Ghana International Engineering Service Learning Experience
My step project involved a semester long course of preparation for an international trip to Ghana. In Ghana, the class was to implement the engineering projects that we had spent time creating during the semester. The other aspect of my STEP project and this trip was to experience and engage with a new culture that I had never experienced before.
I believe my view of African culture that is represented by Ghana changed completely. Instead of pitying Africans in general when approached by an add or world agency advocating for Africa, as I seemed to prior to this trip, I realized how similar Ghanaians are to any other person. Their culture may look different, but it seemed that ultimately all humans struggle and deal with similar difficulties and life circumstances when they are struck at the core. From a first world, American perspective, Ghanaians seem to live a poor life. Some Ghanaians’ day-to-day life includes going to a cistern to draw water and walking several miles to do so, or walking the streets to sell goods to stopped cars at a traffic light in order to provide for their needs. Other Ghanaians might own a smart phone, drive a car, they may have completed college, and work steady, reliable jobs. However, both of these life styles my still appear to be impoverished, compartively, to a middle-class American citizen. At the least, the upper class Ghanaian life would seem very different from an upper-class American life-style.
What I gathered from my two weeks spent in Ghana after having the opportunity to interact with the local people was that when placed “back-to-back,” economic rankings looks radically different from the equivalent status in the U.S. However, after considering the two life-styles – Ghanaian and American – separately, they seem to be more alike than I thought. In both countries, there are still wealthy people and there are still poor people. There are people who are born into upper class families and receive a good education and have a steady job, and there are people born into families that require them to work every day of their life in order to provide for themselves and their family. Their upper class doesn’t give in overwhelming abundance to the poor in Ghana, as neither does the upper class in America give out of their abundance to the poor of America. All socio-economic classes still exist in both countries, although America’s middle class may be more expansive. What I realized was that the only real difference was that these people were born in Ghana so they live life that is culturally Ghanaian, but that doesn’t mean that it is bad. Bad is relative term. Actually, to me, it seemed that most people in Ghana were just as happy or happier than the average American. People who live in America were born in America, or they moved to America at some point, so they live a life that naturally will fall into a tier of the socio-economic ladder or culture of America – but, that doesn’t necessary make it good. I learned that people fundamentally live similar lives, it just may happen to be in different environments. I realized that my tendency to view American life as better than life lived in a developing country, such as Ghana, was incredibly relative and unfair, considering I had never experienced the country on my own. It is different, yes. But, better, I am not sure.
While in Ghana, our local contacts were the officials, assembly members, and employees of the Offinso North District Assembly, or the ONDA, which is the lcoal government located in Okumadan, Ghana. The ONDA explained to Professor Roger Dzwonczyk the needs of the community which provided our class with projects to create and implement when we arrived in Ghana. We worked closely with the government officials and national service members. Each project group, of which there were four, was partnered with an official who would guide the group throughout the duration of their project. This partnership helped with overcoming cultural and language barriers in the villages and markets where the groups had to purchase goods for their projects. The dependence that we, the students, had on these government officials and national service people lead to stronger relationships with them. They cared for us and welcomed us into their country and their personal lives. We became a family of sorts to them while we were there.
This unique relationship and our active participation in the Ghanaian culture allowed me to observe the socio-economic ranking that I described in the previous question. Rhamat, a female government official of the ONDA was partnered with my group throughout the duration of our project. She was also assigned a National Service person to her for a year. A National Service member is usually a recently graduated university student who is required by the Ghanaian National government to serve in that role for one year. They were somewhat of an intern to the government official. Rhamat’s National Service person is named Kobby, who also worked closely with my group during the construction and implementation of our project. Rhamat and Kobby are both upper class citizens, which is a conclusion met from my personal observations. Rhamat has a very good job with the government and is married to a high-ranking government official from another district. Kobby was born into a wealthy family so he received a good education and lives a very westernized life. Our group would spend days with them and that allowed us to learn about their lives and their backgrounds. They would teach about their culture, their language, and we had the opportunity to observe their way of life.
Throughout the implementation of our project, our group also travelled around the surrounding villages to markets and venders to buy supplies that we needed. By driving and walking through the villages, I witnessed a variety of life-styles. There were beggars and business people as well as young children and elderly. Seeing and interacting with these people exposed a large contrast between their lives and the lives of Rhamat and Kobby. The village people wore different kinds of clothing relative to Rhmat and Kobby, they knew little English if at all, and their jobs required much of their time and energy. There were also situations where I had the opportunity to interact with both peoples in the same environment. This usually happened in the market area. People were quick to serve the government officials because they knew we all had money to spend. On the streets, Kobby, Rhamat or other government officials didn’t treat the street beggars any different than most people would treat the homeless person on the street with a sign.
I do not know for sure, but I could make the assumption that a Ghanaian government official makes much less money than an American official does. However, the Ghanaian officials are still considered middle to upper class citizens in their country. The socio-economic rankings remain the same in Ghana as they are in the United States as do the roles that they play in society. Considering this led me to the realization that life in the developing country of Ghana may appear different on a visual, exterior level; however, at the core, it is fairly similar to life in America. Their low and high may seem to be lower, overall, compared to America’s, but the overarching theme was that a person, no matter what country they live in, may experience poverty or riches. Not all American’s experience a life of wealth and not all Ghanaians live a life of poverty. I think this realization refuted a subconscious assumption about the two countries that I had before traveling to Ghana. We all adapt to the environment and circumstance as we must and in our own ways according to our surroundings.
This transformation humbled me in the way that I consider life. I think it helped me realize that my way of life is no better or worse than anyone else’s. I have running water that I can drink and bathe in at the turn of a faucet, available food in a functional fridge, medical visits when I need them and when I don’t, and many more luxuries that I probably don’t even think about! However, while in Ghana I didn’t have most of these things. It is incredibly sad and unfortunate that many Ghanaians do not have access to drinking water that doesn’t make them ill, and that some do not have the medical services that they need to remain in good health. But, the Ghanaian people do not pity themselves. They live life just as any other human would. They do what they need to do in order to live and provide. In America, it seems that some people live life in order to out-do their neighbor. In Ghana, they were living with so much less than the average American – at least it seemed that way to me. But, their attitudes, their love and their hospitality displayed that they were living with so much more. I could not say this for every single Ghanaian, but that was my overall take away. My trip to Ghana helped reinforce my belief that more “things” in this world is not always more. It at times can lead to less – maybe not materialistically, but emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. My transformation gave me an outlook of contentment and joy in what is before me and behind me. It became clear to me that whatever may exist in the past, present, or future, it does not – rather, should not – always correlate to my measure of joy in this life. Rather, I pray that this transformation would lead me to be grateful for and content with what I do have and provide an outlook that is independent from how I may receive and achieve more. I have seen what less can look like in materialistic terms, but the Ghanaians whom I met had attitudes that left no room for gloom.