- I traveled to Ghana, Africa with a group of Buck-I-Serv students this past winter for two weeks. In partnership with The Akumanyi Foundation (TAF), we worked at an orphanage in a rural village, assisting in daily chores and child care. We also got to visit the Water Project and Seamstress Programs that TAF started, in addition to a weekend trip to CapeCoast where we toured a slave castle.
- My view of the world changed a lot during this project. There are a lot of really negative stereotypes about African countries being extremely poor. I knew this going in, and I was not going to let negative connotations be put upon another community I hadn’t even met yet. I wanted to go into this trip with an open mind as my role as a global citizen. When I got to Ghana, it was very different than what I have ever experienced. The roads, the towns, the chores, the food, the clothes; theywere all new, eye opening, and incredible. But by far the most life changing thing for me was the people I met. I was expecting to experience a brand new culture, which I did. What I didn’t really expect was to fall in the love with peopleand humanity as much as I did. I know I want to start my own nonprofit and help people, but this trip was truly transformative in confirming that for me. It taught me that children halfway across the world are the most intelligent, loving, full-of-life beings. They are no different than children here. And adults halfway across the world just want to be happy, share friendship, earn a living to take care of their families, and make something of themselves. They are no differentthan adults here. I have never felt more excited to work with people as I have after I took this trip. Ghanaian people allowed me tounderstand myself and what community is supposed to feel like.
Meeting and playing with the children at the orphanage all week was life changing. These children range from less than a year old, up to twenty years old. They share anything and everything with each other. What struck me themost was that these children were happy to share! Having very little, they were eager to share whatever they could with us and each other. Rather than understanding the orphanage existing as dozens of little broken families, I came to understand it as one large family. These were their brothers and sisters, and they welcomed us into their family immediately. The children were so happy to have us there to play with them and to feel loved. Two of the older girls, Mary and Janet, had a small bag of beads with them to make bracelets. Even though they barely had any beads left, they insisted on teaching me and making me a bracelet to match them. When our Buck-I-Serv group was helping with chores in the morning, sometimes we wouldn’t exactly understand how to do something because it was different than the way we might do things at home. All of the kids, no matter what age, would see if we weren’t doing something right. They would jump right in and say “here, let me help you” and show us how it needed to be done. Then, they would let us try and be extremely uplifting as we would do what they showed us! One last example was the little baby Abigail. She was the youngest at the orphanage, but was truly loved. All of the children, again no matter what age, would help out with her. If she needed to be fed, changed, played with, put down for a nap, these kids would help out. I have never seen such a strong and loving group of people in my life.
Another experience that impacted me was visiting a slave castle at Cape Coast. This castle was built where soldiers would live inside, and captives would be held in the dungeons below. This was an extremely heavy experience for me, since part of my major really focuses on colonization. This was the last time these Africans were on their homeland before they were brought to the United States. And the worst part is that they experienced unimaginable horrors way before they got onto those ships. Being at the exact place where this happened is something I will never forget or hold lightly. What I found interesting was how informative and welcoming our tour guide was. Rather than judging the horrors of what these people experience that was inflicted upon them by our ancestors, he focused on educating us. He didn’t want Americans to feel badthat they were visiting Cape Coast Castle, but he wanted us to truly understand the history. Again, I felt a sense of community when talking with him and being in his presence.
At the orphanage the rest of the week, I began to get into a routine and adjust to life there. Playing with the children was my favorite part. Since we were visiting around Christmas and New Years, there was celebration and music playing everyday. I got to dance with thekids, see them smile, and have so much fun! It was a fun game where they would teach me a Ghana dance, and I would teach them an American line dance. We got to dance every single day with the kids, and it is one of the things I will miss the most.
I will also miss all of the animals and stray dogs there where in Ghana. Animals are not as valued there as they are here. There was a dog named Kai that followed the Madam’ around at the orphanage, and a lot of the kids would try to chase him away or poke him with a stick. I told them tobe kind to animals, because dogs have loving hearts and are just like children. All throughout the trip, whichever town we went to, I met a dog and gave it a big hug. I must have a dozen different pictures with all of the incredible animals I met! By the end of the trip, the children were so sweet to Kai. I would ask them, “what do I love most besides you” and they would reply “dogs!”. It was the cutest thing ever! They were so kind to Kai, he would start to feel relaxed as we pet him and close his eyes. He even started to wag his tail as someone came up to give him attention, and he even rolled over to have his belly rubbed! It was amazing what a small difference that made in the children understanding that animals also have feelings and want to be treated nicely. I even painted Kai for them, which leads me to my last and favorite part of my trip.
The Akumanyi Foundation just finished completing a new school building for the orphanage. It was gloomy, dark, and sad because the walls essentially were gray cement. Our Buck-I-Serv group transformed this building for them! I was able to help with sketching everything out, and our team painted the entire building. It was a huge group effort and the result was breathtaking! We wanted the inside of the classroom to be bright and educational. We painted a wall with flowers, numbers, the solar system, and animals. On the outside, we painted an Ohio State wall so all of the kids could remember us. This was such a communal effort because it could have not been done if it weren’t for everyone helping each other. The kids engaged in it too, and the whole thing was incredibly rewarding to finish. It is something those kids will never forget, and we won’t either. When we were leaving to head back home, many of the kids were crying. I took some of them up to the OSU wall where we painted our handprints on. I told them that if they ever felt sad or missed me, for them to put their hand up to mine and know that I love them very much and miss them even more.
- This trip was extremely valuable for my life and aspirations. I hope to start my own nonprofit one day that uses dance and animal therapy. Getting to work with The Akumanyi Foundation was incredible because I met so many amazing people. Going to Ghana exceeded my expectations because I actually ended up getting to dance and play with animals with the children! Painting their classroom building was the cherry on top. I am now interning for TAF and hoping to go back to Ghana this summer with them. This trip taught me valuable lessons of what family and community really is, and I gained many new ideas for my future and long-term goals. This trip was a personal transformation in confirming to myself that this is exactly what I want to do. Thank you STEP and Buck-I-Serv for making it happen. Without you I would have never been able to experience what I did, intern with the organization, and know my purpose as a global citizen.