As the VCU campus comes back to life with students returning, many of them will ask each other, “What did you do over the summer?” Some will talk about summer school, beach trips or boring summer jobs. For Anna Moore, there’s an inspirational story to tell.
Moore, a junior majoring in music education, spent the month of June in the remote village of Asiafo Amanfro in eastern Ghana. As a volunteer with the Akaa Project, she taught music to over 100 students at the Asiafo Amanfro Community School.
The Akaa Project is a nonprofit that focuses on community development in eastern Ghana by promoting improved education and healthcare. Moore originally connected with the nonprofit’s founder, Lauren Grimanis, on a VCU study abroad trip to Ghana in the summer of 2012 to study tribal drumming, the African xylophone (gyil), dance and storytelling.
Since Moore had visited Ghana before, she had an idea what to expect.
“There is no running water, no electricity, and really poor cell service,” Moore said. “We collected rainwater for bathing, drank from water satchels, and used battery and solar-powered ‘torches’ after sunset.”
The remoteness of Asiafo Amanfro has presented some challenges when it comes to education. The community school was founded only five years ago with the help of the Akaa Project and is the only accessible school among several villages in the area. Most of the teachers are not educated beyond high school and only one teacher has formal training.
During her time in Asiafo Amanfro, Moore’s personal project was to teach American children’s songs as well as combine them with African songs for a musical program to be put on for the students’ families and the community.
The first class Moore worked with was a group of 20-second graders along with their teacher. She taught them “Old McDonald”, “I’m a Little Teapot”, “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” and ”If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
“The students had an absolute blast,” Moore said. “The three of us adults were cracking up at them the entire time.”
Only a few days after her first day of teaching, Moore was scheduled to work with the school’s fourth graders. Upon arriving at school that morning, she discovered that the teachers planned for her to teach music for the entire day – to the entire school. While panicked at first, Moore sprung into action.
“I quickly ran over some chords on the ukulele and started writing words on the board as the children were pulling desks from other classrooms” Moore said, “There were children crammed together from wall to wall.”
In addition to teaching the American children’s songs, Moore created a version of “This Land is Your Land” to include local landmarks near the village.
“I wasn’t sure how it would work out at first rhythmically and syllabically, but somehow it did,” Moore said. “When the teachers realized what we did they couldn’t believe it. “
This land is your land, this land is my land
From Umbrella Rock, to Boti Falls
From Koforidua, to Three-in-One Palm Tree
This land was made for you and me!
Resourcefulness became a central theme of Moore’s time in Ghana. There were few materials for her to teach with, so she improvised often.
“There was one day where we took a Pringles can and a cereal box and brought those for the kids to make instruments, “ Moore said. “They absolutely loved that.”
In addition to teaching music, Moore worked with other volunteers to build a community store, with proceeds benefiting the school directly. She also helped to coach teachers on disciplinary strategies, helped to launch a tablet program called “Lab-in-a-Box”, and planted over 50 Moringa trees.
Moore says her time spent in Ghana has given her a new perspective on life in the United States.
“In the villages they don’t have anything, not like we do here,” Moore said. “They’re totally content with what they have.”
Through her service in Asiafo Amanfro, Moore developed a strong bond with the community. She says she longs to return there someday, perhaps as soon as next summer.
“I still want to go back, every day,” Moore said. “I keep looking through my phone and looking at all the pictures, and I just want to go back.”
Words by Anne Marie Dumain