For my STEP Signature Project I choose to participate in an international Buck I SERV trip to Ghana with the Akumanyi Foundation. During the two weeks that we spent in Ghana most of our time was spent volunteering at a children’s home where we worked on cultivating relationships with the kids and assisting with daily chores. Additionally, we also traveled to neighboring villages to learn more about the foundation’s clean water projects and to help with additional projects such as painting a newly finished school and a community toilet.
It’s difficult to articulate just exactly how transformational this experience was for me, but I’ll try my best to do it justice. Regarding my understanding of myself, this experience really helped me to learn more about what I am capable of and what kind of person I want to work on becoming. Traveling across the ocean to a foreign country seemed incredibly daunting and I had innumerable premonitions. The experience far exceeded my expectations in the positive way and I’m so glad I didn’t let my concerns and uncertainty hold me back. I plan to apply this newfound confidence in my abilities and independence in all areas of my life, and really work on diving into new experiences even if they’re outside my comfort zone. This experience didn’t just influence my understanding of myself, it also changed many of my assumptions about the world around me. Having never been to Africa, or even out of the country, I had so many misconceptions not only about their way of life, but also the general demeanor of the people I was fortunate enough to meet. Some of the happiest and kindest people I have ever met, I met in Ghana. I never expected such happiness and generosity from people, who by our standards, have so little. The way they treat others is incredibly selfless and almost everything they do is for the good of the group, rather than the individualistic mental so present in America. From the time I spent in the awe-inspiring country of Ghana, I have learned to appreciate all the privileges I am lucky enough to have, no matter how small, and to try and have a more positive outlook every day.
Children are known for having a happy go lucky attitude and the children I was fortunate enough to meet in Ghana were no exception. Interacting with them every day was an incredibly heartwarming experience. Each morning they created us with open arms and smiling faces and couldn’t wait until someone was available to pick them up and hold them or push them on the swings. Even when we first arrived at the children’s home, having never met them before, they ran down the length of the driveway to meet our bus the second we got out. I’ve never met anyone so eager for companionship in the purest sense or so welcoming of newcomers. Their immediate, and incredibly warm, acceptance of us is something I hope I can offer to new people entering my life.
As much fun as it was playing and laughing with the children there was also a lot of work that needed to be done each day. As such, we would spend hours doing chores like washing dishes, cleaning rooms, bathing the kids, and fetching water. Just fetching the water could easily take an hour or more, however long it took to fill the three troughs at the children’s home, and essentially it had to be done daily. Collectively it was our least favorite chore because it was so physically demanding, seemingly endless, and we always end up spilling quite a bit of water on ourselves. I will never understand how the children are able to complete such a task each day, considering how much we struggled with it. Even though they certainly had many more fun things they could have been doing, each day kids, no matter how old or strong they were, would offer to help us. This kind of teamwork mentality and general selflessness is something I hope to cultivate in myself.
As one would probably imagine, living in Ghana essentially means living without a lot of the things that we may believe to be necessities but in all reality are unnecessary and just serve to make our daily lives more comfortable and easy. Some of these things included a working shower, a sink, and air conditioning. Living without them and many others, for two weeks, really helped me to recognize that none of those material things are necessary to live a joyful and fulfilling life. Now, being back in the states I am all the more grateful for everything that I am privileged enough to have access to, but I also know just how unnecessary they are.
The two weeks I spent in Ghana, I believe, were more transformational than the vast majority of my life thus far. Not only did I learn to appreciate the distinct culture of a foreign country that is so different from my own, but I also learned so much about myself. Additionally, the importance of community service in my life has been cemented, as nothing else brings me quite as much joy and fulfillment. Every time I think back on this experience it seems so surreal because it truly was so amazing and I cannot thank the STEP program enough for making this trip achievable. I will never forget the lessons I learned, the people I met, or the beautiful country that I was so warmly welcomed into.