Service-Learning Experience in Ghana

My Buck-I-SERV trip to Ghana was a life-changing experience. To be immersed in the culture and everyday living of the children, we lived on the grounds of the orphanage in Akokwa. Mama Charity started the orphanage and welcomed all of us with open arms. My service group spent most of our time on the grounds, playing with the children and helping with their daily chores. This consisted of filling the cement reservoir with water from the river, sweeping the porch, helping bathe the younger children, washing dishes, and many other things. In addition, we painted a new school whose construction was funded by the Akumanyi Foundation. In addition, we painted the new toilets in the village of Penim that the foundation funded as well. Lastly, we visited Cape Coast and the slave castle where we went on an in-depth historical tour.

The service-learning experience helped me reflect on some things about myself and about the world. First, I learned that I work well with people. I adapt to social settings very well. Whether it is bringing humor or having interest in other’s lives, I can have very positive interactions with everyone. For example, I did not know anyone on my trip and I truly enjoyed talking to everyone and asking them questions about their backgrounds, interests and many other things. Creating conversation and learning from others is very enjoyable. In addition to students on my Buck-I-SERV trip, I had a great time getting to know the staff of the Akumanyi Foundation and the children of the orphanage. I would ask them questions about their culture. I was transformed because I was able to adapt very well in a brand new cultural/social setting. In addition, learned that people in developing countries are very happy even with having many inconveniences. The media in western world often wrongly portrays Africa as suffering, sick people. This is not true. Lastly, I learned more about my privilege. Through my experiences, I thought more and more about my upbringing and what it means.

I met two individuals who had a lasting impact on me. They helped me adapt to the culture and I had many positive interactions with them. First, Noble was a ten-year-old boy who reminds me of myself when I was younger. He was shy but also very inquisitive about everything. We would hang out nearly every day. He would always be the first one to come see me when we all walked over to the orphanage from our home stay on the other side of fence. I saw myself in him but in a different area of the world. It really helped me put myself in his shoes. He helped empathize rather than sympathize for his daily struggles. He lived in an orphanage, so most likely his parents had trouble caring for him, so they sent him to the orphanage. I cannot imagine some of the struggles he has everyday without having parents. Ultimately, I reevaluated my privilege through my experiences and all the people I met in Ghana. I grew up with parents who were loving and supportive. I never had to worry about being hungry. I always had access to clean water. I have always had access to healthcare. I have always had warm pressurized showers. These are all things that I have not had to worry about growing up. In comparison, Noble worries about many of these things daily. My privilege makes me want to help those who don’t have equally as much as me. I am grateful for where I come from. I was at times even upset thinking about some ungrateful things I have done in my life. Before we left I really wanted Noble to remember me forever, so I gave him a bandanna that I brought with me. In the future, I hope to write to him and possibly even visit him again.

Secondly, I met a college student named Patrick who was a volunteer for the Akumanyi Foundation. Patrick is a sophomore, studying psychology at the University of Ghana in Accra. He grew up in the small village of Akokwa. He was a very quiet kid who was trying to make it to the United States through an educational visa. We spent many nights talking about school in the US and he was so fascinated with American culture. One of the most inspirational things he told me was that he wrote his college essay on how he wants to go to America and go to school so he can make a decent living, so he could build his family a better, more suitable house. He introduced me to his family and to his friends when I was there, and I grew close to him. He made me feel welcomed with hospitality. Ghana is such a hospitable country. Ever since I have been home I have been in contact with Patrick, giving him advice on what schools in the US to apply to and how to apply for financial aid. I will always remember him I truly hope I get to see him again.

Developing countries are not just all starving and sick children like seen on TV. I studied abroad in Senegal before my time in Ghana and I knew that there was poverty, but it is not to the extent portrayed by the media in the western world. In Ghana, I met many people who were very happy and satisfied with their lives. Through my service learning experience, I learned that it is important not to change the community’s way of living. However, it is essential to help the community’s quality of living. Many ways of living at the orphanage may have seemed ancient to us, like cooking over an open flame, outside in a clay oven. Also, the way of collecting water was not advanced. Well water and river water were used. It is important not to force change to their ways of living. It was incredible to see how all the children were content, even with all these inconveniences in their daily living. They did not know any better and they lived with such happiness and gratitude. If someone is happy why change it?  Understanding the way a community lives before wanting to change it, should be practiced worldwide. After time, discussion, and the community’s approval, new technologies can be implemented. For example, the Akumanyi Foundation was granted the opportunity to build a clean water source in Penim Ghana. Also, they were able to build toilets in the community. After conversation with the elders of Penim they were able to do these great things. The projects increased the quality of life of the residents of Penim. In addition, I was part of the discussion with the elders on how to sustain the toilets and keep them clean without us being there.

The transformation of continuing to adapt to cultures and social settings is valuable in my life because I will always be working with people. I am a pre-med student and I want to become a family practitioner one day. Family doctors see many patients who come from different backgrounds and have health consequence rooting from many different risk factors. I will see these patients and being able to adapt to patients and understand their situation will be the focus of my job as a practitioner. In addition, Ghana has enabled me to become more open minded and possess more worldly views. This will help me to have tolerance and be nonjudgmental when travelling to other places for the rest of my life. It is important to understand not to have rash judgement of something before even experiencing that something.  Ultimately, my service-learning experience to Ghana has helped me transform and prepared me more for what is to come in my future.