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.

The group from the Volta School for the Deaf, minus Scott (photographer) on their way to the camp. The journey took two days to reach the camp in the Upper East, and another two days to arrive back at their home school.

Emmanuel Mensah, Scott Anderson, and Robert Sampana share a moment between sessions. Emmanuel is a deaf leader, currently teaching Information and Communications Technology (ICT) at the Volta School for the Deaf. Scott is a fourth year Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching at the Volta School for the Deaf. He helped to establish Our Talking Hands as a secondary project and is dedicated to helping the deaf in Ghana. Robert Sampana is an Advocacy Officer with the Ghana National Association for the Deaf (GNAD), working to improve the lives of the deaf living in Ghana.

Participants visited the border to Burkina Faso, where most of the teachers and students had never been.

Peace Corps Volunteer Lauren Corke takes a break from her role as Camp Organizer to have some fun at the Crocodile Pond in Paga.

Campers competed to create the tallest free standing structure out of newspaper and scotch tape. The winning team was from Savelugu School for the Deaf.

Peace Corps Volunteer Melissa Mizerak teaches the campers how to construct coil pots from recycled fabric scraps. The coil pots are so beautiful!

Students from the Volta School for the Deaf perform a skit about resourcefulness. They demonstrate the uses of water sachets to the rest of the campers including coin purses, messenger bags, a hammock, and an umbrella.

The campers enjoyed snack breaks between their sessions.

We visited the Siregu women, where we were shown traditional painting and pottery techniques.

Peace Corps Volunteer Lauren Corke shows her appreciation to Associate Peace Corps Director of Education Joseph Boamah (JoeBee). JoeBee has been a huge supporter of Special Education in Ghana, serving as the Director of the Peace Corps Education plan for 13 years. He joined us at the camp, providing insight based on his passion and experience working with the deaf. JoeBee is retiring from his position with the Peace Corps at the end of September. He will be greatly missed, but he has assured us that we can continue to count on his wisdom and leadership as we continue our pursuits.

Students received certificates for participating in the camp.

Students and Teachers wrote thank you cards to those that helped make the camp possible.

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.