Story; but Tali alone put together the footage of the interviews to come up with the amazingly powerful video for PAL to share. Though most of her volunteer work was done behind a camera or computer screen, Tali recalled our trip to the mall as one of her favorite memories. The girls had never been to the mall before and it was their treat for being so open and sharing their stories with us. Tali reflected on the importance of taking the time to listen to the girls and the impact their stories had on us. We were both so grateful for the opportunity to share their story and get the ball rolling on getting them more support. Tali pointed out that Play & Learn is very effective. She chalks that up to PAL being headed by Coach Nana. Nana Ohene knows and understands these kids, their communities, and their struggles. “He deeply cares and can address the needs.” Tali summed it up by saying PAL is being overseen by “someone who is cognitive of what’s happening.”

I am also one of those busybody volunteers. My work with Play and Learn has included writing blog posts, conducting various interviews, getting to know one PAL family, participating in Mobile Library, attending PAL hosted events, and assisting in the Earth Day Project. Through my time with Play and Learn, I came to, not only empathize, but grow to deeply care for three young ladies (Charlotte, Juliet, and Lucy). I have so many memories with these girls and my time with Play & Learn. My most memorable moment, though, is when Tali and I gave Angela her first donation from an anonymous donor. Angela was incredibly grateful and thanked us for our part in helping her get that donation. I hope for more funding to find its way to her. Play & Learn is so important. It helps more than just the children. Through some of my interviews I discovered that the kids come home from school to teach their parents what they learned. Play & Learn works to empower children through mentorship, team work, and fun. I also believe Play and Learn is important because it provides where others can’t. It is led by someone who knows and acknowledges the struggle these kids go through. Coach Nana has a heart for these kids and the determination to see it succeed and grow. With a mentality like that PAL will last. The only thing they need is constant support from people like you, me, and all the volunteers at PAL. Together, our stars will shine.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019 / Published in Blog

June 10, 2019

The first time I realised I loved teaching was during my gap year. Three years ago I spent a year studying philosophy and religious studies in Israel. The learning was intensive, and my mind was a whirlwind of what if’s and why’s and but’s. It honestly all felt a bit detached from reality. I went to the head of my program and said I wanted to do something substantial, something impactful more than just sit through classes and read books under a tree. I felt that there was no point in doing those things if we didn’t bring all of the values we learned to life. She was very reluctant to allow me to miss class time to volunteer, which I found to be a problem in and of itself, but eventually she and another teacher found something for me to do that ended up being, no doubt about it, the most fulfilling part of my year – teaching English to an 8 year old girl. I went to her house every Wednesday for 2 hours, which was never enough for either of us. Her mother had left her dad a few years earlier, so it was her, her 4 brothers, and her dad. It didn’t take long before she started looking at me as a sister – figure. We did her English homework and read books and seeing small improvements week to week over the course of a few months left me with an indescribable feeling, and leaving her at the end of the year broke my heart. 

Here I am, three years later, volunteering in Ghana with Play and Learn Foundation. It’s something I always knew I wanted to do, but certainly not something I thought I had the guts to do. Life got in the way for a while, but once the opportunity presented itself to do the kind of work that I’m blessed enough to be doing right now, I hopped onto Volunteer World (the website through which I found PAL). I was looking through the website, among others, for weeks, not sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I saw Play and Learn after already bookmarking tens of other organisations on my computer, all of which became instantly irrelevant. I booked my roundtrip ticket for 5 weeks, which may not seem like a lot, but this is my first time travelling somewhere completely solo. No friends, no familiarity, and essentially no knowledge of what the hell I was actually signing up for. The weeks leading up to my flight were overwhelmed by excitement and nerves in anticipation for the wonderful challenges that were coming my way.

Trying to compact the last 2 weeks into a few paragraphs is presenting itself to be much more difficult than I had anticipated. Ive been writing and rewriting for the last few hours, trying to decide how I can best portray everything I’ve seen and everything I’ve learned since arriving here. There is so much to unpack, so many things I’m still processing, and too many messages I want to convey. My first week is the hardest to sum up as it was wildly dynamic, what with being exposed to a culture full of life and colour, alongside poverty and crime. Everything was new and beautiful, as well as powerfully tragic. The actual places I went and beers I drank, as spectacular as they are, are not nearly as significant as what I want to focus on, the reason I’m here at all, the reason I am who I am today on June 10th, 2019: the kids. 

My first official encounter with Play and Learn was last Sunday at the mobile library. When I first arrived I was really overwhelmed. I didn’t know most of the volunteers and the kids barely seemed to notice me. I was relieved when we were split into groups and each volunteer was assigned to three kids. They were incredibly cute, and within these three tiny people there was a LOT of personality. They told me they loved reading, which both shocked and elated me. The second one of these children flashed a smile at me, I immediately felt at ease. We spent the next 2 hours reading together, talking about our families and most importantly, our “best” foods.

After the mobile library was over, I met Lucy and Siara. I fell in love with them instantly. I’ll be tutoring them every Monday-Friday over the course of my trip. Every time I go to their house, everything else stops mattering. Any loneliness or homesickness, distractions or stress.. it all just dissipates. I’ve known them for barely over a week and they mean everything to me now. I want to give them my heart and teach them anything I can, already knowing that they will teach me so much more. Building a relationship with them is just as important to me as learning grammar and multiplication. It feels as though any hole I’ve felt in my life has been and will always be filled by these beautiful girls. 

Siara 💛

In the less big-picture-life-changing-fulfilling-experience sense and rather the more day to day sense, I have an English and Math curriculum I hope to cover with the girls in my brief 4 weeks with them. I try my hardest to make learning fun, to hold their attention and to put smiles on their faces when they’re feeling discouraged. I try to curb their hunger and replace it with joy (and some cookies). I try to connect with them, make them feel loved and cared about, make them feel smart and capable and empowered. They make me feel all of that and so much more. 

On Monday-Wednesday I go to the La Bawaleshie School where I read with groups of kids over the course of two sessions in the afternoon. Of course it’s less interpersonal than with Lucy and Siara but it is nonetheless clearly important and just plain fun. Keeping groups of 4-10 kids interested in a book where each child reads one page at a time is not the easiest thing. It requires a lot of patience, which is crucial mostly so that it’s instilled in the other children. Seeing how excited these kids are to read, literally arguing about whose turn is next, is something very foreign to me. When I was growing up, wanting to be the next person to read wasn’t “cool.” I always wanted to read but the peer-pressured, insecure little girl inside of me told me not to raise my hand. The fact that being the first reader of a new book was sought after made me realise, no matter the small selection of books or lack of chairs or not enough teachers for too many students, this school did something really right that my school failed to do. Physical resources are only a small part of a truly good education. 

Play and Learn Foundation is a blessing to these children and its volunteers. There is so much mutual love and support between child to teacher. PAL’s goal is to guide these kids onto a path that will lead them to higher education and the future that they deserve. The potential in their smiles and efforts in sounding out words, their passion for spelling and eagerness to laugh, is what has taught me in only one week the kind of person I will continue to try to become. I have learned humility and appreciation for anything that has been given to me, anything I have earned, and every thing I am hoping for. Lucy asked me today why I came to Ghana and the thing that for a number of reasons I couldn’t say but the only thing that would truly answer her question was “Because of you.”

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!