I will be spending three weeks in Ghana working with a local school in Esiama, founded by the Ransom Foundation. In three classrooms run by three teachers, approximately 110 children from ages 3 – 7 come to learn. Based on my experience living in an orphanage in Douala last year, I am fully aware of the differences between the way children are treated here and back home.
Babies or small children you may see bobbing around a public place in the west are guaranteed to come with a parent, glassy eyed and slow moving, following their trail. Sitting at tables, you may often spot a mother staring at her baby, hypnotized by the expectancy that her desire to be needed will be fulfilled.
If the child is running, the parent will follow their every move with the slow smiles oscillating between pride and concern – as if a leash was attached between them, making it difficult to decipher the tethered from the guide.
On the subway you may see moms covered in fake dinosaur tattoos wearing dirty t-shirts and messy hair, usually carrying an immense load – which may include, scooters, bags, jackets, bikes, or the occasional small dog. Those leading this caravan don their batman capes and face paint like it is ceremonial dress, as they send fake lasers shooting across the subway car to which the mother will tell them: “don’t play with guns”; only to confirm the extent that mothers forfeit their mature identity so as to entertain the role of guardian angel in their child’s make believe world.
These sights are common occurrences in the West. In West Africa, however, children are usually left alone as soon as they can crawl. Because of this, their imaginary world is usually a little closer to reality, and their guardian angel is usually found within themselves.
This is not a bad thing, it is simply different, but something to understand especially when working with children in this environment.
As a consequence, children here are much more sassy and precocious, and their personalities seem to be more well formed and established than your average 45 year old. For this reason it is often intimidating to work with them as, rather than coddle them into a situation, you must prove yourself through wit, physical strength, or your own mixture of sass and frass – whatever that may be – which often brings one back to their own childhood playground, where the struggle to mark your territory was tantamount.
For this reason working with these children is incredibly rewarding as it forces one to learn a lot about themselves: to elicit one’s own primal energy found – and often left – on those early childhood schoolyards. For, if you are unable to establish yourself as king of the hill in this way, you will be trampled upon by raised eyebrows, rolling eyes, and a pair of swishing hips which casually walk away from you as you helplessly scrutinize your mind for the right thing to say.
However, under all this still of course remains a childish softness, which is equally as ample in its reserve.