Catalina Odio '18 (left) and Taylor Scult '15 (right) get to know students at the school in Ghana.
Catalina Odio ’18 and Taylor Scult ’15 volunteered this summer at a school in Ghana, painting the exterior bright colors, installing concrete floors, teaching creative writing and working in the nursery room while carrying toddlers in slings on their backs.
Outside their work, they had many impromptu dance breaks with students, were awed by the children’s expert drumming and showed them two of their own favorite skills: taekwondo for Odio and gymnastics for Scult. The trip was funded by a Projects for Peace grant, and they recorded their experience at the school, Lila’s Childcare Foundation, in a blog.
“Though it was situated amidst such poverty, and with a direct view of the quarry where many of the children’s parents and grandparents toiled all day long, Lila’s Childcare Foundation felt like a different place altogether,” they wrote. “The joy of the students was everywhere: in the loud classrooms, in the gravelly hills of the compound where they chased each other, and in the beats of the drums they played when they got bored.”
The summer, which Odio called transformative, was supposed to have gone differently on the other side of Africa.
The two won the $10,000 grant to add rainwater collection tanks at a school in rural Kenya, in hopes of keeping girls learning in the classroom instead of fetching water from a stream. But the trip was called off because of violence in the country. They sent about half their grant money to the Kenyan school, where a charity installed tanks and additional gutters.
Projects for Peace, a philanthropy effort to fund undergraduates’ grassroots plans to promote peace, approved their proposal to switch to Ghana. Scult, who earned an international studies degree, knew the school where they ended up helping from previous volunteer work. She asked the school’s founder Lila Macqueen Djaba whether she could use help at the building in a slum outside the capital city of Accra.
In Ghana, they stayed at Djaba’s house, located a 1½-hour bus ride from the school, which is a nonprofit with external funding. More than 100 children ages 3 through about 14 attend for free except for a fee of about 50 cents for lunch.
On their first day at the school, Odio and Scult saw how rain easily swamps the neighborhood because of the lack of drainage infrastructure. They visited a teacher who had slept in a chair in her flooded house for several days, and they helped clear an extra room at the school for the woman to live in during flooding.
With each rain, Odio said she quickly thought of the problems it would cause: “This means that at least half of these people are going to be sleeping in wet rooms tonight, all their stuff is going to be wet and it can’t dry until it stops raining. A lot of these kids aren’t going to be in school because their parents need them to help clean up. So rain is a really big deal. It’s really disruptive.”
Wanting to contribute beyond their assistance in class and with the building improvements, the two taught creative writing to give the students a voice and the freedom to choose characters and settings.
Creative writing “can be for fun or for escape if you lead a really hard life. We all know what fiction can do for a bad day,” said Odio, a political science major interested in urban education. “We wanted to open the world for them in any way possible.”
Odio and Scult want to continue their connection to the school. They are trying to raise money online to buy a minibus, and they hope to start a partnership for Kenyon students to volunteer at the school every summer.