Hi, I’m Janet. I work as a piano teacher in two local schools in Highworth and have the privilege of sharing my love of music with my pupils on a weekly basis. So back in November, when Sarah, CEO of ATE asked me to lead a music workshop for children in Lawra, you may think I would have jumped at the opportunity.
However, I had just a few concerns:
The participants would be disabled children (of which I have no experience teaching), and their parents/carers,
The age range could be from birth to early twenties,
The disabilities could be of any kind ,
There was no way of telling how many people would attend on the day,
Most people do not speak English, so I would need to be translated,
Oh, yes, and a minor issue – there would be no resources!
Help! My initial reaction was one of anxiety and panic! I had no idea how I could adapt my teaching skills from individual piano lessons in well-equipped music rooms in middle-class English schools to this completely new situation. On the plus side, my husband Stephen and I have been supporting ATE for a number of years, and we have visited the area a couple of times before, so it wasn’t a total unknown situation. We had already planned a visit for February half-term, but I hadn’t anticipated being expected to take such an active role!
Fortunately, another friend who teaches music in a special school in Swindon was able to give me some helpful advice. Then some friends from our church in Highworth donated some money and others gave me items for me to take – simple percussion instruments, drapes, ribbons, bells, etc. I paid a visit to the local Scrapstore and came out with a few bags of useful scrap material.
Our trip to Ghana began on 2nd Feb – we flew to Accra where we stayed for a few days before our 16 hour overnight bus trip to Lawra in the Upper West region (not my favourite way to travel!)
In previous visits, Stephen and I have been involved in visiting some of ATE’s school feeding programmes, and meeting some of the small business owners. This time, our focus was on SNAP, the Special Needs Awareness Programme.
On the day of the SNAP meeting, the first challenge was when we found out that the room usually used to meet in had been booked by another group! I am beginning to learn that when in Africa, you just have to “go with the flow!” Eventually an alternative room was found, and we then had to wait for everyone else to arrive – again, African time scales are fairly flexible! Eventually we were all assembled. One of ATE’s consultants was on hand to translate everything into Dagare, the local language. There were about 25 children of all ages and disabilities, together with parents/carers,so approximately 50 people to keep actively engaged for an hour and a half in temperatures of 35+ degrees.
The workshop had a mix of singing, dancing, using drapes and streamers to move in time to music, exploring different instruments and objects and how they could be used to make sounds, story-telling all together with actions/sounds – “We’re Going On a Lion Hunt”, adapted from Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt), making shakers out of recycled plastic bottles and stones, and wooden rings with ribbons and bells tied on to be a visual and aural stimulus. At the end, the parents were encouraged to find ways to do similar activities with their children at home.
Not a piano or keyboard in sight. No music books or traditional teaching materials. No obvious “progression” of activities to tick the box to show OFSTED. But – there was plenty of fun, laughter, noise, connection and warm relationships built with children and adults alike. What an amazing privilege to be part of this group, using a little of my area of expertise to give value to these people who have been discriminated against because of disability, and helping them to feel special and loved.
And my own insecurities? We all like to be in our own comfort zone and to feel confident in our own abilities. But if we never step into new things, we will never find out what we are really capable of.