By Andani Numanu Yakubu (YES 2009-2010, Ghana, hosted by ACES in Columbus, OH)
During my YES year in Columbus, Ohio, I was privileged to attend Linworth Alternative Program, a school that encouraged students to give back to society. The school required each student to log at least 20 volunteer hours each year, so I got the chance to do many community service activities. These experiences solidified my commitment to volunteerism and serving my local community. After returning home to Ghana, Salim Abdul-Razak (YES 2009-2010, Ghana, hosted by AFS in Columbia, MD) and I co-founded a youth advocacy organization called Northern Voices Ghana. The aim of this youth organization is to empower youth in Northern Ghana to impact positive change in the region.
When I got the news I was chosen to go on the YES program, I thought I was going just to the United States, but I ended up going to America AND Indonesia because my double placement YES host brother, Try Juandha, was from Indonesia. I not only learned American culture, but also Indonesian culture as well. I had to do my best to represent my country and culture to both Americans and my Indonesian YES brother. From my experience, I have learned to appreciate cultural diversity and am always impassioned to tell the world about the culture of Ghana.
The Ghanaian education system has made enormous efforts to make education inclusive, and with the recent introduction of free senior high school, enrollment has increased. But this new system places more emphasis on academic knowledge than on skills-based learning, contributing to more than 200,000 unemployed graduates in Ghana. Seeing students in the U.S. come to school with their guitars and footballs and stay after school to partake in extracurricular activities changed my perspective on education and the importance of skills-based learning. In order to share this perspective with youth in my local community, we started a project in two high schools called “Aren’t Our Perspectives of Education All Wrong?” In 2017, we received funding through a YES alumni grant to expand the project from two schools to ten schools! This increased our outreach to youth fivefold, or by 500%.
“Aren’t Our Perspectives of Education All Wrong?” has now reached more than 4,000 students across ten schools in Northern Ghana. The volunteer team worked with the Regional Director of Education for the Northern Region of Ghana and principals of the selected schools to establish weekend educational programs. At each session, students were provided information on effective ways of studying and available scholarships, including information about the YES program. Talent discovery through extracurricular activities was encouraged, and students were taught to find role models through 30-minute audio-visual presentations by YES alumni and guests who were alumni of that particular school. After the presentations, students were put into groups for a discussion segment led by volunteer mentors. The mentors shared their experiences, and students asked questions and contributed to the discussion.
Mariam from Tamale Girls Senior School commented, “I thought extracurricular activities were for less talented students. After today, I will join the debate and drama club, because I want to pursue acting in the future.” Speaking about the YES program, Wunnam from Tamale Senior High School said “I never thought it was possible to be funded to go abroad free of charge. Thanks for the enlightenment.”
But we’re not done yet! Volunteer mentors were assigned to a group of students and mentors will periodically visit to hold discussions concerning the students’ choice of courses, methods of studying, and extracurricular activities. With support from members of Northern Voices Ghana and the Regional Director of Education for the Northern Region of Ghana, we aim to continue this project until we reach every student in the three northern regions.
The success of this project depended largely on the efforts of YES alumni and members of Northern Voices Ghana. My team and I extend our sincere thanks to the YES program and the U.S. Department of State for supporting us with a grant to fund this impactful project. We would also like to thank the Regional Director of Education for the Northern Region of Ghana and the school principals for permitting us to undertake this project. We would also like to thank the AFS YES staff in Ghana.