Exploratory trip to Ghana in West Africa
February 13-25, 2008
Program in Communication Sciences and Disorders
Teachers College Columbia University
Cate Crowley, distinguished lecturer at Teachers College Columbia University, coordinates the
bilingual/bicultural program focus in the program in speech language pathology program there.
Dr. John Saxman is the program director and department chair. Cate and Dr.Saxman have
established an annual, 4-week trip to Bolivia whereby select graduate students in the department
participate in what has become a melding of work, study, and humanitarian outreach. Miriam
Baigorri is the clinical coordinator of the Bolivian program and a 2004 graduate of the master’s
program in CSD at Teachers College. The Bolivia Project has forwarded the TC SLP graduate
students’ experience of the essence of multiculturalism, created opportunities for them to develop their
Spanish skills, and brought cutting edge techniques in diagnoses, intervention, and training to Bolivian
children with disabilities, their families, and the professionals who work with them.
As with the student trips to Bolivia, Cate and John decide to explore Ghana an another possible place
for the students to study and provide services. A country in West Africa, Ghana affords a different
climate and culture for the students. Their goals are to scout out all that will be beneficial to give the
students a multi-dimensional experience of Ghana, of the best and the neediest of the clinics and
schools and potential patients there, and, as always, a comprehension and a compassion for the
culture, history and integrity of the people and countryside they will work with.
They invite Ewura-Abena Adomako Abdul-Mutakabbirto join them on the exploratory trip.
Ewura-Abena also graduated in 2004 from the Teachers College master’s program in speech
language pathology. She is a pure descendant of Ghana’s Ashanti tribe and moved to New York
from Ghana 12 years ago. Just in considering Ghana, Cate realized there was so much potential for
her students; so much to experience, witness, and absorb:
1)The diglossic society in Ghana with English as the language of education and business with
many tribal languages so that every Ghanaian speaks at least one of those languages.
2)The lack of any speech language therapy program in Ghana.
3)A presence of a number of special education teachers trained at the University of Education at
4)The equatorial climate; the wildlife; the traditional belief systems; the co-existence of
traditional religions with the modern ones like Christianity and Islam; the proximity to
jungle wild-life like elephants, warthogs, and baboons.
5)The pride, longevity and legendary distinction of the Ashanti (Asante) tribal system, a
matrilineal, sophisticated governing body of hierarchal male chieftains centered around Kumasi. (The remarkable Ashanti people have maintained their own language, customs, government, integrity, and reputation for power even to the present day)
6)The richness and diversity of Ghanaian cultures and linguistic groups.
7)The positive effects of British colonialism, in terms of education.
8)The emergence of Ghana as a model of a West African nation moving through various stages
of self-determination, accountability, and stability.
So much was planned, and yet, until schools were seen, roads were traveled, and villages were
visited, nothing could be known. The following notes, in as objective a manner as could be done,
were scribed for future reference, for the formation of the Ghana Project for the program in speech
language pathology at Teachers College Columbia University.
Friday, February 15, 2008 ACCRA
Our first official trip is to Korle-Bu Hospital. Korle-Bu is the Teaching Hospital for the University of
Ghana. Dr. Kitcher, Senior Lecturer, head of ENT, of the University of Ghana, meets with us. Dr.
Kitcher returned to Ghana in 1990 for mission building. Ear problems dominate here (infections of the
ears). There was no hearing assessment clinic until 1990 when he started it. He knows, from his
ongoing study of 209 patients referred due to a speech and language delay, only 48% have hearing
problems. The other 52% have speech and language delays alone, indicating the need for speech and
language therapists in Ghana.
Dr Kitcher expresses concern that there is no one to do voice restorative work after he must remove
a patient’s larynx. Cate’s idea, that SKYPE could be used to do long-distance training over the
internet, seems a happy interim solution to Dr. Kitcher.
Dr. Kitcher and Cate speak about setting up a quasi-distance learning program to establish a master’s
speech and language therapy degree from University of Ghana at Accra. Cate and he are very much
of one mind, and excited and surprised at how well their plans might dovetail. Dr. Kitcher, in poetically
summing up his enthusiasm for the meeting with Cate and her colleagues from USA:
“I have met a group of people who have brought to me my desire.” And “I’ve been
praying that I would meet more than one speech and language therapist – to share
the joy and sorrow.”
NEW HORIZON SCHOOL IN ACCRA:
Mrs. Salome Francois is the director of the New Horizon School that she founded in 1972 for
“special students.” Mrs. Francois’s eldest daughter Helen was the inspiration/need for Mrs. Francois
to begin to create this answer to the unanswered needs of special students in Ghana. Mrs. Francois
won the prestigious Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Mother’s Leadership Award in 2000. Mrs. Francois
continues to struggle with financial support, “We are in financial crisis because of the stigma attached
to this kind of children; the parents do not wish to pay fees.” “I’m serving my God this way.” Her
email for the school is firstname.lastname@example.org and the website is www.newhorizon-school-gh.com
and http:international.egmont-hs.dk/nhss/; phone number 021-772878.
TAMALE and MOLE NATIONAL PARK
We travel by plane to Tamale the northern capital of Ghana.
Saturday/Sunday, February 16-17, 2008
SAFARI, ELEPHANTS, BABOONS:
The Mole Motel has a pool, and the pool opens itself up to local orphans. The “chalets” into which
we are booked are modest and clean, and we overlook the elephants’ watering holes, and baboons
wander periodically around the grounds. The walking tour is 2-hours long and we see an elephant
feeding, some kobe (variety of antelope), hawks and birds, and glimpses of crocodile(s). We return
to the chalets atop the hill to be visited by various baboons and warthogs.
THE VILLAGE OUTSIDE OF TAMALE:
Frederick Addai (email@example.com)now takes over the trip, promising a surprise. He
takes us to the village where he has been instrumental in providing the kids with a school and
schooling. His organization is teachingaidghana.net, phone 00233-27-55303-66 in Tamale. The
village has two watering wells, and neither seems to provide sufficient water. The old mud-hut school
is fascinating, useable. The hard mud is produced by mixing cow dung with the mud which makes it
dry like concrete. The desks are jammed into each of the school-houses three rooms (each about 12
feet by 10 feet), with glass-less windows in each room and a rudimentary black-board of plywood
On our inspection of the school, we are greeted by some of the enthusiastic loving children. They take
our hands and usher us into a sample hut structure where we see the inner courtyard of a family. There
are about 4 circular huts (where a husband’s four wives stay) a mud-cow-dung floor and a square hut
(for the husband). We are then guided by Frederick to meet with the chief and the elders of the
village; this is the surprise. We sit on a grass-mat in a small hut with a staff in the middle which
supports the circular thatched roof. The chief sits on a raised platform atop an animal-skin and,
greeting us with gratitude and honor, asks that we join him in his prayer that there will be water made
available from God’s grace to the village. Then, outside, there is a dance, begun by the children,
drummed by a magnificent drummer, and then the men teach us in a dance as we are encircled by
cheering smiling children who clap in time to the staccato, feverish drumming. We bid them formal
farewells, wish them blessings, distribute some pens and pencils, leaving the rest of such with
Frederick to distribute in school as he sees fit.
Monday, February 18, 2008
KUMASI, Capital of the ASHANTI Region
THE CHIEF LINGUIST AND THE KING OF THE ASHANTI TRIBES AT THE PALACE:
We are invited to a meeting of the Ashanti Chiefs’ Council at the Manihya Palace. We meet the chief
linguisti to the king He is Asantehenes, Senior Chief Linguist, as well as himself a Chief of a Village.
His position is venerable, much respected, and accomplished.
The chiefs convene in this outdoor “palace” or meeting forum, and they are seated under grandly
decorated umbrellas for the shade, in plastic chairs. We sit at the side under a shady overhang,
listening to the muffled, sometimes-miked deliberations.
PLANS AND DISCOVERIES SO FAR:
Cate calls a meeting that night with Miriam and Ewura-Abena to flush out her concerns about the
possibilities for a Kumasi program for the Columbia University graduate students. Given what she
has seen and learned and felt so far, Accra would not be a good fit for the program (although the
work with Dr. Kitcher over Skyscape will be another, equally great project, and the possibility of
working with New Horizon school is also a great opportunity). So, too, Cate’s view of the kids in
Frederick’s village has helped her see that there is much less easy English in Ghana than anticipated;
the indigenous language will probably be the primary (if not only) language for the children with
special needs, and that could challenge the nature of the program. The idea of working developing
Augmentative Communication systems for individual children and for the classrooms, partly with the
Special School in Kumasi, and doing work with the Cleft Palate Clinic in Kumasi seems a viable
option. There is always the possibility of training teachers and perhaps parents of the kids with whom
the students would be working. It is planned that Cate and her team will “push into” some of the
classes in the schools they visit the following day to ascertain the English-language level for the
students in Kumasi’s various schools.
We are struck by the concept of “protocol” here. Protocol is a word used over and over to describe
the complex system of customs, etiquette, propriety, and appropriate behaviors based on traditions
primarily derived from the Ashanti, the British, and the various other tribal or European influences.
Much of protocol, for us, has to do with honoring the hosts or family members who have helped us
out along the way. A bottle of schnapps is the customary method of paying tribute as it was back
when the Europeans first brought it and used it for trade and tribute. (Schnapps also figures strongly
into the dowry a man must bring to his wife for marriage). Liquor (along with tobacco, mirrors and
perfume) was a primary means by which European slave-traders bartered with African slave-traders. Schnapps retains an honored position in the culture even today.
Tuesday February 19, 2008
THE VISITS TO SCHOOLS IN KUMASI:
GENERAL EDUCATION JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL:
The head-teacher at this Junior High, greets us with enormous graciousness, making sure to express
his gratitude for us to have come. Cate explains what she hopes to do with her graduate students,
and asks if we could work with the students in one of the classes, and we push in on a class. Each of
the four of us takes about 15 of the students in a class, most choosing to go outside. Miriam finds
them eager to speak of the food they know how to prepare and eat. George engages them in a
debate about the value of education for girls, framing a speech-making for President forum in which a
girl named Hannah and a boy named Adam-peter excel. The schoolrooms are not that much more
sophisticated than the mud-huts of the village, although the roofs are tin, the blackboards erase-able,
and some of the structure is probably concrete rather than mud. It is not horribly hot in the schools,
though it is hot. The classes we saw had over 40 students in each class.
PRIMARY SCHOOL (GRADES 1-6):
We then graciously exit and go on to the Primary School, grades 1 through 6. We push in on a third
grade. (There are 62 children in the single classroom for the first grade; probably similar statistic for
this third grade, though we did not count.) We split up the children, again in four groups.
All the students are far and away more self-managing in terms of the kind of discipline expected in a
schoolroom. They pay attention, are so polite, no rudeness, no semi-violent horseplay even. All, in
both schools, wear uniforms, boys and girls, and the classes are all co-ed.
Cate has glanced through some of the texts: The science textbook has no text except a series of
definitions of various science terms organized according to categories, like a dictionary. The copy-
books are just that; they copy from the boards and from their readers, even to the extent of creating
exact replicas of the illustrations from those books (i.e., cartoon image of policeman with the word
“policeman” underneath it.) The English lesson-books are series of questions and answers and
ANGLICAN SCHOOL D-2:
We spent a short time at yet one more school, not “pushing in” to the classrooms, simply meeting with
the head-teacher. He mentioned that there is an autonomous kindergarten (“K-G”, he calls it) across
the way, where kids go for two years before primary school. “We have three primary schools,” he
notes. They learn Ashanti or “Twi” as a second language, but English is the language taught and
spoken primarily in school.
GARDEN CITY SPECIAL SCHOOL:
Peter and Deborah, two teachers, meet us as we await them at our car. They bring us to meet the
children who live here. There are approximately 150 students with special needs in the school with
about 60 as residents and the rest as day students. Peter yearns for more accommodations. There
are 500 on the waiting list. The kids are generally started in regular school, but, when the school
determines them “special,” (in one case, because of failing the written tests in the regular schools),
they are sent home, some waiting for admission. The school grounds are broad, there is a playground,
the children live in rooms with bunk-beds, they wear either red-and-white plaid uniforms or
green-and-white plaid uniforms. The girls happily greet us; some are clearly in love with their means
of helping the less competent, the non-speakers or the shy ones. There are kids with Down syndrome
and kids with cerebral palsy. Much hand-holding, some hugging, and we visit many, many of the
rooms where they live. The minimum age for admission is 8 years; they have to be able to feed
themselves and to be toilet-trained to be admitted. The many teachers employed graduated from the
Winneba School for Special Students training program. We are treated to two beautiful spiritual songs
sung by a group of about 10 of the children, conducted with feeling and precision by a young bright
boy with Down syndrome who proudly accepts our compliments.
February 20 Wednesday:
SUCCESS AT EFFIDUASE:
We visit a “unit school” at Wesley Cathedral Methodist School in Effiduase. The Unit School system refers to there being a single (unit) classroom for “special students” on a school for general education of typically developing students. The concept of unit schools is the brainchild of Dr. Adrian Kniel a German who has spent the past six years in Ghana developing these unit schools and training the teachers at the university in Winneba.
Cate and the team are terrifically impressed with Belinda the teacher, the organization of the school, the suitability of the children’s needs. Cate sees that they can work there using language enrichment as a byproduct.
KOMFO ANOKYE HOSPITAL (“G”), THE CLEFT PALATE CLINIC:
We meet Albert Bagena who is the only speech language therapist in the country who is still practicing.
He works in the cleft palate clinics in Accra and Kumasi. Later the team visited the room where
assessments and apparently the cleft-palate operations themselves are performed. We remain there
while 12 patients are seen with cranio-facial abnormalities; all but one has some kind of cleft of the lip
and/or palate. Cate demonstrated the values of the Sea-Scape that she had brought on 11 year-old
Grace. Grace had had a successful operation closing her lip and palate, but she still had V.P.I. for all
high-pressure sounds. Grace was here for evaluation. Most babies/children lay on their mothers’
stomachs on the reclining dentist’s chair, and all were dressed immaculately in crinolines and the like,
as if for their christenings.
Dr. Peter Donkor, maxillo-facial surgeon, acknowledged that we really don’t have any idea what
causes cleft palates, that when people from the regions come with their superstitions that they may be
caused by witchcraft, he doesn’t attempt to disabuse them of the notion. It may very well come to
be that witchcraft is someday proven to be causal, and then “we’ll have a department of Witchcraft
Takoradi, Winneba and Cape Coast
Thursday February 21
THE SLAVE FORT:
We drive along the seacoast to St. George’s Fort in Elmina. We hear an exquisite, moving discourse
about the building, maintenance, and shifting of possession (from Portuguese to Dutch to English) of
this infamous slave holding-place. The guide outdoes himself, and the moment of silence as we pray
in the dungeon from which slaves were loaded into the slave-ships for their journey across the
Atlantic Passage, is deeply moving. It is a powerful, moving visit.
Friday February 22:
THE UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION AT WINNEBA WINNEBA CAMPUS:
The Winneba site is a prestigious education-directed school. It includes a unit school for special
students as well as the Winneba School for Special Students Training Program.
The UNIT SCHOOL is amazing. When we arrive, the children are creating a wild symphony of
sound with drums, bells, singing and dancing. We meet Florence Amenuvor. Her fellow teachers are
all enthusiastic and exuberant.
Mr. Alexander Oppong meets with us.Mr. Alexander Oppong has an MSC (Masters in Science)
from University of Pennsylvania near Scranton in Bloomsburg and is in charge of Education of the
Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. Mr. Oppong is hearing and speaks Asante (Twi) as well as sign
language. Mr. Oppong gives us a brief history of Deaf Education in Ghana.
The visit has been brimful with information and a great sense of confidence in the unit schools and the
vision which birthed them (courtesy of Dr. Kneil). We are given a number of texts and assessment-
texts, and a book by Professor Grace Gadagbui. We learn that Dr. Kniel’s work to keep the unit
school’s special education teachers apprised of current trends is a too-rare, valuable phenomenon.
CAPE COAST AND THE FETISH-PRIEST
We then visit the Castle at Cape Coast. Equally horrific; equally astonishing and moving that our
civilization, like so many, is based upon such calculated exploitation and brutality. In one of the deep
dungeons for the male slaves, at an altar upon which are set the two stones sits a fetish-priest, a priest
of the pre-European culture. These two stones are the embodiment of the pre-European deity of the
place, and the priest offers a libation and a blessing that all of us in his presence have every success
and a safe return. The ocean roars all around this castle, and, as with the last castle, there is a church
(in this case an Anglican one) which rests right above one of the most mournful dungeons.
Saturday February 23:
We go early to Kakum National Forest, about an hour north of Cape Coast, and traverse the
hanging canopy over the rain forest. Thereafter, we stop at a Liberian Refugee Camp, and Cate
questions some of the gentlemen who come up to talk to us. The men say there are at least 45,000
refugees, and that, though repatriation is being presently encouraged by the Ghanaian government,
many consider it unsafe to return to Liberia (“Our lives are at risk; our homes are down.”), and the
funds offered to those who would move back are meager.
Sunday February 24:
Today is spent in Accra revisiting Mrs. Salome Francois, Brian and Clare Shukan, and getting ready
for the trip home. We have lunch with the wife of one of the three men running for president of Ghana
in the December 2008 election and learn a great deal about the complexity of issues and some
solutions for Ghana.
Monday February 25: