They say in life you never know what tomorrow may bring. Never did this saying ring more truth than it has for me this past year. In the middle of July 2011 I spent time with some of the most beautiful, talented, special children I have ever met, and had the best time both teaching and learning about the culture, life, people, and everything else about a country I previously knew absolutely nothing about. 3 weeks later, I left with such a strong connection to this new country. I came back home with such a new perspective on life and great memories. Who knew I’d be given the most amazing opportunity to visit for a 2nd year in a row? This July 2012, not only will I be visiting the same children I worked with last year, but I’ll be leading a group of volunteers to Ghana to run a summer camp. When I left last August, I left feeling like my work with the community there was not complete and that I’d be back to visit.. but had no definite time frame in mind. Now, I am counting down the days until I will be there again.. 6 more weeks!! Every time I think about going back..seeing the same adorable faces, hearing the same laughs, receiving the same awesome hugs, I have the biggest smile on my face. I can’t wait! So, let Ghana adventure #2 begin!
Not only is it a privilege to be able to spend time with locals in a different country, I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to go for a second time in a row! Besides my own, it will be such a positive experience for the kids I worked with; to know there are people in this world who care about you enough to come visit, to know that there are indeed adults who care and love for children, is a lesson that you can only learn from experience. Some of the kids we worked with didn’t have families, and when we told them one day we’d be back to visit in the future they simply didn’t believe us, as they have negative experiences with adults abandoning them in the past. It’s the best feeling knowing I’ll be able to instill at least a tiny sense of hope in some of these children, letting them know that there are indeed people who care a lot about them.
I also can’t wait to see the same children I taught….to see their school, the teachers, and especially how they have grown. As any parent or teacher knows, one of the joys of working with children over time is that you get to see them evolve and change. You get to see how they’ve applied what they’ve learned, what new perspectives they have gained, and how they have blossomed and matured. In Harlem I feel lucky to have worked with some of the same kids for more than 5 years. I have watched them grow in so many ways. Having not seen the kids in Ghana for a year, it will be that much more exciting!
This summer, as most of you know, I was chosen to be Team Leader for the Ghana Summer Camp Program. It feels so surreal to have an opportunity in international leadership. The past 6 months has been a lot of work; marketing, advertising, budgeting, interviewing, etc. I’m a social worker, so this stuff was definitely new to me! Nonetheless, I’ve been enjoying this new role very much. Last summer in my blog, I often reflected on my belief that the best way to live life is to take challenges and to try new things- go that extra mile, and push yourself to explore the world around you. This is definitely going to be a brand new experience, and as much as I am nervous, I am pumped! There are so many components I am looking forward to. The first is being the head leader. Last summer I was lucky enough to work under the guidance of Allison, the director of The Humanity Exchange (http://www.thehumanityexchange.org/) Allison was amazing at helping us with any questions or support we had, but she also balanced this well with an equal amount of independence which she fostered in every one of us volunteers. It is her guidance that made our trip such a positive one, and is truly my inspiration as I move into this new role.
The 2nd, is the opportunity to bring camp into the lives of children in Ghana. Though I’m sure all my camp Eddie I bunkmates would disagree :), camp was something I truly loved (I was the THE most homesick child ever!!). Seven years of summer camp left me with great friendships, and most importantly memories I find myself referring to at least once a week in my life today. Camp allows kids to show a different side of themselves, a side they don’t get many chances to show in school. Camp allows kids a chance to laugh with their friends, explore who they are, to play their favorite sport, to learn, and most importantly, to try new things. Many students in Africa have a strict academic, structured environment throughout the year; they have limited opportunities to be silly and goofy through out their school day. Camp is the place just for that! Last summer, it was the most amazing thing to watch these kids let loose, have fun, laugh and enjoy their time together. Some of the kids who at first thought they’d never get too into our play activities, ended up being some of the most involved! Two of my most favorite memories from the 1 week summer camp we led last summer- One, was when I had the kids self-lead a puppet show with the paper puppets they each made; they had a blast! At first they were pretty shy and weren’t sure what they should have their puppets talk about…but 5 minutes later they were raising their hand so they could have a turn. The second, one which instantly brings a smile to my face, is when I told the kids we were going to NY. On a plane. They looked at me like I had 2 heads. What unfolded was simply amazing; I had them all line up outside their classroom and told them we were going on an airplane. They got SO into it! Even the teachers got in line to come on our “trip”! I laughed so much when I overheard our “captain” turning down one of the “passengers” because he told her that her passport was expired. Ha! Awesome. From there, we spent almost an hour transforming their every day classroom, into a “plane”. We lined up to take our seats, we got our drinks served by the airplane staff…we eve had the “pilot” tell us how high in the sky we were through out the ride! It was the best. Watching the kids find such joy from simple imaginary play made me so happy, and it was in that moment that I felt so honored to bring camp to a local village in Ghana for the first time. Creative play like this is something the students we worked with rarely have the chance to do; as explained to me by teachers whom I worked with in Nkroful, there are very high student expectations at Rock of Ages Academy, and as a result many students take their own learning very seriously. It was a little hard at first for these kids to unravel from their strict school mindset, but once they did, it was the most beautiful thing. I can’t wait for us this summer to bring this to them once more.
This summer, we’ll be working in Nkroful, the same village I worked with last year, but also another village close by. We debated about doing a 2 week camp instead, but then we realized it’s more important we spread the love and give more kids the opportunity of a lifetime! So, we chose to do 1 week-long camps in 2 separate villages. We will be staying at a beautiful beach-front hotel on Axim beach, (http://www.aximbeach.com/) about half an hour away from our work site, where we will leave from and return to each morning and night. We’ll also be going on 2 awesome excursions that I visited last year with my fellow volunteers. Here’s the link to my program, in case any of you still don’t know what to do with your summer and want to join me on this adventure! If you know anyone who may be interested, please spread the word as well.
I’ll continue to write as this journey unravels, but for now, I leave you with this quote:
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” ~Winston Churchill