Aggy and Mark share their experience volunteering at ASA

On Wednesday 4th April, we boarded a plane for Accra, knowing very little of what was in store for us when we got there. It feels like an impossible task to encapsulate the two weeks that followed in a blog post, but we will certainly try and give a snapshot.

On our first day, we focused on getting to know the school, mostly observing the students and lessons, while coming up with a plan with Sir Chris, their Physics teacher, for the two weeks ahead. We were treated to a tour of the school by Iman and Abigail, who showed us around bursting with enthusiasm.

On Friday, our two weeks of intensive physics got going. When we arrived, the girls’ exams were to begin in just over a month. They were almost finished learning the syllabus, so we helped by teaching the last few topics, such as: the production and uses of ultrasound, the production and uses of X-rays (including CT scans) and some quantum physics (photoelectric effect, atomic spectra, band theory). It was particularly exciting when, the day after a lesson on the uses of ultrasound, a couple of Tullow representatives came to visit the school and were telling the girls about how they use ultrasound to “see” underneath the ground. The girls could explain the physics principles behind this perfectly.

The A-Level has a big emphasis on practical skills, with two of the exam papers being entirely practical-focussed. As a result, we were adamant to polish the girls’ practical skills and their usual timetable was restructured to give us three afternoons per week dedicated to lab work. One afternoon was spent finding the equilibrium position of a diagonal wooden rod with various masses hanging off it – a system that really doesn’t look like it should balance! Their focus was meticulous and even the fans needed to be switched off so as not to interfere with the forces acting on the system.  Thorough data analysis followed all the practicals and the girls revelled at Aggy’s obsession with significant figures, units, perfect lines of best fit and the importance of a perfectly sharpened pencil. The girls were working with the precision of true scientists by the end of the week.

The students were very much in the full swing of revision while we were there, so we took some revision classes on trickier concepts, such as op-amps and electromagnetic induction. These even spilled into the weekends! We spent our first Saturday exploring Accra, and a highlight for us was walking around Jamestown, the oldest part of Accra. Seeing more of the country was exciting but we found that we were missing the girls too much, so we decided to spend the rest of our weekend time at the school. This allowed the girls to come to us with questions more informally and on any topic in the syllabus, not limited to what we were looking at in class. We could also provide more individual attention, even working with some girls on their interview skills and conducting mock interviews for university applications. The mock interviews were particularly enjoyable because this gave us an opportunity to hear more about the backgrounds and aspirations of individual girls.

When we arrived, everyone was overwhelmed with excitement to hear that Mark’s PhD research is in the field of AI and Robotics. The girls have regular robotics classes and many have applied to study computer science at university. They were bursting with questions now that they had a specialist in the house. Mark decided to run a three-lesson introductory course on coding Python that many of the girls said was the most memorable part of our visit. Lessons were filled with a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as Mark showed them some examples of what coding enables. They were sat coding on their laptops long after the lessons had finished, testing what they could do with their new toolbox of computer skills. Before we left, Mark gave a talk (stretched across three assemblies) on Artificial Intelligence, introducing some of the basic ideas behind the mathematical methods used, and giving an insight into some of the current research being undertaken. The girls sat mesmerised as Mark deepened their understanding of the enthralling subject.

We will remember our time at ASA for far more than just the time we spent teaching the girls though. As the days passed and we began to know more of these twenty-two young women, we were magnetized by them. Their intellect is outstanding and their determination relentless, but this is only a snippet of who they are. Their genuine kindness and zest for life is truly unique. Their smiles are contagious and their curiosity and energy is boundless.  We couldn’t keep up with them when we joined in for sports! They would ask questions, eager to know about life in the UK, and similarly eager to tell us about their homes and cultures. Each day, the school meals will have a dish from one of the countries that the girls come from and they were always thrilled to hear of us enjoying their local dishes! On that note: the food at the school is delicious and allowed us to sample a host of traditional dishes from across the continent. One particular cultural highlight was when a few of the Ghanaian girls decided to teach us the game of oware, which Aggy developed a true obsession for. Credit is due to Rhoda, Abigail, Andrewla and Rosemond for teaching us both so well that we even managed to defeat Auntie Levina, the maths teacher, in a final game before our departure!

The staff at ASA are as impressive as the students. Before the end of breakfast on our first day at the school, the staff had made us feel like we were old friends. Their excitement to have us there was abundant and this remained true throughout the entirety of our time there. We were always met with the most heartwarming smiles and we learnt heaps, both from their positivity and their teaching. We were the most spoiled guests: Auntie Levina organised an unforgettable trip to the theatre for us and Efua, the head teacher, took us on a spontaneous tour throughout the communities of Tema, simultaneously introducing us to all the local fruit and facilitating a fruit tasting. We cannot thank all the staff enough for their hospitality, and particular thanks are due to Helen for hosting us.

On our final day, we were overwhelmed with thanks from the girls. They put on a presentation showcasing a variety of their talents; this left us speechless and even more in awe of them! These young women are not simply impressive: they are exceptional. Every minute we spent with them confirmed this. Teaching them was a true pleasure and it was an honour to contribute to a project that facilitates the most outstanding young minds from across a continent to reach their potential.  We absolutely recommend the volunteering programmes to anyone who can take a few months to come out to Ghana. As we drove away from the school, Aggy shedding a tear, all we could talk about was when we could plan a trip back to ASA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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written by Aggy and Mark (posted on 23rd April 2018)

Thank you from the entire ASA family for all your hard work and dedication. It is much appreciated.

If you are interested in volunteering with us too, please send us an email to info@africangifted.org