Goodbye to Akolgo

Today we “goodbyed” the men, women, students and teachers.  It is always a bitter sweet experience for me.

Today is the day of gifts and hugs.  Peace gave me some white ribbon to tie several shirts I brought to give the men.  The leaders of gentle handling had their names written on the ribbon. Akonyure will pass out  single shirts to those men who treat their animals well.

Akolgo and pok

The women got jewelry and some clothes.  I usually give Imposia the largest gift and then she hands out the rest.  Since she wasn’t there today, we gave jewelry to the ten women who made shea butter and women who are in the gentle handling program. Imposia will get her package from Pok when she returns.

I said goodbye and one of the women told Ayamdooh to ask me to return so they could “goodbye me.”  As I walked over towards them sitting on logs and wooden benches under the trees, they started clapping and singing.  I didn’t understand a word but I understood they were saying thank you for all of Yua.

Giving shea butter to nurses for use in skin conditions, which are very common

Wisdom, the son of an elder, Alkolgo now works at the clinic.  He has also taught gentle handling of not only working animals but dogs as well.  I gave him a package of shirts tied in a bow and he told me that he needs to buy a truck to bring water to the animals that are not close to the house. He said it would cost 400 Cedis, which is about $190.  I told him that I thought that would be possible.

Going to the school was the hardest on Ayamdooh’s and my hearts.  The teachers all came out to thank us for the help we gave them and the students.  They hope they will do better on their exams because of what everyone learned.  Julius, the head teacher is always so humble and beautiful when he expresses his gratitude.  My heart breaks open every time he speaks.

Shirts to Joe, a gentle soul

I stood in each of the 3 classrooms and said “goodbye.”  One student asked if I would come back next year.  A girl stood up and said that God would bless me and give me safe travels back home.  Then thanked me for coming to help them.  It was all rather humbling.

Me and teachers

Jewelry donated to the women

When I asked, “Who wants hugs,” and opened my arms, the girls were the first to jump up.  The first girl held on for much longer than anyone else with her head in my chest and her arms squeezing my waist.  She looked me right in the eyes for about 30 seconds before letting my hands go.

Gifts to the men

When I first came to Yua in 2000, I hugged a student and was told they had never seen that before.  Years ago, a girl ran up to me after a ceremony, put her arms around me and held on. I still remember wondering if what I was feeling from her was some sort of deep pain.  She couldn’t look at me but desperately wanted to hug.

Akonyure, the first gentle handler of animals in Yua

Today the hugs were joyous and animated.  One boy ran up to me so hard, he knocked me in my throat.  Elbows and heads all over the place in excitement.  Truly, this was so precious to me and so unexpected.  I felt like turning back and saying, “Okay, I want to stay another week.”

Ayamdooh took his turn saying, “goodbye.”  He paid his respects by saying the names and pointing to the students he remembered asking questions.  It was beautiful to watch.

Goodbye to the women

His last words to them were a promise.  He would pay for anyone’s school fees if they got a single digit score on their exams.  No one has ever done that in this school and the higher the number, the worse the score.  He looked them in the eyes and said, “Single digit, I pay for a good school.”

Upon exiting the classes, Ayamdooh stood with his hands to his face and said to me, “This is not easy.”  I knew exactly what he meant.

Saying Goodbye



Imposia, the first woman in gentle handling of poultry

I am very distraught to find out that Imposia, the first woman to head up the poultry project and all of the women’s groups, is in Tamale working for food.  She has been a force in helping women to come together and get involved in new programs.  I have seen her smiling face every year and this time when I learned that she and many others had not harvested enough grains to sustain  themselves and their families, I felt so sad and desperately wanted to help.


It is painful to think of her and some of the other women who are pillars in Yua, having to leave their homes to travel to a town 4 hours away by bus, to find small jobs just to feed themselves.  When I asked Pok to call them and tell them that I would buy bags of grain for them, he said that would not be possible. He said they would not come home.

One bag of grain costs about 300 cedis or $150.

It is a harsh reminder about how lucky many of us are and how easy it is for us to go to the grocery store and buy what we want.

I will be leaving enough money with Pok to buy grain for these women when they return.    I also left a package for Imposia with clothes, jewelry, bicycle tubes and tires.

Imposia, the leader of the women in Yua

To Imposia and the women with you, I am sending love and light to all of you.



Carrying 3100 condoms to the clinic

We dropped 3,100 condoms at the Yua Medical Clinic.  The nurses confirmed that only one girl has gotten pregnant in the 4 years that we have shown the DVD on correct condom use.

3100 condoms to the clinic

It is really a joy to find out that they have continued to show the DVD every term to all of the students.  Even in the primary school!!  I was surprised, but they said that is where the one girl got pregnant.  She was 17 and in the equivalent of 5th grade.

The nurse said to me, “we know they are thinking about sex, so why shouldn’t we tell them the correct way?”  She added that anyone who is willing to go to the front of the class and put the condom on the wooden penis gets one cedi (about 50cents).

In the past, when I approached the topic of condoms and sex, some girls didn’t look at me and only

Boys sex ed with Pok

one nurse would sit up straight and talk straight forward about it.  Now, with out hesitation, one person working in the clinic said that the men like the condoms I bring better than the ones the government supplies.  The ones from Planned Parenthood are thinner and they can feel more than the thicker ones.  So, now the talk is frank and to the point.  As far as I am concerned, that is the only way to teach this subject.

Girls sex ed-giving out a condom for answering a question about the DVD

So, next we went to school and Pok taught the boys and I taught the girls.  Pok had never said the words, “penis” and “vagina” before last year.  Ayamdooh got sick and couldn’t teach so Pok had a crash course in sex ed on our drive to Yua.  He was so proud of himself and felt “free,” he said since he could now say those words without being scared of punishment.  Pok is 60 years old and a brilliant man.  Teaching sex ed became his life’s mission after his first class.

Watching condom DVD in boys sex ed

Today his class lasted about 3 hours.  Mine was about 2 hours.  We covered everything from reproductive parts to how to correctly put on a condom.  I made the video about 4 years ago and  I am happy to say that almost every student that goes to school and every adult who is a parent, watches it.

I called up the four girls who were teachers when making the “funeral pockets.”   I gave them each a pair of scissors, the leftover material and needles.  When I told them that the nurses had invited them

Girls making more funeral pockets for students

to go to other classrooms and teach how to make them, they were ecstatic.  After class, they were sewing funeral pockets for other girls who missed the class.  Boys even wanted them.

We ended the day with a movie about global warming.  They had never seen ice except in a water bottle.  Nor had most of them seen waterfalls, even though there is a large one in Ghana.  Many of the boys were glued to the computer dazzled by the sights of these huge natural phenomenon.

Another great day!




Boy with small hens

After the Chief’s talk, my expectations were high for poultry vaccinations.  That was a mistake.  At our first station, people were walking in with sometimes 8 or 9 fowl hanging from their feet.  One man came to the station with a large rooster whose legs were tied together and hanging from the handle bar of his motorcycle.

Holding hens gently

Pok talked to the group about what the Chief had said regarding Yua’s gentle handling ways with animals.  I asked him to tell them that in the future when their animals are not being carried properly, they would be asked to pay for their vaccinations.  For years, they have been free to anyone who comes.

Boy holding rooster

Ayamdooh spoke to many of the farmers with bulls arriving to the vaccination site with sores and scars from being whipped.  He told them that he would not treat them the following year if he saw evidence of beating these hard working animals.  Since then the problem has been resolved.  We realized the Chief might have only been talking about the bulls and donkeys when he gave his earlier report.

Children with their hens

Since he came to the poultry vaccinations yesterday, he is aware of the need to explain to the villagers that this handling extends to all of the animals.  Since I am not supposed to talk to the chief directly, Pok spoke with him about what we saw.

The people saw that the poultry immediately calmed down and were much easier to vaccinate if they held them against their bodies.

One boy made an effort to hold the chicken under his arm, but held him upside down until the animal threw up.  Lots of poultry were turned right side up after that.

Gentle Handling

I helped Pok put drops in the eyes of the small chicks.  One got away from me and a man holding two large hens was able to grab this tiny, yellow ball running in the dried grass.  Ayamdooh was mostly vaccinating the older animals and injecting them.  It was amazing to see the white liquid flow right through the vessel.  We held the animals feet with one hand, held them against our chest and with the other hand, held up a wing.  The bird stayed calm and most of them seemed to hardly feel the needle.  He had to be extremely careful as to not hit a vein.  Ayamdooh’s skills as a veterinarian are precise and always he is thinking what is best for the animal.

Chicks being vaccinated with eye drops

The morning was long as people brought some of their poultry and ran back later with another hen for us to vaccinate. As we were driving away, Ayamdooh saw a woman who had walked a very long

Poultry basket which is carried on their heads

way from her house with a wicker basket full of chickens on her head.  Most people bring their poultry in these large wicker baskets so there is plenty of breathing space.  Some even bring them in old, plastic oil containers.




Based on the meeting with the chief, the grades of the students, the enthusiasm of the teachers and progress in Yua, I believe they have gotten to the point of sustainability for these things.

Reading to Primary School children

Crop productions when the weather is what they need, has increased because of their care for the working animals.
I told Pok that I don’t think I am as useful in Yua since the programs are all taking hold.

Teaching Teachers new ways of encouraging their students to learn

Pok is from Sirigu, a neighboring village.  Much larger than Yua and it is a place I cover my eyes when driving through, for fear of seeing animals being mistreated.  Pok wants me to teach there in his section of the village.


I told him that I don’t want to be the white woman barging in on their lives, telling them to do things differently.  I was asked to go to Yua.  They embraced me and my different ways.  I don’t know if that will be true in Sirigu.

Laughing in reading class

Pok is going to talk to the chief, headmaster and teachers to introduce them to the idea of handling animals gently and teaching students in a very different manner than what is taught here.  He will do this before I come and we will see what they say.  He feels positive because many of them come for the free vaccinations that we provide for bulls, donkeys, sheep, goats and poultry every year. The man that hung the rooster on his motorcycle handlebars came from Sirigu.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the people of Yua.
A woman said that I must drink “the rose water” that they give to strangers to welcome them and I said, “I am not a stranger.”  They laughed and agreed and I didn’t drink any water that didn’t come out of a sealed bottle. Rosy or not!  Whew!

The Women who will make the shea butter



Grace as the sewing teacher for the brown pocket group

The girls from ages 12 to 17 sat outside in the shade making funeral pockets.

Since discovering that many of the girls get pregnant at funerals when their parents aren’t watching them, funeral pockets were born. Last year, Jaime from Planned Parenthood came up with this idea and had a pocket party.  I brought their brightly colored pockets to the girls for sex ed class.

A little cloth pouch that is big enough to hold a condom or two is pinned under the girls’ dress.  No one knows it is there, but her.
Ayamdooh bought the different colors of material, scissors, thread and needles.  I appointed 4 girls to be teachers, each with a group. Each group had their unique color of material.  The process was full of laughs and friends helping friends.

Making green pockets

The white pocket group

The girls who were in my class last year knew what the pockets were for so they let the new girls in on it.  Less embarrassment and giggling then in the actual class when I passed these out last year.  This time they seemed a bit proud of them.  I had a condom  which we placed in each pocket to make sure it was a good fit.  One girl showed me her pocket which happened to be large and said, “mine is too small.”  I asked her how big did she think condoms were.  All the girls burst out laughing and surprisingly their English was better in this class than any other.  Hmmmmm!


The Chief

Grace’s earrings

The Chief Speaks

Old men in torn red shirts and bare feet
Women breastfeeding babies and drinking water
From a plastic container passed around                                                              
To snotty nosed children and coughing adults
A puppy lays by his person’s feet
Then decides the pigs by the bicycle look better
Baby chicks waddling after their mothers                                
And we sit on a plastic chair talking about
How things have changed
The men no longer beat their bullocks
When they need them to make a turn in the field
They speak to them and tell the bull how much
They need him to work and bring them food
Three men are no longer needed
One to beat the bull with a stick when the field ends
One to pull his nose rope forcing him forward
And one to hold the plow from behind
Now, they only need one
He stands behind the animal with the plow and talks in “bull”
No ropes tied to an animal’s leg to hobble him
They spoke of the animals’ living longer
Some men have bad tempers and still throw rocks

One of Chief’s wives

At animals eating their crops
Chief talks to them about gentle handling
Knowing one day they too will understand
Pok told the men of the bicyclists we saw
With animals under their arms not being held cruelly
The men laughed proudly and said,
“They are from Yua”
I felt myself relax into my chair
And watch the puppy lay next to the pig

Puppy, pigs and chicken

Students go to Senior High

Bringing Dr. Seuss to Ghana

Learning keyboard finger placements

Students in Yua have never had test scores that got them accepted to Senior High (SS).  It is common for children in the small villages to quit and work on their parents’ farm or get pregnant.  Their chances have been very low for getting a job outside of their village.

Four years ago, when I brought the DVD on how to use a condom correctly, I was told that no girls from school got pregnant the following year.  Since then, only one pregnancy for teenage girls.

Last year, we built a library at the school and bats lived in the belfry.  We all smelled urine and feces through the entire 3 hour class.  Sometimes the flapping of bat wings stopped me mid sentence.

My aunt sent money to build ceilings in the library and the bats found another colony to join.   Now teachers will gather there to talk and eat.  Before it smelled too bad.
The head teacher, Julius said that students have been checking out books regularly and as soon as they bring one back, another student checks it out.  

From zero students being accepted into SS previous to last year’s class to almost all of them being accepted last year.  Their test results put them at SECOND best overall in their district.  Whereas in years previous, they were number 38 out of 54.

Last year I watched the Yua students attend their first school quiz.  They were in groups of 3 students from each school in the district.  Yua came in 3rd place if I remember correctly.  This year they came in FIRST.  I am so proud of them.
Go Yua!!!




First Days

First days in Ghana

I have been here for a couple of days in planes and cars finally arriving in Bolga, where I settled into my familiar hotel room.  I know this room, the lizards in it talk to me at night. They click down the walls to eat insects and hide.  Their conversation is comforting to me.  I won’t have spiders or creepy crawlies in my bed because of them.

Today was the first day of my teaching at the school.  Last year, Ayamdooh was outside writing his thesis papers and Pok was healing from an illness.  So, I was on my own in the classrooms.  This year they are both participating; Pok as a student and Ayamdooh is teaching students, while the teachers are in my class.  

I was showing the students a DVD that my friend Chaya made of photos from previous trips. They laughed when they saw familiar faces and compassionate, “ohhhs” when they saw a girl who had died since the picture was taken. I whispered a question to Ayamdooh so as not to disturb the students.  He heard a girl say to another, “why does she whisper, we don’t understand her anyway.”

The next lesson was them teaching me their accent and me teaching them mine.  I remembered some Ghana English from last year and they taught me more.

Once aigen we leuned dat we speak de same language but raely undestand each udder.

Driving to Bolga creatively keeping my head from getting whiplash from the ever present pot holes. I slept for two hours like this.