In 2009, CPI sponsored a Festival of Games and Imagination in Osiem. Children from eight regional middle schools participated.
CPI’s founder, Steven Watson, had helped create a library, through the king of his village working in New York. Therefore we had appropriate connections and wanted to connect schools and nearby villages through the medium of games.
Organized by Bismark Otchere, a local middle school teacher, CPI provided the funds and some remote assistance and but we relied primarily on Bismark. He knew the people and the terrain. All the events were documented, using local audio-visual professionals wherever possible.
The sports events included track races, soccer, and net games – all on a field in the middle of the village. Indoors, choral groups mentored by music teachers sang traditional songs. Kids also performed traditional dances, and the local community embraced the festival.
But the liveliest event – to our surprise, not the locals’ – was the Quiz Bowl, where teams from each school competed in areas of (somewhat) arcane knowledge. The audience exploded in enthusiasm (Quiz Bowls are televised in Ghana, with everyone invested in a favorite team). As we had hoped, the academic competition was as exciting as its physical counterpart.
In particular, Bismark helped CPI navigate the multiple local hierarchies. Organizing a project of this magnitude begins with obtaining permission from tribal elders, and then proceeds through layers of educational officials. With the proper guidance, we encountered no major obstacles. The revered Akhan King presided over the closing ceremonies in ceremonial garb.
The Festival was considered such a success that the schools expressed interest in repeating it. But still, Ghanaian schools are conservative, and tend to adhere to established curricula. They are not accustomed to new initiatives. This suggests both the challenge (how to encourage local groups to adopt new activities without CPI’s continued presence) and also the value of CPI (which encourage communities to exceed educational boundaries).
Children who saw videos of the events spontaneously reproduced them, becoming leaders themselves. The communal quilt became a popular photo backdrop and a source of pride. We left behind art supplies, sports gear, clothing, shoes and a cricket field.
The enthusiasm was infectious. Girls actively participated in activities traditionally reserved for boys, and children who did not initially participate ultimately jumped right in. Giving children sport outfits hugely increased their self-esteem.
The final days were especially memorable. Celebrations began with drumming and dancing. As balloons and pigeons rose into the sky, the children lost their inhibitions and became totally joyous.
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