From December 26th to January 6th, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a Buck-I-SERV trip to Akokwa, Ghana. While here, we partnered with The Akumanyi Foundation and resided at the village’s Children’s Home. Here, we assisted in daily chores for the kids, painted classrooms in their new school building, and helped fund the Akumanyi Foundation’s growing Seamstress Program. In our time, we were immersed in Ghanaian culture and gained a greater love and understanding of our world.
Before I left for Ghana, I heard many people comment about what a “great thing I was doing for the children,” but to always “be safe and aware” while away. When people heard I was going to Africa, they immediately feared for my safety, and applauded me for “helping” the children of Ghana. Sadly, I almost began to believe their narratives. But, almost immediately upon arriving in Ghana, I realized how wrong we all had been. The airport staff welcomed us with great smiles, and urged us to stay as long as our Visas allowed. We were treated like friends, not strangers, by the foundation’s staff members immediately, and I began to release the load of doubt and fear.
I was told by everyone that I would have such an impact on these kids, but I can guarantee that they had a greater impact on me. I was blessed to wake up every day to see their smiling faces—eager to play, learn, and make new friends. Their happiness was contagious. With only the bare necessities, they gave me a new outlook on life and made me appreciate the little things. On top of this, the culture of Ghana was incredibly eye-opening. Ghanaians do not live in an individualistic society, instead they are extremely community-orientated, and work together to ensure that everyone is safe, happy, and healthy. My time in Ghana gave me a greater understanding of what it means to be a friend, and how stress and worry have no place in life.
Three main events and interactions led to my personal transformation while in Ghana, and they center around the culture, the people, and the Akumanyi Foundation. The day we arrived in Ghana was three days before New Year Celebrations commenced. In America, we celebrate the New Year by hanging out with friends and family, and watching the ball drop. But in Ghana, the New Year is one of the biggest celebrations of the year. This is the time every year where Ghanaians thank the Lord for blessing them with another year, and it is celebrated through days of singing, dancing, praying, and rituals. On New Year’s Eve, all village residents attend their church, and bring in the New Year through 7-9 hours of service. All ages come together to rejoice, and give thanks to God for allowing them to be there. At 5 A.M. New Year’s Day, the “trot” begins. This is where residents of every village and town run down the streets dancing, singing, and playing music. People can run as long as they would like, whether that be 1 mile or 10—but this lasts all day. A final celebration of New Year’s is the village Chief ceremonies if a new chief is to be named. Somehow, our trip was lucky enough to be invited to witness Akokwa’s chief ceremony.
While here, we watched Elders negotiate how much the new Chief would have to offer the old chief before he was accepted. After the new-chief was sworn in, an Elder of the community asked our group if we would like to be welcomed into the village. He expressed how great it was to see our organization return so often each year, and as a thank you they wanted to extend a role to our members. It was then that our two advisors were asked to be honorary Chief and Queen Mother of the village, an honor not given to many. After they accepted, we assumed that was the end of it. But three days later, a few large vehicles pulled into our Children’s Home, and out of them came about 40 chiefs dressed in full tribal wear. They asked for our Chief and Queen Mother, as it was time for the ceremony. From here, our advisors were dressed in traditional wear, and given a background check. We were then asked to walk through the town with the Chiefs to the celebration square, where the community would welcome them ceremoniously.
These displays of culture allowed our group to be fully immersed in the Ghanaian way of life. The Elders wanted us to “get the full experience” as they said, and they truly welcomed us into their community. This open-arms approach was always so amazing to me, because they wanted us to see their culture firsthand, and understand it from their perspective. It reminded me how important having a fact-based worldview is, because before coming people had warned me to be safe, but I had never felt as safe as I did while in Ghana. This leads me to how the people impacted me—both adults and children. As I have stated, everyone in Ghana is so kind and loving. They truly want to help in any way they can, and they appreciate life in a way I do not often see in America. When speaking with Mama Charity, the Children’s Home “mother,” our group asked her what the most fulfilling part of running the orphanage and school was. But, she did not understand our question, because there is no such thing as self-fulfillment in Ghana.
Of course everyone has goals and dreams, but they are not solely for one’s own happiness. Everyone I met got their happiness from helping their community, and working together to achieve common goals. From a young age, children are taught to help and learn from their elders, so eventually they are capable of teaching and helping children even younger than them. These children are eager to help, and were eager to show our group how we could help around the Children’s Home. The children were a light in my life every single day. They depended on one another, even if they were not “real” siblings. They treated each other with love, and extended the same care to us. One girl in particular latched onto me within the first few days. She is 9 years old, and she is so feisty. She wanted to be with me wherever I went, and show me everything she enjoys. She welcomed me as her friend, and although she tried to be strong and let little to nothing bother her, she broke down in my arms on my final day, crying that she did not want me to leave.
She gave me a bracelet on my last day, so we could “be friends forever,” and it is the love of everyone like this that made me leave a piece of my heart in Ghana that day. Unless hurt, I never saw a child cry or be sad. They were always running around, looking for something new to play with, or for new friends to make. They were happy with what they had, and happy to share it with me and my group. These children helped me see life as beautiful again—they showed me that happiness comes from those around you, not by what you own.
Finally, the Akumanyi Foundation’s impact. This Foundation deserves a page of its own, because it is truly remarkable. The staff who worked with us while in Ghana were a few of the most humble, kind, and loving people I have ever met. Their passion for making their country better was amazing to witness, and I am so thankful I got to be a part of their endeavors. Recently, the Akumanyi Foundation has built new schools in a neighboring village. They recognized the need for more school rooms, to continue Mama Charity’s goal of education for all children. The foundation could have simply provided the building and desks, but they went one step further. They asked that while in Ghana, we paint every classroom in a creative way for the children. They recommended we get ideas from the children themselves, and go from there. With this in mind, we painted classrooms with animals, fruits, numbers, letters, planets, cars, bikes, and maps. The Akumanyi Foundation wanted the children to know that this school was theirs, and that they should have a part in the design, as well.
The Akumanyi Foundation also founded the Seamstress program. This is a type of trade school for young women, and soon to be young men, that teaches them the skills of sewing, with a goal of them eventually owning their own shop and providing for their family. Their mission to make women self-sufficient and providers for their families was incredible to see, as they helped women find their passion, and also a place in the world. On top of the seamstress program, they recently asked a nearby village what their greatest need was, and their answer was clean water. With this information, the Akumanyi Foundation built a water sanitation system that would provide this community with clean water from now on. Since building this, illness in this village has sharply decreased. Overall, the Akumanyi Foundation has a goal of helping Ghana better themselves. They are not an organization that helps one time and moves on, they are truly about lifelong service, and making communities better for decades to come.
I can honestly say that these events have shaped me into a better person. Ghana taught me to be a better friend and to live a more selfless life. My outlook on Africa has truly transformed, and it has helped me see how important culture and community is. I hope to use what I have learned in my everyday life—living with a more gracious heart and open arms. But I also hope to use what I have learned in my future career. As an educator, it is so important to not only be culturally relevant, but culturally proactive. Unfortunately I did have assumptions of Ghana before I had ever been, but those were shattered immediately. With students of diverse backgrounds, it is important that I dedicate myself to learning about their heritage and culture—because these are what truly shape an individual. Having a community mindset will also help me in my future endeavors, as this is what I strive for in my future classroom—everyone learning from one another, and helping each other rather than competing. Truly, I could talk about my experiences in Ghana for the next 10 pages, but I do not believe even that would do it justice. My trip to Ghana was truly transformational and I am grateful for every person I met, every place I visited, and every experience I had. I am a better person because of it.