When it came time for the children in Megan Burns’ elementary classroom to select reading material, many of the local Ghanaian students reached for books with tears and missing pages - the books that were most relatable to their own life experience.
These were the books they wanted to read, but they were few and far between. Some students were left with donated books they simply weren’t able to comprehend.
“Children want to read books that relate to their current state of life and the culture that surrounds them,” says Megan. “However, these books often are limited in quantity in classrooms in impoverished countries.”
Megan, an Alma College student from Milford, experienced classroom teaching last summer in the two African nations of Rwanda and Ghana via the Alma Venture and Posey Global Leadership Fellows programs.
“When I spent time in classrooms and libraries in both countries, I noticed kids would gravitate to the books that most represented them,” says Megan. “They wanted to read about the things they see on a daily basis.”
Snow: A foreign concept in Africa
Many of these young children are struggling with comprehension, so it is important that they are provided with books and tools that help establish educational growth, says Megan. However, thinking about whether a topic is relatable to a child in another country is not something that is often considered when it comes to donating books and other materials
“There is obviously a big difference between our lifestyle in the United States compared to countries like Rwanda and Ghana,” says Megan. “Our holidays, foods and weather can be very different compared to anything these children will ever experience.”
An obvious example is snow - a foreign concept to most throughout the African continent. In many cases, fundraising to purchase books specific to where these children are at in life might prove to be the best option.
“There are many children’s books being created locally that better fit the culture and education system,” says Megan. “Residents of Rwanda and Ghana are looking to inspire their own people and children to have great careers and lives beyond the classroom.”
Training teachers in Ghana
Through her Venture and Posey Global experiences, Burns discovered a passion for giving back while encouraging growth within local classrooms and communities.
“I want to go back to Ghana and train teachers,” she says. “Providing them with the necessary tools and skillsets to be successful would not only make a direct impact on current students, but the many children to come through the school system in years to come.
“My goal is to find a career where my work will have longevity and continue to help people as time goes on,” says Megan. “Teaching skills will allow me to do that.”
Megan’s first experience in the classroom as an educator in Rwanda and Ghana led to a lifelong desire of improving the quality of life in an impoverished country. It also has allowed her to grow as a student herself and grasp a greater perspective of the road ahead.
“Knowing that I am working toward helping people in the future has given me greater sense of accomplishment,” says Megan. “I have the opportunity to use my education at Alma College to give back, and I am so excited to continue this journey.”