A trip to Bryn Mawr by Titagya Schools co-founder Manzah Habib has brought "360°: Learning and Narrating Childhoods" full circle.
Habib is managing director of Titagya Schools, the Ghanian preschool and kindergarten visited by participants in the 360° during spring break. He spent the last three weeks of April in the United States with the professors and students he had met earlier in the year, sitting in on classes, traveling to New York to meet with supporters of the school, and learning firsthand about American early-education classroom practices.
"There's so much we can learn from each other and I'm so thankful for all the support we've received," said Habib on the last day of his visit. "One day I hope to visit to see children from our schools graduating from Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and other colleges and universities."
Habib's connection with the Bi-Co began with a friendship with Andrew Garza (HC ’08).
In 2006, Garza had an internship in Dalun, Ghana, with a microfinance institution called Simli Pong. During his internship, Garza worked with and got to know Abukari Abdul-Fatawu, a young leader in the community and a volunteer for Simli Pong, as well as Habib, who was working as an assistant administrator for Ghana's National Commission for Civic Education.
The three kept in touch after Garza's internship and continued conversations about ways to improve the lives of the people of northern Ghana, eventually deciding to create a pre-school and kindergarten, with plans in time to establish one in each of the 32 districts of the region.
"There has been more attention paid to children's education in Ghana in recent years, but most of the schools are in the south, which is much more developed," said Habib. "We wanted our children to have the same opportunities."
Habib, Abdul-Fatawu, and others did the work in Ghana to get the school up and running while Garza, who now serves as the chairman of the board for Titagya Schools and is earning his MBA at Stanford, worked on raising money in the United States.
The school, which is located in Dalun, opened in 2009 with 50 students. Today the school has 120 students. Thanks in part to a funding commitment Habib secured during this visit, there are plans to open another school in the near future. The school is unique in the region in that corporal punishment is not used to discipline students and child-centered approaches, including time for interaction and play, shape the curriculum.
"We want to build our students up, not tear them down," says Habib. "In Dagbani [a North Ghanian language], Titagya means 'we have changed'; part of that change is in how we educate our children."
Over the last several years, students and faculty connected with the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program and Haverford's Center for Peace and Global Citizenship have become involved in various projects associated with Titagya Schools.
The trip made in connection with "360°: Learning and Narrating Childhoods" was the first time a large group of students (16) and faculty from either school visited Dalun.
"This trip and the entire experience of this 360° has me questioning a lot of my own experiences and perspectives," says Emily Tong ’13. "I feel much more critical of the way that I've approached cultural exchanges, and I know that the overall experience of this 360° will continue to impact my academic outlook."
In Dalun, the group spent time observing classrooms and and learning about and being guests of the community. With support from Bryn Mawr, Titagya Schools also hosted a teacher-training workshop during the visit, which Alice Lesnick, director of the Bryn Mawr/Haverford education program, led in collaboration with the Titagya teachers.
"There's so much we can learn from each other," says Alice Lesnick, who along with Associate Professor of French Pim Higginson led the group. "What's so interesting is that for all the differences that exist, there are also many parallels in the early-education challenges faced by communities here in the United States and in Ghana."
"Going to Ghana was an extraordinary experience for me as a teacher and a scholar. It represented an opportunity to take what Martinican author Édouard Glissant calls a 'relational poetics,' a concept at the core of my teaching philosophy, out of the classroom and into the world. I have never traveled with a group like this before; more importantly, I have never had the classroom dynamic so radically transformed," says Higginson. "I know that Dalun, Titagya, and all the people I was involved with throughout this semester (the students and Alice Lesnick with whom I went to Ghana and the many wonderful people we encountered there) will have a profound impact on all my future courses. I can only hope that everyone involved in the 360º got as much out of this as I did."
In addition to spending time with the students, staff, and faculty of Titagya Schools, other highlights of the trip included meeting with the chief of Dalun; a visit from Deborah Ahenkorah ’10; and a trip to the northern capital city of Tamale for the Ghanian independence day celebration.
For more on the "360°: Learning and Narrating Childhoods" trip to Dalun, visit the website for Lesnick's "Literacies and Education" course.