Minds lively

Money to set up com­mu­nity cen­tres in Ghana and Uganda that are not only

Friday - - Inside -

have books at home?” I asked the chil­dren one day. Not a sin­gle hand went up. It up­set me so much that I asked the vol­un­teer co­or­di­na­tor, who was ar­riv­ing in Ghana from Lon­don, to bring along books, games and puzzles.

With the re­sources I set up a com­mu­ni­tyrun play cen­tre within a school. I also trained a lo­cal li­brar­ian, Awol, to teach chil­dren the games in a lively way.

Teach­ing in Ghana and Uganda is al­most al­ways by rote. Kids have no games or ex­pe­ri­ence of dis­cov­ery-led teach­ing. I de­cided to fo­cus on learn­ing through play. Kids were en­cour­aged to par­tic­i­pate and given lots of praise and en­cour­age­ment.

This was a hit and the chil­dren be­came ex­cited by even the most sim­ple toys. It was bril­liant to see the chil­dren an­i­mated and hav­ing fun while learn­ing about shapes, colours and num­bers.

All too soon my stay was over, but I left Ghana with the im­age of their happy faces in­grained in my mind.

I des­per­ately wanted other chil­dren in ru­ral vil­lages to re­ceive ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion, but it had to be done in a sus­tain­able way. It was all I could think about back home.

A life-chang­ing de­ci­sion

Just three weeks af­ter land­ing back in the UK, I made a de­ci­sion. “I’m quit­ting my job,” I an­nounced to my boss, fam­ily and friends.

“Don’t be silly,” they all said. But I was se­ri­ous about go­ing back to Ghana to set up more play cen­tres and train peo­ple to use their lo­cal re­sources.

So a few of my friends sup­ported me – some even ran marathons to raise money for my pro­ject. They also paid to see me sing at a con­cert I put on to raise funds.

In the months be­fore my sec­ond Africa trip, I spent all my free time re­search­ing early child­hood de­vel­op­ment – I wanted to know the best way to teach th­ese chil­dren. I found that learn­ing through play in early child­hood was cru­cial to help them grasp con­cepts.

In Jan­uary 2008, a year af­ter I first vis­ited as a vol­un­teer teacher, hav­ing raised £1,000 ( just un­der Dh6,000), I re­turned to Ghana.

There I met David Abukari, a com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment worker who loved my play cen­tre idea. He took me to a re­mote vil­lage on his mo­tor­bike and in­tro­duced me to vil­lage el­ders who helped me or­gan­ise com­mu­nity meet­ings to tell par­ents – some of whose chil­dren had never gone to school – about my plans.

I lived in a mud hut with a few vol­un­teers in a vil­lage in north­ern Ghana. I com­mis­sioned

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