Blogpost: Greater Horizons: Volunteer Service Trip to Ghana by Sarah Erwin

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This summer, I had the privilege of teaching a group of teenage girls in Humjibre, Ghana for three weeks. The organization I volunteered through is the Ghana Health and Education Initiative (GHEI). Their aim is to enable community members to improve their children’s health and education. By having these focuses, GHEI seeks to improve the opportunities that children will have later in life. Over each summer, GHEI has four sessions which they recruit volunteers for.  I applied to the “Girls’ Empowerment and Education” session, which focused on topics such as leadership, safe sex, family planning, budgeting, and self-confidence. These issues are ones that I feel very passionate about, which is what drove me to apply for the program. This trip broadened my experiences to an international scale; however it helped me to focus on the educational needs here at home as well. After working with the session participants, I am even more passionate about the role of education in lifting people out of the cycles of poverty, crime, and other social disparities.

When I first got on the plane to go to Ghana, I knew that I would have to let go of all of my training in child abuse and neglect that I received while I was a foster care worker. It was clear to me that there is a different method to parenting in Ghana than what we are used to in the United States. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is put into practice in the community, and although it may not be what I was used to seeing, this approach worked well. Instead of one or two parents supervising their children, adults throughout the community would make sure that children were safe and behaving themselves. Seeing this first hand allowed me to gain a better understanding of different methods of parenting and what it means to be a member of a community.

image05While in Ghana, GHEI provided us volunteers with experiences such as touring the local hospital and clinic, going to the local cocoa tree farms in the rainforest, and visiting the largest market in West Africa – with over 11,000 shops. The experience that impacted me the most was visiting the cape coast castle. The castle is situated to be overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and has a breathtaking view; however just below the surface, thousands of slaves were held captive before being shipped to the Americas. The combination of such beauty and sorrow was unnerving. Although entering the slave quarters was a haunting experience, it also gave me better understanding of the atrocities that humans can commit against each other. I believe that we should learn from the past, and by making a connection with the people who were brutalized, we can, in some small way, work toward ensuring that these injustices do not occur in the future.

When entering the Higher Education program a year ago, I never thought that part of my experience would include a trip to Africa; in fact, that idea would have scared me quite a bit. The media inundates us with images of malnourished children with swollen stomachs, diseases such as AIDS running rampant, and the constant extreme violence of tribal conflicts. These issues tear at our heartstrings and cultivate fear. Through working at the National Forum, I am lucky enough to have mentors such as John and Betty who pushed me to move past that fear, to experience new things, and to have confidence in myself. From this trip, I was able to gain a new passion and drive for the educational initiatives that I hope to work on throughout my career.

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