As we await the arrival of students at the Volta School for the Deaf, I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce everyone to a company I’ve been following for the past 3-4 years. Oliberté is a social enterprise that has been advertising in a monthly publication I receive for serving in the Peace Corps called “The World View”.
The first thing that grabbed my attention towards Oliberté was the stunning photographs of high quality handmade shoes popping of the pages of “The World View.” The design, craftsmanship, and materials stood out, as unique and bold. The shoes didn’t appear to be “cookie-cutter” in any way, captivating me to learn more.
I continued to read more about this group, to learn that the shoes were entirely made in Africa by Africans, including the sourcing of the materials used for production. The soles of their shoes are made from rubber grown in Liberia, and the leather handpicked and sewn in Ethiopia. Workers are at least 50% woman, including senior and junior administrators. Who is behind this idea? I wanted to learn more about the organizations founder.
It was upon learning about the Tal Dehtiar, the founder of Oliberté that I decided to create this brief introduction. In the article linked here, I learned that Dehtiar is not looking for charity, or a company in which one buys out of pity. He is first and foremost promoting the quality goods that can and are being produced in Africa. As quoted in the following article “At Oliberté, we believe Africa can compete on a global scale,” he says, “but it needs a chance. It doesn’t need handouts or a hand up. It needs people to start shaking hands and companies to start making deals to work in these countries.”
The example of Dehtiar and the good people of Oliberté is one that we at Our Talking Hands will continue to follow. The growth of Oliberté from 200 shoes in 2009 to a projected 25,000-30,000 shoes in 2012 is a testament to the hard working African and the vision of their founder, and further proof that good things come with patience and an indomitable will. As we say here in Ghana Ayekoo!! (you have done well).
The Our Talking Hands – Leadership Camp for the Deaf was a great success!
Camp was held at the Gbeogo School for the Deaf in the Upper East Region of Ghana between July 29 and August 3, 2012. The camp included sessions on deaf pride, peer pressure, assertiveness, HIV/AIDS, role modeling, goal-making, deaf pride, a talent show, excursions to the Crocodile Pond in Paga, the Potters in Sirigu, and much more. The camp was an opportunity for 4 students, a Peace Corps Volunteer, and a counterpart from 7 different Schools for the Deaf in Ghana to meet and learn from one another. The participating schools were the Volta, Cape Coast, Bechem, Wa, Savelugu, Gbeogo, and the State Schools for the Deaf. The camp was made possible through the efforts of Peace Corps Volunteers Lauren Corke, Kate Barclay, Kate Stalter, Caitlin Rose, Melissa Mizerak, Lindsay Hanson, and Scott Anderson. Special thanks goes to the Heads of the 7 participating schools. Seventy-five percent of the funding for the camp was provided by the Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP). Twenty-five percent of the camp was funded through community contributions.
Our Talking Hands Co-Founder Promise Mensah presented the camp organizers with funds in hope that the camp will continue as an annual event. Promise says she plans to contribute an even larger community contribution towards future camps, as the camp provides a unique opportunity for deaf students to exchange ideas and celebrate deaf culture. The Leadership Camp is an extension of Our Talking Hands Mission, as it motivates, empowers, builds confidence, and instills pride. It is our hope that the students and teachers bring knowledge they have gained from attending the camp back to their homes, schools, and communities. Students closed from camp feeling energized and filled with hope for their futures. We look forward to this event next year, and have already begun talking about possible venues and sites to visit in beautiful Ghana.
We would like to give a special thanks to Ghana National Association for the Deaf (GNAD) Advocacy Officer, Mr. Robert Sampana. Mr. Sampana traveled all the way from Accra to deliver a powerful message to the campers. As a deaf Ghanaian, he spoke of his experiences, and inspired the students to work hard and focus on their goals. He explained that despite problems with the school system, testing, access to interpreters, and stigmas from within their various communities, it was their own responsibility to overcome these barriers. Mr. Sampana is an excellent example, as he is a leader, who completed university, drives his own car, and holds a significant position advocating for the rights of the deaf community. Most of the students had not met a deaf as accomplished as Mr. Sampana. The students asked questions that helped them realize that they too could achieve their aims. The students left Mr. Sampana’s session feeling more proud and optimistic about their futures. We are so happy to have such a powerful advocate leading the way for the deaf in Ghana.
Once again, we want to thank everyone for their support of Our Talking Hands and the Leadership Camp for the Deaf. It has been a pleasure to watch these students grow before our eyes and look forward to many more years of service to the deaf community.
The following is an article from the Junior Graphic, a publication serving the youth of Ghana. I have not been able to find a digital version of this article, and feel it is an important enough topic that I want to make it available to everyone. As a teacher at a School for the Deaf, this article resonates with my experience.
Wednesday, May 30-June 5, 2012 Issue No. 592
Why deaf students perform poorly in BECE
Story by: Severious Kale-Dery
The Ghana National Association of the Deaf (GNAD) has expressed concern over the poor performance of deaf students in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and attributed the situation to the lack of well-trained sign language teachers in the country.
The Director of the GNAD, Mr James Sambian, said majority of the teachers in the deaf schools were not well-trained in sign language and often learnt the sign language from the students they were supposed to be teaching.
He said the teachers, therefore, taught students using the sign language they (the teachers) had learnt from the deaf students.
That, he said, had resulted in very poor grammatical construction in English becuse the way the students expressed themselves in the sign language influenced the way they wrote English.
“For instance, deaf students who want to write, ‘We are going to Kumasi’, write, ‘We, Kumasi go’. This is because that is how they express themselves in the sign language but which is not the correct way to write or speak English,” he explained.
The problem, Mr Sambian said stemmed from the fact that the way deaf students were taught to express themselves in the sign language was basically different from written English and that had created problems for deaf students, who had not been able to write good English in external examinations over the years.
Although deaf schools accept sign language expressions by students in examinations, they are not accepted during external examinations.
At the State School for the Deaf at Adjei Kojo in Ashaiman, the Headmaster, Mr Michael Castro Mawuli Cudjoe, admitted that most of the teachers who taught in deaf schools often learnt the sign language from the students but explained that the teachers, as much as possible, used what they leant from the students to teach them the right things.
On the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), he said deaf candidates wrote the same papers as candidates who did not have any disabilities, adding that the only concession for deaf candidates was that “they are given one and a half times the duration for all papers during the examination”.
He said even with the directive from the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) last year, some invigilators were not prepared to allow deaf candidates to stay on for the extra time, adding, “I had to intervene before that was done.”
I want to thank Chris Massie @ SKY Children Foundation for putting together a great trip to Liberia. We were able to teach how to make water sachet coin purses to over 40 students and teachers, with each student making a purse of their own. The students at Hope for the Deaf were so warm and welcoming! I am excited for a day not so far in the future, that these students can become active members of this forum. With access to computers and the internet, the students will be able to tell the world their fascinating stories.
I would like to thank Bishop John G. Innis of The United Methodist Church in Liberia for welcoming us warmly and for paying special attention to the needs of the deaf in Liberia. During our trip, we were graciously hosted by Missionary Priscilla Legay Jaiah who has formed a lasting relationship with Chris @ SKY Children Foundation. Priscilla has been instrumental in the development of Agricultural projects at schools from Monrovia to Ganta. Her vision is remarkable.
Lastly but not leastly, I would like to thank David Worlobah. David is the Coordinator of Hope for the Deaf. Last year, Chris and I guided David to four Schools for the Deaf in Ghana. David shared stories and engaged the students, impressing upon them their need to grasp the advantages that have been provided to them. During this most recent trip to Liberia, David shared his home, food, and vision for helping the deaf living in his home country. With the help of Davids right hand man, Assistant Coordinator Eric Drow, Hope for the Deaf is looking to establish schools that reach all the major cities in Liberia.
Because of the great efforts of the United Methodist Church, Hope for the Deaf is planning to start a boarding school in an area called the White Plains. White Plains is already surrounded by Coconut, Palm, and Rubber Trees, and was the home of a successful poultry farming operation prior to the war. During our visit, we toured the site and Chris decided to fund Phase One of the renovation of a poultry farm, which will house 300 layers. This will add to the abundance of resources in the area, helping to build an environment for agricultural studies for the students, as well as help to feed the surrounding community. Along with subject classes, students will engage in agricultural studies, shoe making and tailoring/dressmaking.
Once again, I want to thank everyone who made this trip possible. Enjoy the accompanying photos, with video to come when I have another moment.
Today we finished the first Term at the Volta School for the Deaf. As a part of the Kente Term Examination, I asked the weavers to write a short biography to give them more practice with English. With the assistance of new first year teacher Emmanuel Mensah, three of my best students completed a brief bio of themselves.
My name is Nekpe Bless. I am twenty one years old. I was born in Have on 24th February, 1990. I am a Ghanaian weaver, studying in the Vocational Program at the Volta School for the Deaf. I am studying to become a Master Weaver, so I can make kente to sell to customers and make a living. I am proud to be a weaver and would like to show to the world who I am and what I am capable of.
My advice to all my colleagues is that they should not think of themselves as inferior but should take this opportunity to come to the Volta School for the Deaf where he/she can have the same opportunity as I am.
My name is Fekpe Sedenu. I was born on December 20th, 1989. I am 22 years old. I come from a small village named Kpohe-Avoryi, where I first learned about Kente. I am schooling at the Volta School for the Deaf in Hohoe, Ghana, where I am studying to become a Kente Weaver. I began schooling at the Volta School for the Deaf in 2005. Previously I was working hard on my parents farm. I was having trouble with my subject classes, so I switched to vocational training. I am happy now making beautiful Kente. I hope to work in Kumasi as a Master Kente Weaver after I complete my training.
My name is Heanyeame Forgive. I was born on May 5, 1989. I attend school at the Volta School for the Deaf in Hohoe. I come from Sasime Place Kente Village, where I first began to learn about weaving. I am now studying to become a Master Weaver. I love my work. I would like to display the handiwork I do so the world, especially deaf people who have no jobs can learn from me. I would like to show others an alternative to begging for a living. I hope most of you would be thrilled to see my work.
Lavoe, from the Volta School for the Deaf demonstrates making bottle cap earrings. A Peace Corps Volunteer asked for a custom earring using bottle caps from her home state of Wisconsin… Lavoe is happy to oblige.
Opie McGuire is a hero to many. He served alongside Peace Corps Volunteers in Uganda and most recently in Ghana. As a volunteer he saved a young girls life. The details are long, painful and best told by Opie himself, but this video depicts the co-founders of Our Talking Hands, Scott and Promise presenting this little girl with gifts sent by Opie. The video is meant for Opie, but stands as a testament for all to see that one person can have a profound impact on the lives of those around them. Thanks be to Opie for all you have done to inspire the rest of us. Your legend lives on, and so must the story of a man that fought against popular opinion and did what was correct.
The capacity to make beautiful wooden batik stamps has been built, and now the students have begun making these stamps to order for a number of interested customers. A big thanks goes out to Henning Lemcke, a German volunteer who came to the school for a visit and demonstrated the technique to myself and some of the carpenters in the Vocational Department.
In the following video, one of the vocational carpenters Richard, uses a fret saw to carve one of 37 stamps commissioned by a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Emily Kernen. The batik stamps depict various yoga poses and turned out beautifully. The stamps have excited a number of prospective future customers, as Richard has now perfected making these stamps and is now taking custom orders.
The following video shows three of my students from the Vocational Department at the Volta School for the Deaf as they demonstrate processes associated with Kente Weaving.
1. Bless winds thread on to a shuttle.
2. Tetteh prepares the warp.
3. Forgive demonstrates the weaving process.
(Hohoe, Ghana) The following video documents students from the Volta School for the Deaf using a webcam for the first time. The students from the vocational department were practicing video conferencing in preparation for using their newly installed internet at the school. The students are now able to broadcast their talents to the rest of the world. Broadcasts are forthcoming.