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IFESH/WCF Volunteer Impacts Cocoa-Growing Communities

IFESH volunteer, Pauline Landrigan and a student-teacher give the thumbs-up celebrating teacher-training success at a Ghanaian primary school.

Pauline Landrigan set out to make a difference in the educational system in the cocoa growing communities of Ghana, in West Africa. She did just that after being selected to participate in the IFESH Educators for Africa (IEFA) program as a World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) Fellow in 2005. Temporarily leaving her job as an 8th-grade teacher at Milford Middle School in New Hampshire, Landrigan didn't know what to expect. "I expected that I would do what I volunteered to do," she said. "I came out of the experience a richer, rejuvenated person. One thing about volunteering is that you are not only giving, but you are getting something back as well."

While on campus, Landrigan trained teachers in teaching strategies and methodologies at the St. Joseph"s Teacher Training College in Bechem, Ghana during the 2005-2006 school years. The teachers she trained lived in the cocoa farming region. "Once I got around and learned their skill sets, I held some workshops and taught teachers about cooperative work groups - a simple method that does not require any more materials or money," she said. "It is an old fashioned way of teaching in groups rather than one person standing in front of a classroom."

One of Landrigan's initial observations was that while education generally stopped with the middle school for many young girls in the community, there was a steady on-going effort to expand the education of these girls. "Ghana is focusing on girls' education," she said. Landrigan also concentrated on ways to motivate young children to attend school and would often speak with teenage girls about this.

Seeing the impact that her volunteer work had on the local education system has had a lasting effect on Landrigan. "I would lead a workshop for the teachers and afterwards, they would pull me into their classrooms to show me what they had accomplished." Landrigan taught the teachers, who had limited resources, how to use what they already had. She calls it, "going back to the roots of what a teacher really needs."

Landrigan recounted a visit to a nearby village following one of her teacher-training workshops. "One village school closed early so that 50 local teachers could attend my teacher-training workshop. Nearly two weeks later, I ran into one of the teachers on market day and she invited me to come to their village to see what they were doing. When I pulled up in the school car, every teacher came running out and asked me to come watch him or her teach. I managed to get into the five classrooms where it was evident that each teacher was really proud to lead their class. They showed me how they were using the tools I taught them." Landrigan said that the she could hardly put into words how the experience made her feel.

While volunteering, Landrigan also helped out with community development initiatives. "When I first toured a 250 acre cocoa farm, I noticed the expended cocoa pods lying around and I asked if there was something that could be made of them. One of the cocoa farmers went on to explain how soap could be made from the expelled cocoa-pods. I asked him if there might be a lady in town who may be interested in placing her pots on the property to make soap. I went back three months later and there she was making soap." Landrigan said when she visited the site a year later the woman had started a soap-making business. "Here was a woman supporting her whole family," she said, "the husband was helping her while she was being the business woman."

The local community recognized Landrigan's impact and lauded her efforts. After leaving Ghana, the town's traditional council offered her 10 acres of land to be used as a youth cooperative.