Trip to Akokwa

My STEP project consisted of a two-week service trip in Akokwa, Ghana. Most of our time was spent at a children’s home where we assisted the kids with their daily tasks and helped to entertain them. We also travelled to two other villages to paint both a bathroom project along with a new school project that the Akumanyi foundation had already started.

Honestly, I have no idea where to begin with how much this trip changed my view on the world. For starters it completely exposed how much privilege I have and that I clearly have taken it for granted. Through the children the trip showed me that money truly doesn’t buy happiness. It taught me some cultural aspects of Ghana throughout history and up to the current day. Finally, it taught me that I can become close with large group of people (children, staff, and other participants) in two week which just seemed to fly by.

During the trip everyone participated in an activity called a privilege walk. Essentially the entire group is asked a series of question about uncontrollable scenarios you may have been throughout your life. It is a fair measure of how much privilege everyone has. The results were extremely eye opening, but I do not want to ruin it for future participants. The most I will say about the activity is that everyone should do this at some point in their life with a large diverse group of individuals. This along with the many other activities we did such as nightly reflections really taught me a lot about myself, but the children also inspired me.

Hands down the children in the Akokwa children’s home were the happiest children I have ever seen in my life. They found ways to make all daily chores enjoyable and created their own toys with limited supplies. During the trip we drank out of plastic pouches that were sold throughout Ghana. The children were able to create a jump rope by tying the plastic pouches together. Donations were given to the kids which consisted of a few new toys, but what impressed me most was their ability to use creativity to create multiple games from a toy that was mainly meant for one. These children could find joy in any situation including daily chores such as fetching water. The jugs were very heavy, and many volunteers even struggled with them, but these kids helped us with big smile on there face! This barely scratches the surface in the ways that these kids influenced and inspired me to better myself and appreciate everything I have.

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I would consider all activities with the children as the events that changed my perspective on the world the most, but a close second would have been the multiple cultural experiences our group experienced. First and foremost, would have been the slave castle we toured. Our guide gave detailed descriptions of the physical and psychological tools used to dehumanize slave which led to a vivid eye-opening experience. The most extreme case by far being that the place that held slaves was directly beneath the castle’s church. This positioning was meant to allow the slaves to hear the preacher above them which instilled the thought in their heads that god had given up on them. After realizing that they did this intentionally I began to realize how brutal the Transatlantic slave trade was. I also gained a lot of cultural experience just visiting the many larger nearby cities and villages. During our travels to other cities many people stood in between cars in the road in high traffic areas to sell a plethora of items such as fresh fruits, water pouches, and necklaces. However, when it came to the cities the most culturally rich experience was when we visited a chief of one of villages. Here we learned more about proper greetings to the chief, the duties of the chief, and the more political side of a village.

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Living in Ghana over the two-week span resulted in many eye-opening experiences and complete emersion in the culture of Ghana. In the future I plan to go to medical school and eventually become a practicing physician. However, my goal is to be a good surgeon as well as have fantastic bed side manner. I want to connect with people by being able to understand their culture and background more efficiently. The ability to understand others in a more cultural aspect will lead to stronger relationships with my patients. This trip taught me so much and will help in achieving my long term goals.

My trip to Ghana with The Akumanyi Foundation

Name: Morgan Furness

Type of Project: Service-Learning

Through STEP, I had the life-changing opportunity to attend a Buck-i-SERV trip to Ghana.  This trip was the most immersive trip I have ever been on, experiencing the Ghanaian culture through volunteering at a school and children’s home, and traveling to different cities to view the multiple projects the Akumanyi Foundation is funding.  

These experiences challenged me and pushed me outside of my comfort zone in ways that I could never have prepared for.  First, it was inspiring to see the lifestyle the Ghanians lived that was defined by intentionality. Everything they did, they did with purpose.  This is something I have been striving to adopt in my everyday life as well. Sometimes, living in such a fast-paced, westernized culture, it’s easy to simply live life going through the motions.  Since my trip, I have dedicated each day to living life purposefully and intentionally. I want my actions to have meaning and an impact on others, just like the way the Ghanaian culture impacted me.  

Secondly, I was inspired by the kindness and generosity the people of Ghana showed us, despite where we come from, how we look, or what we have done in our past.  The Ghanaians accepted us wholeheartedly without any question. I met some of the most genuine people I have ever met, and I carry a piece of them in my heart still today.  I will never forget the words said with some of the first Ghanaians I met: “you are all Ghanaian now and always part of our family.” I’ve never felt so welcomed and accepted by complete strangers.  I hope I can be more like them in my everyday life, and I could only hope to live in a world where the United States adopted some of this kindness as well.

With my Buck-i-SERV group, we experienced some uncomfortable and challenging conversations with one another.  One thing I really appreciated about my group was the comfortability to ask each other the difficult and vulnerable questions about life. I typically am not a very emotional or vulnerable person, but this trip forced me to be just that. Without a group of people who were willing to get deep, I probably would have stayed in my comfort zone. One of my favorite conversations we had as a group was about the privilege we have as Americans, and the majority of us being white Americans. We talked about how we will use that privilege to make changes in our own lives, and some of my group member’s responses were inspiring.

    In addition to vulnerability, another key aspect that contributed to such a transformational experience was the immersiveness that I touched base on in the beginning of this post. During the trip, we had the opportunity to travel to a variety of villages and towns, further enhancing our knowledge and understanding of the Ghanaian culture.  Our leaders made sure we knew that each village and town is different and does not always represent Ghana as a whole, but experiencing multiple cities helped broaden our perspectives and taught us about different aspects about life in Ghana. We learned about different projects the Akumanyi Foundation is working on, such as supplying clean water and installing toilets in a village and building an entire new school in order to provide education to more youth in the community.  Along with our travels, we also had the privilege of touring a slave castle on the Ghanaian coast. This, among the other experiences I have mentioned, really opened my eyes to the privileges I have as a white American and the importance of educating yourself about the truth and reality of our past as well as the present.

The last of many aspects that contributed to my transformational experience was the relationships I built with my fellow Buck-i-SERV team and the unity we experienced together.  For myself, this was my first time traveling outside of the United States. Due to this, I felt pretty off for awhile. No cell phone, no contact with my family, and being in a vastly unfamiliar place with a group of complete strangers was something extremely outside of my comfort zone and nothing like I had ever experienced before.  I think this forced some fast, intense, and intimate friendships to develop. I still cherish these friendships I built with my fellow Buckeyes to this day. We keep in touch frequently and spend time together, but I am even more thankful for the lessons these people still teach me today even though we are no longer in a foreign country.  It’s amazing how a place so far away can quickly feel like home when you are surrounded by people who make you feel loved and supported.

This change and transformation I experienced because of STEP will forever be valuable to me.  The lessons I learned, the challenges my group overcame, the relationships I built and the memories we all made will forever be with me.  Everyday, I think about the effortless smiles of the children I met. I strive to live such a life where I can smile through whatever challenge life throws my way.  I want to find the joy in the simple things in life, just like my Ghanaian friends do. This mindset truly has changed my life for the better and this summer I feel like I have achieved so much personal growth and reflection that I would not have achieved without this trip.  I can use this in all of my future endeavors, relationships, and even careers. I am forever grateful for this trip, but most importantly for the people and new friends I made along the way.