(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
After hearing from Charlie that Cyril, the Action Sociale volunteer in Farendé, is placed in charge of organizing sketches against child trafficking, I tried to meet with Cyril as soon as possible. Cyril and his assistant, Théo, told me about the Club Dynamique, a club of local teenagers who work on social justice projects in 17 national categories. Once a year, the Club Dynamique performs sketches on these issues in a soirée, and they last performed a set of sketches in January, including one against “Traite des Enfants”, the approved term for the local practice of child trafficking. Cyril was willing to add another soirée with the Club Dynamique for me to participate in, and let me choose two of the 17 themes to make into sketches. I was amazed at the frankness, honesty, and professionalism shown by both Théo and Cyril, and right away we began discussing the causes and consequences of the issues we were going to talk about. I chose Traite des Enfants and Harcèlement Sexuel: child trafficking and sexual harassment.
Knowing that the students had all performed before, I was eager to attempt using devised theater, a form of collaborative theater I had recently been exposed to, and leading the students to create pieces that would elicit an emotional response to the themes without necessarily using words. I had attempted to explain this to Cyril, but I didn’t communicate very well, and the next time we met, he came in with a typed-up copy of a sketch on Traite des Enfants and asked me to bring a story about Harcèlement Sexuel that we could turn into a sketch. I soon learned that since we were operating in French, which is the students’ second language, simply reading the words on the paper is hard, and that my abilities in French were barely adequate to explain some simple theater games, let alone lead an entire collaboration process! I was put in charge of writing the Harcèlement Sexuel sketch, and right away Cyril edited and printed it to give to the students.
Club Dynamique always begins with some theater games, continues with a discussion of what we were about to do and why, works on repeating the sketches, and concludes with more song-based games. Nervous as I was speaking French at first, I loved teaching new games and learning the old ones. I taught a couple of concentration-based games called “Yes” and “Clap around the Circle”, which we still play at our meetings. We spend the majority of our meetings repeating the sketches over and over, to work on memorization. There seems to be a set routine to rehearsing a sketch within the Club Dynamique, and there’s always resistance when I try to interrupt that routine—for example, by trying to give the actors movements before they’ve memorized the sketch. I’m still trying to find the balance between respecting the routine and introducing new methods to try to make the performance better.
My second project is to teach English classes at the cyber, which was the idea of our site coordinator, Fidel. At first, it was difficult to figure out what exactly I was supposed to teach. Fidel was interested in preparing students for the TOEFL, an English test for international students who want to go to American universities, but so few of the students are going to be able to come to American universities that I couldn’t just teach a TOEFL-prep course. However, most of the students are taking English classes in school, so starting-from-scratch won’t work. Eventually, I found out from the students that they were interested in being able to understand and be understood by American-English speakers, as they learn Ghanaian English in school. I also talked with Jessica, a Peace Corps volunteer who teaches English in a school in Tchikawa, to learn what vocabulary I could teach that is not in the curriculum in school.
It took us a long time to get the English classes going, since they are held on Fridays, and we set the interest meeting after our first Friday had already passed. Then, no one was showing up to the advanced and intermediate classes on Monday mornings: firstly, I was told it was because they were at school picking up their cahiers; then, it was because of the rain; finally, I was told that all of the advanced and intermediate students will be busy almost every morning working in the fields. So, I combined the advanced and intermediate classes and moved them to Friday afternoons, after the beginner English classes and the writer’s society. So far, we’ve gone over greetings and introductions with the beginners, working on the American pronunciations and going over school and activity vocabulary. It’s been very helpful to break the sounds down as much as I can, sometimes making the students laugh with a long “RRRR” sound or making them show me their tongues when they say “th”. Hopefully, these practices will help to get over the beginners’ shyness and encourage them to speak more in class.