Where I live in Ghana, the stars are not often very visible due to a combination of what’s called “harmattan,” the dry season in which the sky becomes hazy with Sahara dust, as well as general air pollution from trash burn piles located anywhere and everywhere, and exhaust fumes from all the vehicles that I am confident would never pass an emissions inspection back home. So needless to say the air is not very refreshing to breath either.
So while I cannot say goodnight to the stars or air here, I can say goodnight to the noises. In fact, I find that my daily routine in Ghana is narrated by a timely flow of intermittent noises. First, I wake up to the sounds of the neighbors sweeping outside my window with a traditional and loud straw hand broom. Again, I wake up to the sounds of dishes being washed and the random shuffling and talking of the locals preparing for their day. As I make my way to town, I listen to Ghanaian high life music on the trotro and the shouts of the street hawkers selling their goods. You can purchase everything from water sachets to earbuds to teetering stacks of remote controls, all from the convenience of the seat window of the Tro. The rest of the day is filled with the constant toot of drivers’ horns, the preachers doing their thing with volume at full blast over some speakers that are the size of me, and goats baaing and roosters crowing in defiance at all times of the day. All the while, Ghanaians chatter up a storm in the local language that I have yet to master. If I am lucky, my day is book-ended with the neighbors putting me to sleep just as they woke me up, with a lullaby of a beautiful church hymn that they sing together some evenings.
I doubt Ms. Margaret Wise Brown had any of these things in mind when she wrote “Goodnight Moon,” which is my favorite children’s book. I certainly never gave it that much thought when I read it as a child. While I love to read, I must admit that I don’t do it nearly as often as I should or would like to, but I am certainly one of the privileged individuals in this world who had every opportunity to read when I was growing up. My schools always had well-stocked libraries, my family had its own small library of sorts, I regularly had access to a computer, the internet, and later a smartphone, and Kindle.
Just as many of us may take the stars, air, and environment around us for granted (unlike the little bear from “Goodnight Moon”), we can also take other seemingly basic things like the ability to read for granted. One of the biggest challenges that I have come across in working in the education sector in Ghana is the lack of literacy and access to books. The family that I mentioned above has five children and like most other Ghanaian children, none of them had the benefit of reading bedtime stories like “Goodnight Moon” because here in Ghana storybooks are still luxury items. Despite this, the kids manage to impress me with their capacity for learning. For instance, their eldest daughter, Jessica, loves to read so much that she has read the entirety of our personal library many times over (Harry Potter is of course her favorite)!
To help address this education challenge and enable children like Jessica to improve their literacy, Expo has started a reading program, working with some of our JHS students to read the popular American book “Holes.” The program has certainly been a success so far, with many of the kids demonstrating improved reading comprehension, public speaking skills, and grammar. We hope to continue and build on this program going forward into the next school term, but our biggest challenge is getting books for the kids. In honor of International Children’s Book Day on April 2nd, consider how you can become involvedin supporting important programs like this one, or other literacy programs in Ghana and around the world.