Asha Bello’s ministry of play
It’s 9:00 a.m. and Asha Bello is ready to play with her ‘crew’. I think I counted more than 12 children running around when we met at the Cheeky Monkey Club, a multipurpose recreation centre run by Asha.
Asha herself is a mother of three energetic boys and one would expect that once her boys are away in school, she will need some time off to rest or run personal errands. However, she heads into another space that requires double or, on some days, triple the energy she exerts while with her boys.
The club has other professionals who supervise other activities. However, the way these children interacted with her over the one hour I engaged her showed she was an active participant in their activities.
Two of the young girls will intentionally tap her when they run past us; an older girl came asking her if she had seen the “hidden notes” and a boy also came to make enquiries about a class that will be held later in the week.
The persistent “Ms Asha”, “Ms Asha”, from the children showed they wanted their team member on the playing field and not seated.
Asha, who has run the club for six years, started it when she couldn’t find an outdoor multipurpose play centre for her first son, Roman, who was two years then.
Initially, she started with swimming lessons and added other after-school activities and camps during school breaks.
She told The Mirror that growing up, she knew she loved interacting with and being around children, but never thought she would end up working full time with them.
“I studied Psychology at the university, worked in the bank and later entered into recruitment, sales and human resource. None of those things had any relation with children. I think that it was after having my son that I realised this was what I wanted to do all that while, and I haven’t looked back since,” she told this reporter.
She explained that when she started the club, it was new to most parents. The “normal” after-school or vacation classes focused on academics only. For instance, if a child had difficulties in a specific subject, parents preferred to get a teacher or a class that would fill the gap rather than allow their children to play. Now, the trend has changed. More parents appreciate the essence of learning through other activities.
“So, there are instances when parents come here and ask if all the children do is play. You see the disappointment on their faces when we respond in the affirmative. Some decide to give us a try and they are shocked at how their children cry when it's time for them to go home,” she said
“I believe that it is not just academics that develop a child. We learn in different ways under different circumstances, not only through the regular classroom method. And so, the children here can build different social skills.”
“There are themes we choose for each week and we plan activities around that. In addition to the swimming lessons, we do baking; “Techy Tuesdays”, which is a fun way of coding; baking; art and craft; music and dance and many other engaging activities.”
Raising well-rounded children
Asha doesn’t only preach play as a way of nurturing and unearthing the talents of children, but she actively engages her children and shares their adventures on her Instagram page, @rhythm.and.boys.
According to her, when she started sharing how they spend most of their time together and the activities they embark on, people got excited about it and wanted to find out about some of the places they visited.
“I would rather wake up in the morning and explore a new environment than stay at home with them, where they easily get bored from doing the same activity. Usually, after outdoor events, they are tired and want to sleep. This is my “mom hack”. I started putting our activities out more because people were excited about them and wanted to see more.”
According to her, “Some parents are clueless on what to do with their children out of school and keeping them away from screen time. And so it has become like a referral point for them. I run Cheeky Monkey Club, but there are many other places and activities children can do out of here. My focus is not just to promote what we do at the club, but also to show that there are many activities we can engage in out of school,” she explained.
In June this year, Asha has decided to give back to the community, particularly parents who have kept her in business and supported her in different ways.
Her new project, Accra Parent, is a non-profit and a community that will share meaningful and free resources on family life in Accra.
She kicks off with a free-to-attend preschool and childcare expo at the Accra International Conference Centre on June 10, where parents can interact with different service providers and choose what suits their children.
“This is a free-to-attend exhibition showcasing schools, activity centres and child care-related businesses in Ghana to interested parents. Being a parent in Accra, I know and understand the struggle parents go through to choose schools and other essential services.
“This project has been in my books for six years. However, last year, I felt I had to put the notes into action. This is also free because I know parents pay a lot of bills for different child-related activities.
“After the expo, we will share free resources regularly with parents @accra.parent on Instagram and accraparent.org. In the long term, we are hoping that corporate organisations will come on board to cater for the cost of the services we provide,” she explained.
At the expo, Asha said there will be different activities for children, as well as demonstrations and seminars for parents.
These seminars will cover subjects including dyslexia and lifelong learning and will have experts in the area address the topics.