Buck-I-SERV Trip to Akokwa, Ghana

Colleen Harkins
Service-Learning and Community Service

This past winter break, I went on a Buck-I-SERV trip with the Akumanyi Foundation to Akokwa, Ghana for 10 days where we worked at an Orphanage in a very rural part of Ghana. Most of the daily chores we helped with included sweeping and mopping, dishes, cooking, and bathing kids. When we weren’t helping with these chores, we played a lot with the many kids there. On the weekend of December 30-31st we took a trip to Cape Coast and did a lot of sight-seeing and toured historic sights such as Kakum National Park and the Elmina Slave Castle. We also had the opportunity to go to various neighboring villages to see the foundation’s other projects.

Outside of school we painted

Helping cook lunch.

Going into this trip, I didn’t have many expectations. I knew I would experience some form of culture shock from seeing how different Ghana is from America, which I definitely did experience. The biggest difference I did see was how content the kids in Ghana were with the little they had. Because the orphanage houses over 85 kids, none of them really had anything that was their own. Everyone shared everything and was very open and willing to sharing with their brothers and sisters. This was so different from my experience with American children who always seem to want to take possession of “their” things. Related to this, another difference I also noticed was how everyone seemed to have a group mentality instead of a “me first” mentality so often seen in America. Almost everyone I encountered there had a very large focus on everyone around them and success as a group. This was such a refreshing change from the way of life in America that tends to focus a lot on “every man for himself.” I do feel like a lot of my own personal views on life were put into perspective because of these encounters and I reevaluated a lot of my life. This was evident solely by watching the kids work and interact with each other. They always made sure all of their brothers and sisters were taken care of and would share everything they had to make the others happy. One day, for example, one of the kids found a cardboard box that they started playing with and found so much joy in playing with. Another kid came up and immediately the other shared the box with them so they could enjoy it together.

Most of the kids saying goodbye before we left.

On the other hand, I feel like my biggest shock actually came from the large amount of similarities between Ghanaians and Americans. Many of the kids I interacted with reminded me so much of American kids at heart. Although they found joy in such different things, it made me realize that kids are kids and they all have the same spirit, which was really cool to see. This definitely opened my eyes to the idea that, while people may come from different backgrounds or situations, we are all still the same in some ways.

Lovester and I

Another big aspect of this trip, for me, was seeing the incredibly strong faith everyone had. Having faith in God is not even a question for everyone is there and it shows everywhere. In all of the villages and on all of the cars were signs and sayings about God and having faith in Him as a protector. Additionally, all of the kids genuinely enjoyed learning about and praising God and going to Church. They would openly ask all of the volunteers if we knew God and gave Him the praise He deserved. For me as a Christian, this transformed my view of my faith entirely and strengthened it tremendously. I also had the opportunity to go to Church on New Year’s Eve from 9 PM to 12:30 AM. The concept behind it was to start off the new year giving praise to God and praying for well-being in the upcoming year. This was such an incredible concept to me that I had never thought of before. I also got a chance to talk to a 14 year old girl named Lovester. This girl suffered through many hardships because of her situation but also because she relied on a prosthetic leg that didn’t fit very well at all. It was easy to see that she struggled to run and play with other kids or even do basic chores because of this. In spite of her situation, Lovester had some of the strongest faith in God I have ever experience in my life. She alone gave me an entirely new perspective on my life and what I consider to be problems.

Elmina Slave Castle, Cape Coast

Plaque outside Elmina

Lastly, an experience that had a big impact on my views was the tour of the Elmina Slave Castle in Cape Coast. The castle was the largest center for slave trade in Ghana. We were fortunate enough to be able to get a tour of the castle and it was extremely eye-opening for me. It is one thing to learn about the slave trade in history class in school but it is another to be standing in the place where part of it all occurred and to be immersed in the experience. To actually see how small and dark the rooms were the captives were held were and to walk through the “Door of No Return” puts a whole new understanding on the subject. For me, not only did it give me a newer and realer understanding of the slave trade, it also gave me a new perspective to modern-day racism in the United States and how we have gotten to the point we’re at now.

All of these experiences on my trip transformed my world view as well as my personal view. Overall, it was an incredible opportunity that I think everyone should be able to experience in their lifetime. I went into this trip with a pre-existing passion for service and came out with a new understanding for what that means in my life. Personally, I now have a deeper perspective to who I am as a global citizen and how important it is for me to do my part in helping others. Academically and professionally, I feel compelled to combine what I learned and experienced with my long-term professional goals. As previously mentioned, I have always had a passion of helping others but have always seen it as a hobby and not so much as a career path. Now, I am looking into ways of integrating what I learned about service to my future career. As an engineering major, this is definitely within my possible career paths. I was extremely inspired by Lovester and am currently looking into work with prosthetics for children with disabilities. Seeing her hardship with an ill-fitting prosthetic inspired me to fix that specific issue. Additionally, my trip made me realize that, no matter what I end up doing in life, I would like for it to involve helping others.

I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to go to Ghana and am looking for any chance to go back. If it were not for STEP, I would not have had this experience and would not be who I am now.