Sep 23, 2012

Interview with Sarah Karner

Sarah Karner is spending 9 months in Ghana with Renee at the Mawuvio's school, volunteering as a teacher. She is a friend of Renee's, they met in college at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Sarah agreed to be interviewed about her decision to go to Ghana, she has been there since August.   I am looking forward to meeting Sarah in a few weeks, when I travel to Kissemah the first week of October. Thank you Sarah for your wonderful support of the Mawuvio's Outreach Programme ! ! ! ! Say hello to all the children.  

Tell me about yourself ?
I’m 24, and I grew up in a northern suburb of Chicago.  I went to school in rural Kansas for a while, and then finished undergrad at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago.  I double majored in English and Psychology.  After graduating, I worked some odd jobs for a while, and recently spent about a year and a half working with kids at the McGaw YMCA Childrens Center in Evanston, Illinois.

How did you meet Renee ?
Renee and I went to school together at Roosevelt.  We were pretty close by the time she came to Ghana for an exchange program.  Our friendship has remained strong despite all of the traveling Renee has done since.  I have been increasingly inspired and impressed by the work that she and Kwame are doing here.

Why Ghana, why now ?
I’d always hoped to visit Mawuvio School.   I’m of the mind that, if there is an opportunity to go, go.  Simply knowing Renee, and knowing that I would be welcomed as a volunteer, qualifies as opportunity in my book.  I have been blessed with opportunities to visit many countries in my young adulthood, and I have never, ever regretted a decision to travel, even in cases where I’ve spent my last penny on plane tickets or broken the bank by taking time off of work.  Learning about different places, cultures, and people is invaluable and I only wish everyone with the means would take advantage of the relatively new simplicity of flying, literally, across the globe.  I originally made my mind up to come to Ghana for some couple of months, but while discussing these plans with Renee, I came to worry that I might regret coming home after such a short visit. Now I will be here for the full 9-month school year with Renee and we’ll return together in May, 2013.  As one of these months has already rapidly vanished, I’m confident that I’ll ultimately be glad that I decided to extend my journey.

How did your family and friends react when they knew you were going to Ghana ? 
My parents have always been incredibly supportive, regardless of what I have chosen to spend my time doing.  They know that I have been involved and interested in Mawuvio’s Outreach Programme since its inception, and both were extremely encouraging when I proposed quitting my job in the states and spending a year here in Ghana.  My dad helped in a big way with airfare to get me here, and my mom and her friends have been incredible prayer warriors for me both leading up to, and during, my time here so far.  In addition, I have four brothers who are also fond of world travel and all expressed pride and encouragement as I considered my visit.  Friends have been alternately confused and excited for me, but ultimately, I know that I will have plenty of time to reconnect with everyone when I get back.  While I’m here, though I am missing some people intensely, I am seeing and learning things that I would never have otherwise seen or learned.  I am keeping in touch with those who have the patience for online communication and others will welcome me home in person next year, I am sure.

How long do you plan to stay ?
Renee and I arrived on August 17th, and we will be back in the United States on May 21st, 2013, just after my twenty-fifth birthday.  This way, the students will be on break and beginning vacation classes by the time we leave here.

What has surprised you most since you arrived in August ?
Certain things I was prepared for, and had some idea of how they worked.  Other things have been surprising in both positive and negative ways.  On the down side, the way that women are treated here was a massive disappointment.  There is less respect given to women than I had expected.  We are seen as weak and inferior to men both physically and mentally, so accepting that we are viewed this way has definitely been an adjustment.  Conversely, I am extremely fond of Ghana’s slow pace, relative to the rush of everything in the United States.  I have been able to read and write more here than I was ever able to back home, and given that these are two of my very favorite things to do in life, it has been so nice to have so much time to do both.  We also have time to just hang out with the people here, so we are always discussing how exciting it is to watch the new school being built, how wonderful the children are, etc.  

What are some of your lessons learned ?
Sometimes it is worth putting up with some discomfort or mistreatment in order to do what you have set out to do.  Here, that means, accepting some of the unfortunate cultural differences in order to be able to enjoy the good ones and spend time with the kids.

What do you miss from home ?
Mostly, I’m missing some trivial things, like showers and certain foods.  But I was ill for about a week recently, and at that point I missed the security of clean food and water.  Here, we are taking all of the precautions that we can trying not to get sick, but there is only so much you can do.  In the United states, there is no question that the food we buy, from the store or in a restaurant, is safe to eat.  There is no question that the tap water is safe to drink.  There is minimal concern about mosquitoes.  Things that seem silly to even think about in the States are on everyone’s mind here.  The security I feel at home about some of these things is what I miss the most, but I also know that when I get back I will be able to appreciate that security in a way that I didn’t before I came to Ghana.

What is your typical day like with the Mawuvio's program?
Typically, during the week, the children begin to show up at school around 7:00am.  Since we are still holding school in Kissemah, in the complex where we are staying, that means we try to be up and dressed by that time so that the students aren’t seeing us rolling out of bed, brushing our teeth, and sleepily eating breakfast.  The kids tend to hang out around the office, playing games and reading books until class begins.  This week, we started opening school with a ceremony, during which the kids say the pledge and sing the national anthem.  Then class begins.  I started teaching class 3 when we got here during vacation classes, but recently, I’ve been teaching KG 2 (second level kindergarten.)  The kids are wonderful and hilarious, which I think tends to be true of kids all over the world.  After school, we are running some very exciting extracurriculars, including bracelet-making, music, and dance.  Once the kids leave, we often go out to run errands and usually stop somewhere for a beer to talk about the day.  We eat dinner in the kitchen with Cici, whom is also wonderful and hilarious, and hit the hay nice and early so we can be rested for the next day.

What would you like the readers of this interview to know aboutthe children ?
Just that they are normal kids.  Their home lives are sometimes unbelievably difficult.  The norm here, when it comes to raising kids, is totally different than it is in the United States.  But I think it’s important to remember that what is acceptable here is, just that—acceptable, and our goal is to take care to teach the kids well so that they can grow up and live happily and successfully, regardless of where they are coming from.  We are not here to change everything about their lives, or give them everything their little hearts desire.  We are here to make sure they are well and that they are learning.  Our job as teachers here is, in many ways, the same as it would be teaching elsewhere.  The kids at Mawuvio’s are just as happy and excitable and silly and ridiculous as kids anywhere, which is what makes working with them so rewarding.