Discussing ICRI Ghana's New Program with Country Director, Eben Lartey
ICRI has been working on the ground at the grassroots level in Ghana for over 15 years, ensuring that families and communities are empowered to play effective roles supporting children, especially in the early years of the child’s life. We had the opportunity to speak with Eben Lartey, ICRI Ghana’s Country Director and our Regional Director for ICRI Africa, to learn more about ICRI’s projects in Ghana. As Director of ICRI Ghana, Eben oversees, implements, and monitors all programs in Ghana, including conducting needs assessments, ensuring that all operations run smoothly, all while simultaneously establishing rapport with local groups to ensure program success.
Hi Eben, it is great to chat with you. What is your background and how did you come to do the work that you do with ICRI in Ghana?
It is great to talk to you too. Thank you for your time. I was born and raised in Southern Ghana, and went to school in the Central Region. After completing my studies in education, I went on to study finance and investment. This is when I had the opportunity to work within an NGO collecting data and information on backpackers and their lifestyles. This was my first experience with an NGO and it really sparked my interest in the non-government sector, specifically the work being done with childhood education, children’s rights, and empowerment of women and girls. I was able to meet and speak with Ken Jaffe, Founder and Global Director of ICRI, where I was presented with an opportunity to lead a program focusing on these issues. I started as Director of ICRI Ghana in May 2011 at La, in the district of Accra, where our Country office is located and now monitor the progress of the programs centered around early childhood care & education, empowerment of women and girls, training and education of teachers as well as a new focus around enslaved and unaccompanied street children.
What are the current programs that ICRI Ghana runs?
When I started at ICRI my first task was to find a new office, build the program’s infrastructure, and develop a new pre-school. The focus of the school is on early childhood education using Emergent Curriculum and a heuristic approach. After finding the right property, remodeling and refurbishing, and finding the right staff we launched a brand new pre-school called Triumph School4Kids in La.
At the preschool, we focus on engaging with children, continuous learning, relationship building, and use an inquiry and play-based learning approach. We want the children to be self-learners and critical thinkers so we leverage every moment as a learning opportunity. We use affirmative language as well as play activities with tools that are commonly found in households. This allows the children to continue to learn when they are at home. We also have the children participate in various activities such as painting and creating self-portraits, which we then hang up around the classroom. When the children see their faces on the classroom walls, it makes them really feel that they are part of the program and that it is their classroom.
Part of the ICRI approach is to enable the children to discover and learn about the world as well as themselves. We encourage them to ask questions, be curious, and then work through scenarios to find the answers on their own. For example, a child asked the other day “what happens when you microwave an apple?” We used this as an opportunity to teach the child about health and nutrition, and used cases as pretend microwaves, and in this way and helped the child come to her own conclusion about microwaving apples. She discovered that you don’t want to microwave an apple, in case you were wondering.
That’s great, it really sounds like an amazing program.
You mentioned earlier work around enslaved and unaccompanied street children, would you mind telling us a little bit more about that?
Yes, this is a new focus area we are trying to develop at ICRI Ghana. In recent years, we found that there is a large volume of unaccompanied children on the streets of Ghana. We investigated this and discovered the children often fall into the following scenarios:
Children on the streets begging on behalf of their families
Coordinating begging effort with disabled people to help them get around the city so they can beg themselves.
Unaccompanied children on the streets begging by themselves for alms. Little is known about who and where their parents are or adults they stay with
We are working with the Department of Social Work in Ghana to get the children off of the streets and into schools. We really want to understand who these children are and how they ended up on the streets, so we are collecting data and conducting interviews to assess the causes of this issue.
Our goal is to provide unaccompanied street children with access to education and improve their quality of life through our program. If the children are older, in their teenage years, we provide them with vocational training so they are empowered to find jobs and make their own money. We hope to continue working with the Department of Social Work and implement ICRI’s Circles of Caring model to ensure that all children receive the care and education they need.
What are the greatest challenges you face in early childhood education?
The greatest challenge that we face is ensuring that children keep learning and practicing the techniques they have learned at school, at home. When children come to our schools they learn about effective communication practices, positive reinforcements, and more. However, it’s difficult to ensure this continues to happen when the children go back home. Often times they come from a background where the parents and community haven’t received a formal education and don’t have the proper communication tools to support a healthy home environment for their children. To combat this issue, we invite parents and community members to the schools, which assures that they visit their children, share their experiences, and learn how they can work with their children when they are at home.
What are the greatest highlights for ICRI in Ghana?
Seeing the ICRI Ghana programs become so successful! Since the launch of our new school, we already have 70 students enrolled in the program and 30 children on the waitlist. In addition, 100% of the children continue on with their education once they complete our program, progressing to primary school. In addition, the greatest highlight is seeing that the children are able to express themselves, articulate their feelings, and be engaged in their studies. It is also amazing to see the competence and effectiveness that the leadership and teachers display. They are so passionate and committed about helping the children even through the challenges.
That is really great! Do you have any future programs you wish to see in Ghana?
We hope to develop an Education Center of Excellence at the University of Ghana using Emergent Curriculum. We plan to use the Center of Excellence to provide training and certifications on early childhood education and effective models that educators and the community can utilize. We want the Center of Excellence to be open to anyone who wishes to learn more about early childhood education.
What do you envision for ICRI Ghana in the next 5-10 years?
I envision for ICRI to continue to be a leading voice and authority in early childhood education and children’s rights in Ghana, and for ICRI to be the preeminent organization that all people go to for assistance with early childhood education in Ghana.
Thank you Eben!