A real to reel experience

9th January 2004 at 00:00
What do Ghanaians really want for their country? An education charity wants student teachers to visit and find out. Ceri Dingle, WORLDwrite's co-director, explains

The education charity WORLDwrite is planning a unique exchange for student teachers who are up for a real challenge.We will take up to 40 student teachers to Ghana, give them a crash course in film-making and send them on a trip to ask Ghanaians what they think is holding back their country's development.

The first African country to gain independence, in March 1957, Ghana was once the world's leading exporter of cocoa and one of Africa's leading economies. Today, it has highly indebted poor country (HIPC) status, which means it qualifies for a World Bank programme to provide debt relief.

We will investigate the impact these policies have on everyday life and use them to inform future teaching. With visits to non-government organisations (there are more NGOs than elected politicians in Ghana) we will examine Western-funded community projects from bee-keeping to batik-making, the sales of which are promoted as a means of empowering the poor. These schemes are now seen as a vital part of what is known as a poverty reduction strategy - an HIPC directive.

The itinerary will be guided by WORLDwrite's partners, Ghana International Youth Education Programme, and Ghana's first independent film school, the Academy of Screen Arts. Students will visit subsistence-farming villages, plantain and cocoa plantations, and the few industries such as multinationals Valco and Nestle to find out what Ghanaians really want for their country.

The visit will be punctuated by discussion on sustainable development, citizenship, and globalisation and its relevance for education. We will consider the emphasis on "basic needs" being met and what has happened with the introduction of universal primary education - it's a legal requirement, but resources are sorely lacking. Every chance will be taken to record Ghanaians' interests and aspirations. Later, these records will be used to produce articles, films, videos, websites and education packs for UK schools and colleges.

Opportunities will also include visits to open-cast gold mines, about which debates on conservation versus development loom large - meanwhile, villagers take plastic sheeting from sites to provide shelter from the monsoons. Students will learn the history of Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast and a centre for the slave trade. There will be visits to the infamous slave castles of Elmina and the Cape coast.

Ghana is a politically stable republic and renowned for its hospitality.

Yet it remains off the Western tourist track, despite its beautiful beaches, where fishermen haul their catch by hand and villagers will cook you crayfish for 30p a time.

Do Ghanaians want it to stay this way? What has happened to the villagers who once made a living from hunting on the Mole game reserve but are now banned while elephants roam free? Will a more globalised world put pay to traditional songs or Ghanaian drumming? What do young people do without televisions and computer technology? Are life's modern amenities shunned or longed for? What do Ghanaians make of atheism, the war in Iraq, child labour or nuclear power?

During the three-week trip, there will be a chance to make lots of new friends. Students may focus on specific subjects, according to their career plans, or make long-term links for a school partnership or exchange which they might want to arrange in future.

Exchangees might find that they are millionaires in Ghana (pound;1 is roughly equivalent to 14,000 cedis, more than a day's pay for the locals) and find the poverty shocking. But this exchange is not about pity.

Students will not stay in compounds or mud huts. Poverty is something to be understood and challenged. We believe "living it" changes nothing. This is a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity but it is not for the faint-hearted. It requires rigorous preparation and fundraising.

We will fund a return visit by Ghanaian students to ensure our partners benefit equally. This is not an opportunity to teach Ghanaians, but rather to learn from them. It requires an open mind, a commitment to report back and a belief in equality.

Are you up for it? First Appointments would like you to tell your story on thnese pages.

For an information and application pack for the August 2004 exchange, tel 0208 985 5435 or email world.write@btconnect.com; also see the website www.worldwrite.org.uk

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