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MEEKER | Aubrey Walsh, 23, always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Serving as a teacher’s aide for Becky Hughes at Meeker Elementary School cemented her plans. After her graduation from Meeker High School in 2012, she attended the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley to get her teaching credentials, majoring in elementary education with a minor in special education. She also got involved in campus ministry and became more interested in missions.
After her junior year she went to Peru and worked in an orphanage.
“I fell in love with different cultures,” she said. Her experience in Peru was so fulfilling, she hoped to return to Peru, or another Latin American nation. During her senior year she completed a research project on special education and disability awareness around the world.
When it came time to do her student teaching, she decided she didn’t want to stay in Colorado, and found a school in a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, where she could fulfill her student teaching requirement.
“My class was full of immigrants from all over the world,” she said. The experience furthered her passion for missions and learning about new cultures.
A friend introduced her to the Network of International Christian Schools (NICS). The program, which started in South Korea, has 18 schools around the world. The schools primarily serve the children of “expats,” foreigners living and working in other nations.
Walsh sent out her applications, and received offers to teach in Wyoming, or in the NICS school in Venezuela. The NICS placement director suggested Walsh consider Ghana, Africa.
“I never wanted to go to Africa,” Walsh said, but she looked into the school and what it offered. “It fit,” she said. The principal’s passion for education and the family-like culture of the school, named the American International School (AIS), were especially appealing. “I felt like God wanted me to go there.”
Like most of us, Walsh had preconceived notions about her destination. In the time she’s been there, she’s been pleasantly surprised.
“Accra is the capital of Ghana, on the coast. It’s very developed,” she said. The city’s population is more than 1 million, made mostly of Christians and Muslims. Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa in the world, and a major producer of oil and gas.
“The culture is very welcoming,” she said. “It’s an easy city to live in.”
She loves the food, which is very spicy, and is getting used to the heat and humidity of a tropical climate.
“The rain forest is right outside the city,” she said.
She lives in the AIS teacher compound, is involved in a local church, and spends some of her spare time reaching out to local schoolchildren through the church. She has to raise her own funds to fly back and forth, and takes extra school supplies back when she goes.
“I know people say a lot of things about our educational system in the United States, but we should be thankful for what we have.” Free government schools are relatively new to Ghana. “They are usually over-packed and under-funded,” Walsh wrote in an email. “Most teachers are not trained in the profession nor want to be a teacher.” With her co-workers, she has had the opportunity to work with some of the teachers and provide strategies to help them manage their classrooms. The lack of teacher training means most teachers and schools are not aware of students who may have learning disabilities in their classrooms.
“Learning disabilities basically go unrecognized. You could have the smartest kid, but because he has a learning disability, he’ll never reach his potential.”
Her third grade classroom is as diverse as the city around it, with students from Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Rwanda, Lebanon and Ghana. She has 16 students.
Learning about new cultures goes both ways. While Walsh has learned about Ghana, she’s helping her students learn about America.
“For the last two years my class has been pen pals with Mrs. Hanks’ class at Meeker Elementary. I thought it would be a great opportunity for the students in Meeker to learn about different cultures around the world.
When we got the letters, my students were so excited that they were completely silent as they read. All of a sudden one of my students yells ‘they’re murderers!’. All the students started passing the letter around the room saying, ‘I don’t want to write back to him! You write back to him!’ Finally I got a hold of the letter and read that the Meeker student was talking about hunting with his dad. It took me about 10 minutes to get them calmed down enough to explain the culture of hunting.”
Walsh’s home church, Meeker United Methodist Church, is providing some of her support. Anyone interested in donating to Walsh’s expenses can send checks payable to Aubrey Walsh to Meeker United Methodist Church which will be deposited into her local bank account for missions. Another option is to donate through NICS, which will get them a receipt for tax purposes. NICS gets 7 percent of the funds received. To donate through NICS, visit www.nics.org/donate or www.oasisis.org/donate). Choose donate now; choose frequency of donation; donors interested in a monthly recurring gift should choose “monthly”; for designation, choose “staff support”; a box will pop up that says “staff name or project number”; type in Aubrey Walsh as the Missionary’s Name, project No. 004022; type in the amount to give, along with any comments; complete the billing information; donors can use either a debit/credit card or a checking account, complete the information and select “preview”; review the donation and choose “donate.”
Asked what she would like her hometown to know about Africa, Walsh said, “Africa is a place people can be happy and successful.” She’s returning to her post in Accra in January.
On Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Meeker Public Library, Walsh will give a free presentation about working and living in Accra, Ghana.