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The Making of Poetry

I Am From: Voices from the Mako House in Ghana

Part 1 | By Elizabeth S. Wolf

In 2023, Elizabeth Wolf and her daughter, Mako Board Member Samantha Graves, spent weeks volunteering and hosting development programs for the children of Mako.

Their poetry program ignited a spark in our children as they learned to tell their own origin and identity stories through poetry. A sense of pride developed and the budding Mako authors produced a set of beautiful poems - now published in our book “I Am From”, their stories reach far beyond the native homeland of our children  in rural Ghana.

To empower and amplify the Mako Children, their  “I Am From” book can be purchased here. Proceeds of the book sale help in raising and educating these children.

Below you’ll hear from Elizabeth Wolf, and the experience of hosting this poetry program at Mako Children’s Opportunity Center in Wegbe, Ghana.

The idea for the “I Am From” book came from my first visit to Mako in 2022. School nights were dedicated to homework and academic enrichment. Talking with my daughter, Samantha Graves, it became clear there were two primary issues Mako students faced: literacy and confidence. Many of these students are old for their grades and came to reading later in childhood. Mako is for those most vulnerable, so many of these children spent their earlier years working on family farms and contributing to survival. Now they are learning to read in English, a language secondary for most. Behind in education, they are embarrassed to be in lower grades.

It doesn’t feel smart to struggle with reading, even if you are making steady progress. We wanted to find an activity that was fun and made the kids feel good about themselves and their English-language skills.

That is how we decided on poetry. Building on my mentor Pat Schneider’s creed “a writer is someone who writes”, we believe a poet is someone who writes poetry. We wanted to give the Mako kids a chance to use their words to find their voice. Then we could take their work and publish it in a book, an object they could hold and share and be proud of. We wanted these kids who often come from rural villages with scant resources to see themselves in print as authors.

For my next visit to Ghana volunteering with Mako in March 2023, we set up a series of poetry workshops in the boarding house, meeting twice a week for 3 weeks. Overall, we had 16 kids ages 9-17 participating. We met first with Sir Knox, local Ghanaian leader and Executive Director of Mako, to outline our plan and preview the poem prompts. We also met with the house parents and staff, who attended the sessions. Katherine Phillips, an elementary school teacher who joined us in Ghana, brought her real-world experience educating students with special needs. Together, we facilitated the program.

The first prompt we used was “I Am From”. This project, started by a state poet laureate, is very popular because it is based on personal memories, rich in sensory images and nouns. It is impossible to have a “wrong” answer for this prompt. The kids surpassed our expectations. It was hard work but they were engaged and surprised to find that they were good at this.

In the next session we shared a Ghanaian poem. We asked the kids to think about what they wanted to be when they were little, how they thought about that now, and what had changed. This was a tougher assignment but, in the end, produced some of their favorite pieces. Following that, we read a Nigerian poem about stories from a village. We asked the kids to share stories they heard growing up and whether they still believed what they had heard. This prompt produced some of the more dramatic poems which are crowd favorites at readings.

The last poetry assignment we gave was acrostics. We asked the kids to create poems where each line started with the letters of their name. As West Africans, these kids have many names: English names, Ewe names, birth day names, birth order names, nicknames… we allowed them to use any of these. Several of the kids gave us multiple poems with their various names.

Finally, we had a last session where we asked each kid to write a short bio for the book and to review the typed version of their poems. We wanted to be sure we had accurately captured what they wanted to say. Writing a poem is all about voice. We invited them to speak for themselves and we wanted to be true to their intent.

The poetry program enabled the Mako Children - those vulnerable, previously abandoned and overlooked, to claim their voice and tell their own stories.

Thank you for reading our story on how the book I Am From: Voices from the Mako House in Ghana was created.

Next up we will tell you how the book came to be...

How to Support These Children & Their Poems

To support these beautiful kids, please read and share their stories. You can purchase their book of poems, “ I Am From: Voices from the Mako House in Ghana” here.

Every dollar counts in providing continuous care for our kids. Become a member of our EveryChild and Scholar Collectives, make a one-time donation or get involved as a volunteer or board member today.


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