My STEP Signature Project involved my participation with the Akumanyi Foundation as a volunteer at Achiase’s Children’s Home and primary school in Ghana, Africa. As a volunteer my duties included helping complete various chores at the orphanage, serving as a teacher and/or teacher’s assistant at the primary school, and interacting and building relationships with the orphans and schoolchildren. I also had the opportunity to explore nearby towns to become acculturated to the lifestyle and customs of Ghanaians.
While completing my STEP project both my views on myself and the world around me were challenged and transformed. Collaborating with the other volunteers allowed me to identify my strengths and weaknesses in regards to my leadership and problem-solving skills. Additionally, working as a volunteer with the Akumanyi Foundation not only fostered my personal growth and self-confidence, but also helped solidify my decision to pursue a career in the social work field. The foundation also offered numerous opportunities to become immersed in Ghanaian culture. Having the freedom to explore Ghana allowed me to dismantle some of the stereotypes that come to mind when one hears the word “Africa”, while in turn allowing me to form my own views and opinions on African culture. As a result, my appreciation for African culture and the desire to learn more about my own African heritage significantly increased.
The Akumanyi Foundation allowed us as volunteers to choose the level of involvement we wanted to commit to during our stay at the children’s home. During my STEP project, I decided to be actively involved in teaching various classes at Bethel primary school. At times it was difficult to teach because of knowledge and cultural barriers and the lack of materials needed to effectively educate the children. However, having the duty of teaching on the spot stimulated my problem-solving skills by compelling me to think outside of the box, while also transforming how I approach and handle unfamiliar situations. Because I taught in different classrooms, it was imperative that I adjusted my teaching style to accommodate the needs of each particular class. Although I had to step out of my comfort zone, teaching at Bethel allowed me to realize what areas of leadership that I excelled in. It also gave me the opportunity to work with other volunteers to tweak aspects of my leadership skills that could use improvement.
One of the best aspects of the Akumanyi Foundation program was that it allowed flexibility when dividing my time between interacting with the children at the home and taking time to explore various towns and cities in Ghana. One of my duties as a volunteer was to go on a “school run” where I accompanied a staff member in the school van as we traveled to different villages picking up children for school. I was able to see the lifestyle and living conditions where the students came from and observe how hard their families worked to ensure that their children received an education. I also took advantage of the numerous opportunities to go to Swedru, a nearby town, to browse and shop at the markets and interact with the locals. Finally, I spent a weekend at Cape Coast, where I had the chance to visit the Cape Coast Slave Castle. Physically witnessing the tragic conditions that my ancestors had to endure and survive in was an incredibly heart-wrenching and humbling experience. My respect and admiration for African culture was positively transformed and my understanding of the history of slavery in Africa flourished.
Finally, as a volunteer with the Akumanyi Foundation, I lived on-site at the orphanage. I completed chores with the resources that were allotted to me such as cleaning the children’s rooms, hand-washing laundry, helping with meal preparation, clean-up, and bread-making, and other various duties. I had almost unlimited time playing and building relationships with the children. I also dealt with the power outages and other inconveniences associated with it. I believe that experiencing both the positive and “negative” aspects of Ghanaian life allowed me to gain a better perspective of the incredible work ethic and diligence of the people of Ghana.
Acknowledging changes in both how I view myself and the world around me is valuable for my life because doing so further shapes me into the positive, change-agent that I want to become in my future career. Experiencing life in America and life in Ghana, and being able to compare the two, allowed me to challenge my own personal views and values. Furthermore, serving as a volunteer in Ghana allowed me to appreciate the simple luxuries that I have in America, while also learning how to focus less on material items as a means of achieving happiness. Words cannot explain the true joy I felt while serving in Ghana and I have every intention on returning to continue what I started. As a result of completing my STEP project with the Akumanyi Foundation I now fully realize how important it is to me that I continue being a helping hand to those in need, not only in Africa, but hopefully around the world. My experience in Ghana is the first stepping stone into launching my career into the world of social work.