My STEP project was a service learning in Ghana. We focused on implementing sustainable projects to help develop undeveloped communities. My specific focus was working on bettering the conditions of a water site.
A lot of media in America makes third world countries to be places of sorrow and suffering however that was not the case in Ghana. The living conditions people had to deal with were terrible and in no way to I want to disregard that, however every single person I encountered was happy and hardworking. There were many children we encountered that had obvious health conditions but they all still had smiles on their faces. On the flip side, I experienced severe culture shock when we arrived. Not even the capital of the country was remotely similar to any city in America. Most of the stores were just shacks and to shop for food people just went to a market. Everything appeared to be so run down which I was expecting but at the same time not prepared for.
The main interactions that changed my view of Ghana are those with the children in the community we worked in and their teacher, Moses. The children would see us arrive every day and follow us to our site and sit there while we did work. Most of them spoke well enough English to be able to communicate with us. They tried to teach us to speak Twi and it was constant laughter because they made fun of our “American accents.” The older ones had such a drive to learn and help. At one point we were sanding something and a group of 14 and 15 year old girls came up and asked what we were doing and why and if they could help us. There were several interactions similar to this one where people were eager to learn and so willing to help.
Moses, the school teacher, not only came every day to see how things were going, but he helped translate for us as he spoke almost perfect English. He told us a lot about his life as well. He has a wife and three children and he only makes $300 a month. He told us that he is broke by halfway through the month and that he prays every day he will get the opportunity to teach in America someday. He has so little but had so much love and compassion and such a positive outlook on life. There were many people that visited our site while we were working that had similar stories and I wish we had been able to communicate with them but not everyone spoke English and we don’t speak Twi.
There were other encounters with people that work for the local government that Ohio State partners with and several other random people that helped shape my view of Ghana. At one point we went to buy wood and one of the government workers was taking care of it for us since we were not able to communicate. We were concerned because he did not give us a receipt however he just said “If the product is bad and I am not satisfied, he will give me my money back; it is Ghanaian culture.” We did not have one negative experience when talking to people. A good word to describe everyone would be neighborly.
On a sadder note, the conditions people live in are overall terrible. We did water tests and everything except for bottled water had some sort of bacteria present. The diet most can afford does not have much variety or nutrients. It did not hit me until we were outside of a clinic one day and we saw a man running with a limp child towards the door. It really made me think about how in America if you see an ambulance or someone pass out you don’t have the same reaction we did towards seeing that happen. We weren’t certain if the clinic would have the recourses it needed to care for the child however almost any hospital in America would. Luckily the next day we saw the boy walk out however not everyone in third world countries is that lucky.
I learned a lot about myself on the trip. There were many instances where several people were debating design ideas in Twi and we would just sit back and let it happen and a design flaw came out of it. It made me realize that in my professional life if I am confident about something I need to be more assertive about it. I always think that since I am inexperienced in the engineering field everyone else’s ideas are probably better but that may not always be true. I could have good ideas and if I am confident in them I need to make them known.
This trip definitely opened my eyes as to just how lucky I am. You hear people say everyday how lucky everyone in America is however it didn’t hit me until the first night in Ghana and my gratefulness grew throughout the trip. I also learned so much from the Ghanaians. Personally, I want to be more like them. I want to have the outlook on life that they do and I want to be as hardworking and willing to help as they are. It was also very rewarding at the end of the trip when I saw how happy everyone was with our work. It made me realize that I want a career that I am able use my skills as an engineer to better people’s lives.