Concrete thoughts to jungle dreams

When I walk on the hot cement streets in the city, summer heat, I miss the  gorgeous sunsets atop the simple but beautiful orange-brown dirt roads lined with miles of forest and trees of all shades of green.

Whenever I smell food cooking, or something burning, I think of the distinct  smell of Ghanaian food being cooked in burning ovens.  I miss that smell.

Whenever I see kids playing on the street on hot, New York city summer days, it makes me miss the kids in Anwia, Salman and Nkroful who were able to turn anything into a game of endless play, and never complained of being bored or not having anything to do.

Whenever I listen to my Ipod, it brings me right back to a day in Nkroful when my class made their paper bag puppets and happily sang along to Jay-Z and Michael Jackson songs blasting from my Ipod speakers, without a care in the world.

If I hear a baby crying in a stroller or carriage, I think to myself if only they were in a cloth-sling that mothers use in Ghana; they’d be sleeping in no time!

Whenever I hear a drum in the subway, I’m brought right back to the play yard in Anwia where we spent endless afternoons dancing and singing to the beautiful, strong, loud beats of the drums, played with such joy, contagious energy and talent.

The honking of a NYC car, makes me (surprisingly) miss the crazy winding dirt roads of Ghana, with their unforgettable potholes, seemingly reckless but strategic drivers, and long bumpy car rides in our van.

When I said thank you to my bus driver this morning, it made me instantly smile and think of our driver who spent (almost) 24 hours a day with unsure where to go and what to do, but always with a smile on his face.

Whenever I hear African languages on the bus or subway, I’m brought right back to being anywhere in Ghana; it makes me smile big every time.

Whenever I meet a cab driver, friend of a friend or stranger who is from Ghana, I immediately want to know as much as I can about them, and share with them that I was there, and experienced the beauty of their country.

Whenever I see a paper on the ground, I am quick to make use of it or ensure it goes in the recycling bin; I know that a child in Ghana would be so thankful to have even just that one piece of paper, and he/she would  make use of every inch of that paper in a second.

Seeing a child playing with a jump rope, makes me smile as I think of all the kids who were so thankful for all the jump ropes we donated to each of their schools.

Whenever I feel even the slightest bit of stress creeping in, I take a deep breath and think of the amazing Ghanaian mindset of finding a solution to every problem, and thinking positively that there truly is always a way….and suddenly I’m at peace again.

When I wake up some days a little on the sad side, missing Ghana, and the beautiful children I had the honor of working with, I look through my hundreds of pictures and without even realizing it, I’m already smiling.

Whenever I think of anything from my time in Ghana, I smile and say to myself, how thankful I am that I had the experience and how much I can’t wait to go back..and I feel so good knowing I will forever be in the hearts of the children I worked with..and that they too, will forever be in mine.


Farewell Ghana, my dear friend

Written on the plane coming home, 8/7/2012, and recent

I’m on my way home, and wish more than anything else I  could rewind time and land back in Ghana.  I am not ready to go home, and face the craziness of it all. I can’t believe it’s over. I feel like the time flew by so fast. I have such a conflicting mix of bittersweet feelings… both really happy  it happened and went well, and sad that after all that planning it’s all over. (I wonder if it’s similar to what my newly married friends feel after all the planning of a wedding!)

One lost luggage for a week, 4 sick volunteers, 1 lost handbag…but we made it!!  I have to say I had such a great time. This experience only reassured to me that I love what I do, helping people and giving to others; it also showed me how much I enjoy working with communities and working in collaboration with leaders from other countries. Also, it really showed me how much I love to watch other adults share the same joy in the things I do; watching my volunteers work hard, grow and learn about themselves was something I really enjoyed being a part of. I feel SO grateful to have been welcomed so graciously into the lives of those I worked with, for a second year in a row. Words cannot express my gratitude!!

I always liked challenges, and this was perhaps one of the biggest ones I’ve faced in a while. We had some bumps in the road, but in the end, we came to Ghana to give to 3 communities, provide days filled with activity, fun and learning, and that’s exactly what we did. I am so proud of the volunteers for making it happen,  and for doing an amazing job! Happy as well that I was able to ensure the programs at each school ran smoothly. At the end of the day, we didn’t just meet our goal, we excelled it, and I think that’s an achievement for both myself and my team to celebrate. We had never worked with two of the communities before, and as with anything new, there’s always that chance of it not going as planned. Working in a team, also comes with it’s own challenges. You may come across personalities with whom you clash with, or have trouble getting along with. Though there’s always going to be differences, I have to say that I think my team did an excellent job trying their best to work together, and enjoying each other’s company. On this trip, as team leader, I learned not only  about myself, but also, about  teamwork and people in general as well. 

At times I had the volunteers come together to reflect on their experiences, to help them learn about themselves as well. We did one in the beginning, the middle and the end of our program. I think it’s always helpful to stop and think about what you are doing, how it makes you feel, especially for a team of adults working together. The girls did a great job really thinking about the program and how it was affecting their own personal feelings and growth, mostly in positive ways. I loved it most, when volunteers would share new things that they’ve learned about themselves. That’s the only real way to grow.  From my own last year, I know that an experience like this really makes you think, and in a way, forces you to learn more about yourself..what you enjoy working in a team, and what you don’t, how volunteering can impact you differently than it does to others, how it affects your own life back at home, what challenges are the hardest to face, and most of all, how powerful it is to try something new. I think reflecting through out the program was a great opportunity for the volunteers in so many ways;  If nothing else, it helps to remind ourselves what we were in Ghana for, and that we all had one common interest…helping and giving to others, working with kids, and trying something new (for some). I felt so proud hearing what some of the volunteers have shared. (Made me think back to some of my teachers, and thought ‘I bet this is how they feel when some of their students get really into class assignments’!) Overall, it was great. If you know me, you know I’m a thinker, a processor, and am always encouraging others to write, journal, and just take a minute to think about things going on around you, when life moves so fast. I can only hope that the volunteers found it as helpful as I intended it to be for them.

As a team leader, I have learned so much. I’m a planner. I usually have a busy week and know what day I’ll be doing what. That is my sense of calm. This summer, helped me to learn and stretch my boundaries of planning. As my role of team leader, I was constantly emailing, on the phone, coordinating all our services…our drivers, school work, the kid’s meals, our meals, our hotel stay, etc. etc. The list goes on! As many phone calls it took to make things work, things were always changing..and more phone calls had to be made. There were days I thought, ‘Ah hah! I got it nailed, it’s all planned and things will be perfect when we get there!’… and then we’d get to a school and everything was switched around! It felt wierd at first, it was frustrating at times.  There were so many things up in the air and shifting…breakfast and lunch times at the school were sometimes moved last minute, volunteers had to swap scheduled with someone else, dinner plans were delayed, and sometimes messages got mixed up and lost in translation due to  language miscommunications. Those were the best! But, in the end, I embraced this lifestyle, and  I learned from the Ghanaians that even when things aren’t planned, or unorganized, or still always works out. As one of my friends from there always tells me, “There is always a way”. I hope to take some of this Ghanaian mindset with me into the next year, and wonder if I may grow at least a little bit more faith in that things will just work out in the end even amongst chaos. It makes me wonder if our overall definition of “chaos” in America, is just different from those in Ghana as well.

I also learned how to be a successful leader (at least I hope so!).  I can now check off ‘lead a group of adults in a foreign country’ off my bucket list! I know I was always a natural leader in activities when I am with friends, or when I was younger, but I never had an opportunity to be one for adults. Well I did this summer, and am really happy to say, overall it went well. I’ve always been good at being calm when things are stressful for others, so that was one characteristic that played as a strength in my role as leader. We had a few stressful situations; one volunteers luggage was lost for a week! I was on the phone or texting to get updated every hour of the day, and ensured to update her whenever I heard news. I was SO excited for her when we found it, as I can imagine she was as well. I have to say she did an excellent job staying calm and being patient.(You rock girl!) Everyone was so generous in sharing their things with her as well! I also had a few sickies; I hate talking myself up, but one thing I’ve always been is giving to everyone around me. I gave the girls as many of my meds as I could, while trying to leave 1 or more to spare in case I got sick. So glad I ended up buying that cough syrup at the airport last minute! (Hope that cough is gone by now Soph!)  One of the other volunteers had to go to the clinic, but it was also a very smooth process and I made sure to wait with her every step of the way. She got better in no time! (Hope you are feeling better Steph). Another volunteer got sick and had to stay home one day..which killed me. I felt so bad. The show had to go on though, as her group was waiting for her, so I jumped in and worked with her group for the day. (MaryBeth, they didn’t stop asking about you!) I’m glad she stayed home though, the rest was definitely needed and helped her recooperate. There were also moments that the volunteers were frustrated with some of the program logistics, and this was definitely hard on me. But, I wanted to make sure they felt heard and held a group meeting to discuss the difficult topics, with the hopes of alleviating some of their frustration and other feelings. I wish I was able to do more to have made it a better experience for them, in those areas which they may not have been satisfied, but I at least feel happy knowing that most all of the volunteers felt a high level of satisfaction with the actual time they spent with the children in our camps.

This job required multi-tasking on a whole new level! I’ve also always been good at multi-tasking, but I even impressed myself with the amount of daily tasks I had this summer. I actually looked forward to each new task and embraced every new task with excitement. There were so many tasks on my to do list each day, and at first I thought it may be daunting…but in the end, I loved it, and it felt easy. I also learned that I can indeed get over my (silly) fear of talking to locals, being on my own, and that I actually really enjoy it. My trip was that much more special to me because of the fact that I got to work with so many different community members… they were all so interesting and I learned something from each and every one of the people that I had the honor to work with..the chiefs, the principals, amazing Adamus staff, etc. They were all so friendly and conversations were endless when it came to learning more about their own backgrounds and stories. As a team leader, I also learned that I can handle multitasking more than I ever thought was possible! I learned how to be firm with Ghanaians, when you need to be (because otherwise we’d still be sitting at breakfast waiting for our juice and fruit!) 🙂  After having one summer experience in Ghana under my belt, I finally mastered how to understand the local English as well as how to have the locals understand me the first time rather than the 4th or 5th 🙂 I learned how to constantly get used to changes, and work with things not going as planned- and still seeing positive results and learning to trust that everything will be ok. I learned that as a leader you are going to have people not like you, or listen to you, as much as you have said something over and over…and how not to take that stuff personally, because most often than not it’s not about you. I learned that sometimes you can’t please everyone but the best you can do it be yourself and know that you’ve tried your hardest. That perhaps was the hardest for me; I tend to be someone who likes to make people happy but I’ve learned to accept that with a large group of people, it’s just not realistic.  When there were some group frustrations, all I wanted to do was make everyone feel better and alleviate the upset feelings. If you know me well, I hate more than anything in the world, when people are upset and will try to do what I can to make them feel at least a little better. In this type of position, I learned sometimes no matter what you do may not help, and sometimes you have to let things be. Settle with the uncomfortable feeling that I can’t fix it all….it’s really hard for me to do that, even in my professional social work world. However, from this experience, more than ever before I’ve learned that it’s just going to happen that you can’t please everyone, realistically.  And, I’ve learned to settle with that feeling and accept it as it. I’ve also learned what it feels like to have pride in a team of hard working adults. Finally, I have learned what it’s like to feel a sense of pride to watch something you have put so much time and effort into, take off and be successful!

Ghanaians have this beautiful way of handling life that I continue to admire. I know I spoke of it a bit last year in my blog, but it’s just so inspiring to me. Ghanaians make the best out of everything and genuinely are happy and positive people; they deal with problems as they come, and never stress too much about anything. I spent time with so many different Ghanaians..some old, some young, some who spoke Twi, some who spoke Nzema, all from different places, and with different stories. Amongst them all, I noticed an inspiring sense of calmness. There was always a way, things were always worked out, nothing was too big of a problem or too much trouble for anyone. I found all the Ghanaians I worked with, to be so generous and always willing to help. I love that about the Ghanaian culture as a whole.


I love that most places you visit in Ghana, are filled with the friendliness people. They say Ghana has a reputation for being one of the friendliest countries in Africa, and I completely see it. The ones I have come across, are just amazing people with warm hearts and sensitive souls.

After my trip to Ghana last year, I felt a life change. Slowly, I instilled this sense of calm into my life the past year and I noticed it made such a difference in all my interactions with the things and people around me..the way I’ve dealt with my own stress, and that of friends, the way I deal with friends’ drama or with arguments. I found myself at the end of this year, realizing that I have handled things a lot better than before I went to Ghana. I also changed so many of my priorities. Things like Facebook and shopping, lost it’s appeal after returning. Naturally, the new perspective I had when I returned wore down a little bit over time. So many people told me, it won’t last a whole year. My answer is that it lasts as long as you want it to last. Realistically, there are definitely things you just have to adjust to, living in a city as crazy as NY, but I definitely noticed a big change in my life over the past year; I hope to be able to do the same thing, after this trip. I hope to be able to pass this on to some of my friends and family at home as well. It makes me hate coming back to NY where things are moving so fast and everyone is on the go but if  I take the Ghanaian love for life and sense of calmness with me, I know that I will be able to practice that way of thinking no matter where I am.

I know for sure, that this summer with our Summer Camp Team, we made an impact that goes beyond the kids. We affected families, teachers, principals, Adamus workers, and so many kids. We made friends along the way, left some lessons behind, and walked away having learned ourselves. We taught kids things they never knew before, and gave teachers new ideas of alternative ways of learning. We enhanced lives. I’ve mentioned this before, and will again..people wonder what kind of impact you can make with such short time. I myself struggled with that idea this trip because we were only with the villages of Anwia and Nkroful for 3 days each. I went back and forth about whether it would be successful. Though I do think if we stayed longer it would have been even more powerful, I believe strongly that we still left something with those kids that they will hold on to forever.


I loved Ghana after returning last year, and I think this trip only enhanced my attachment to it. The connection I feel is the type you may have with a friend who you don’t see that much, but think of often. Whenever you see them again, it’s like you never left eachother. It’s easy and effortless. There’s a sense of excitement yet also a sense of calmness. That is exactly how I feel. You know you’ll never have to worry about losing touch with that friend, because you know they’ll always be there. If there’s something you may ever need, they are suddenly right there by your side. You know even though you can’t see each other, you are both thinking about each other. Whenever you are with that person, life feels carefree and perfect. Cheesy, yup. But it’s how I feel. Ghana, is that friend to me. I feel so at home there. I’m always so genuinely happy when I am there. It’s comfort, happiness, excitement, and tranquility all at the same time. I honestly feel like some time in my future I would be perfectly happy staying there for a longer period of time. Some of the kids asked me if I’ll ever come back, if I’ll be back next year. I answered by saying I don’t know when, but I know I’ll be back. It’s true; I know it. I love it too much not to. It’s a part of who I am and always will be. Each and every person I had the honor to work with will forever be in my mind, and thoughts. I look forward to sharing all my pictures and stories with friends, because there are so many amazing memories!

Soon, my birthday is on it’s way. “The” birthday. As a single female in NYC, there is so much stress put on that number. Being in Ghana this summer, has helped me feel a lot more at ease, and ready for it to come. As I approach the dreaded 30, I am going to be positive and feel happy for all the amazing opportunities I have been fortunate to have in the 30 years of my life thus far.  I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity 2 years in a row; as with all my memories and experiences, it has made me who I am today and experiences like this continue to make me a better person. As I move on to this new period of my life, I am ready to embrace it and look forward to more exciting opportunities in my future. Before I left, I was really anxious about being 30, but after coming back from Ghana I realize…it’s only a number; kids in Ghana don’t even know their birthday. As I wrote in one blog, priority there is about health and happiness. And that is exactly what I am going to make as mine. Instead of dreading it, I am going to celebrate another amazing year of life, and instead of being bothered by it, will be happy I am healthy and alive. I miss Ghana and am still so sad, but I am ready to embrace the Ghanaian lifestyle as I take on this new chapter in my life, since it is a country that will always be close to my heart. I will continue to blog in the next week or so because I have so much to continue to share with you all! I hope if anything I have inspired some of you to pursue this dream that I have continued to live out for the past 2 summers. I know some people have shared with me that this was their dream too. Always remember, life is what you make of it, and anything is possible 🙂 To all my Ghanaian friends, you are in my thoughts every day, miss you SO much. I leave you with the quote that rings so much truth whenever I think of all the kids and adults I had the honor to work with in Ghana for 2 summers in a’s a quote repeat from last year, but I don’t puts exactly how I feel, into such perfect words..””Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.”


Happy weekend everyone.

The Children Of Anwia, Ghana

The pictures below include children we worked with in camp, children who were too young to attend our camp, or school in general.

Summer Camp Team in Anwia

(I apologize for not having the pictures again, I know it’s so much better with them! Internet isn’t fast enough but soon I will be leaving Axim and then will be able to post pics..stay tuned)

*Written Thurs, Aug 2


Today is one of our days off, and I am just taking the day to reflect, and relax. I’m sitting at one of the gazebos at our hotel, over looking the beach, hearing the sounds of the waves, and thinking how happy I am to be here…and how sad I am that there are only a few days left. Time is moving so fast, as they always say it does when you are busy and enjoying your time. I wish I had more time here, but I am trying to make the most of each day. We’ve been staying at this gorgeous hotel called Axim Beach Resort. The 6 volunteers and I share a villa overlooking the water. There are a total of 6 volunteers, and 3 rooms for them to share. I have my own room, and there is a shared common room. Some of the volunteers have been sharing that they feel it’s a bit conflicting for them to come back here at the end of the day, after being in village all day long. I agree to an extent; it feels a bit lavish staying here when there is just so much poverty around us. Nonetheless, it’s still a pleasure to be able to come back here at the end of a long day, to catch up with ourselves and unwind. Even at times when one wants to be adventurous and try new things, I think some type of familiarity is nice to have, something of comfort, and this hotel has been just that. We supply the volunteers with water every day, and the rooms are cleaned every day/every other day. We do have showers, though whether or not the water is cold daily is questionable :). Like last year, my care for what I look like or how dirty I am, goes out the door the minute I am with the kids. I think all the volunteers feel the same way. If it means no shower, or a cold shower, we’ll take it. It’s all about embracing the experience! At this hotel, we are served breakfast and lunch daily, and have access to internet and laundry, which are both pay per use. The internet is very poor, but it’s better than nothing. Besides dealing with the usual GMT delay (Ghana Maybe Time, refer to last year’s blog!), it’s been great. I have come to realize I am much more used to the slow Ghana pace this time, vs last year; it’s just a part of the culture. At times my New Yorker definitely does break out when we have breakfast being served slow as can be, and we have somewhere to go! Oh, just one more thing that will always make me appreciate Ghana. As long as you have a smile on your face, who cares about time? Ha.

Camp 2: Success!

I can’t believe how quickly time is going by. Not only has our first camp finished, but now, our 2nd one has to. I have really loved the experience of seeing different schools, and their different management/cultures. The 2nd school we worked in, was in a village called Anwia. The school we volunteered in, is the only public school in Anwia. Like Salman, Anwia was affected by Adamus, but in a different way. Adamus currently utilizes some of the farming land in Anwia; as a way to give back, they have supported this school by providing them with new facilities. These include a drinking water pump, 2 large bathroom houses (1 for the older kids, 1 for the younger), and trees on the school grounds. When speaking to the principal during our pre-interview, it sounded like he was very pleased with what Adamus has done for them. This was great to hear. We had made an agreement with all the schools we were to work with, that the maximum children we can work with was to be 120. Because this was a public school however, it was a bit of a challenge settling on the right number. When Rockson and I met with the principal at the school a few weeks ago, he told us that there were about 320 kids between the youngest grades and oldest. One of the hardest parts of this job, is turning away our support to a certain group of kids, but due to both budgeted finances, and the amount of volunteers we have, it’s just not possible for us to work with such a large group. The principal then divided the camp into two groups; 3 of the lower groups, and 3 of the upper. I had known that the volunteers had really wanted to work with the little ones, so I tried my best to see what we could do to work with them, but unfortunately their were 183 of them and that was just too much. After taking some time to think and having a few phone conversations, the final decision I made was to work solely with the 3 upper groups, with a total number of 143. The principal warned me that some of the younger kids may still want to come and be involved, but he told me the local teachers will be there to try to manage them.The volunteers and I were prepared to handle a lot more kids at this school and couldn’t wait to meet them!

Both the schools in Nkroful and Salman were private schools, but this one was public. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to tell a difference, but both myself and the volunteers did notice a few. A lot of the kids at this school knew a lot less English; understanding even simple instructions was hard for them here. I was told this occurs often in public schools where classrooms are overly crowded and students cannot receive the individual attention they need to learn. The principal showed me the lower classes; two small rooms in which 90 kids fit in each day. I couldn’t believe it, and felt really bad. We noticed the kids we worked with struggle much more so than children in the 2 other schools, with spelling words, and matching letters to sounds.

It was that much more rewarding for my volunteers when they were able to make a breakthrough during our time with them. One of my awesome volunteers, Steph, had a class that had no idea where a lot of the continents and countries were. She spent an afternoon reviewing the world map with them and going through the different categories. For the next two days, the kids were able to retell some of the things they learned and even apply them when asked to point them out on a map or answer questions in a game of trivia. That was really cool to see! It’s exciting for me also to see some of the volunteers experience for the first time, what I had the honor of experiencing last year. It also gives you a chance to be creative with your teaching, and finding alternative ways to get through to the kids. I saw another volunteers, Heather, playing a game called 4 corners, which didn’t involve detailed instructions and was easy for the kids to catch on..they loved it! I myself had a really great experience with one of the older groups as well. One of the other volunteers, Sharon,  was having the kids draw using stencils of different animals. I was just walking around looking at their pictures, when I got this sudden idea to have the kids make the sounds of the animals they drew, just to add a fun element to the activity. We thought we’d try it out, so we had each kid stand, say the name of the animal and do the animal sound. Not only did they like it, they got such a kick out of it. As I kept going, I kept thinking of more creative ideas to add to it! I’ve worked with kids before where they make “music” using different sounds…and I was ready to try it with this group. I had each stand in a semi-circle around me. When I would point to them, they were to make their sound. The quicker the activity, the more you can begin to make “music” with the sounds. It turned out so well! At times we had to stop because we were all laughing too much. Such a simple game, with not many words. They totally got it and had a lot of fun with it! Me and the other volunteer couldn’t stop laughing. I couldn’t stop smiling, because it was so great to see the kids enjoy it so much. It went on for a while, our little animal choir. I remember thinking, if we tried doing this with our kids in NY, it would either turn stupid and sexual in some way or another, or they would be too cool for school. Not these kids. They totally rocked at it. They got so good at it, that we invited the principal to come watch. We even performed our little choir in front of the whole camp group at the end of the day. It was such a good time! A great group of kids.

Working at this school, posed one challenge for both myself and some of the volunteers; a challenge I certainly had not prepared for. It was true what the principal said about the local younger children who were not invited to our camp; there were so many of them that came by to watch, and even try to play. Of course they wanted to, who wouldn’t? This group of fun, happy adults came to your school to play..but with other kids and not you. I can imagine the level of curiosity and wonder these kids had watching us, as well as their natural kid-like urge to want to join in and play too! Watching them watch us, and not being able to include them, was one of the hardest parts of this camp. It was really hard for a lot of the volunteers and myself to turn them down or tell them to go away. It was definitely another hard part of my job…especially having to tell the other volunteers not to feed or give arts and crafts supplies to them. If it was up to me and my ‘i want to help the world’ mentality, we’d have helped every child in that school and even that village-but unfortunately, we just were not able to. Because we are funded by Adamus, we only have a certain amount of money budgeted per camp. We also only had 6 volunteers and didn’t have enough to work with more than 6 groups. Also, I ordered and brought with us just the right amount of materials for 3 camps with 120 kids per camp. As much as you want to be able to help everyone, it’s just not possible and one thing I am learning through this experience, is the importance of setting boundaries of some sort with this type of work. Not easy! These cuties would crowd around the doorways watching, and for a lot of us it was heartbreaking. I think one of the challenges of the role of team leader, is trying to balance both sides…the admin side, and the volunteer side. Here I am someone who always, always wants to help others, and I have to tell the volunteers not to help the locals. It makes me come off to the volunteers as someone who is cold and doesn’t care, and that’s far from the truth. That was definitely a struggle for me at this camp, more so than the others because there were just so many. It’s a horrible feeling having to turn down kids when you know they just want to play, and that they have nothing. Alas, I still have to follow the rules, and our program just doesn’t have the supplies, the man power, or the money to provide for these kids. So, I had to tell the volunteers to please not engage with them….Not easy at all!

One particular experience stands out for me, from the rest. It was one of our afternoons with the kids, where we have all ages play together in a whole camp activity. This day we were playing Steal The Bacon. Within just a few minutes of the game beginning, one boy and girl were so excited to run and grab the ball in the center, that they ended up colliding and as a result, the girl was hurt. She got badly cut on her bad that even after a while, the bleeding wasn’t stopping. The poor thing was standing there crying hard, and it was a mess. As all kids do, her classmates were surrounding her to see what was going on. We were able to get them to move and give her privacy. The teacher asked one student to grab a mixture of mud and grass, which is used here to stop the bleeding. When we saw even this remedy was not working, it was time to get her to a clinic. We were able to have our driver bring her to the local clinic, and there was no way I wasn’t going with her. Though she had a (male) teacher there, she still looked really afraid so I hopped in the car and held her hand all the way to the clinic. They took her in to be seen right away. I was surprised, since there were a lot of woman with crying babies all around, but I am glad they noticed the urgency of her injury. I went into the dr.’s room with her, which was a tiny room with a cart full of first aid materials, and a wheelchair that was being used as a patient’s chair. The nurse looked it over and said she would need stitches. I wasn’t able to stay, so I stood outside with Mandy, the other Adamus social responsibility staff member, the student’s teacher and myself. They gave her a shot to numb the area, and then stitches on her chin…while sitting in a chair!! I was amazed. After that I sat with her while we waited to get her medication, and then a shot to prevent infection. All of that was 17 Cedis only, which obviously there was no way I wasn’t paying for. 17 Cedis is only about $8.50 in NY. She recieved a discount because she was a student and did not have a hospital card, but I was so happy to be able to help out and pay for it. When that was completed, we went back in the car, where I held her hand and gave her some cookies. She was SO brave, didn’t cry at the dr’s once! What was most impressive? She came back the next day all ready to go! Children’s resiliency is so admirable. I was so glad to be able to go to the dr. that day, and to help pay for her medical as well. It meant so much to me.

What was also a really cool component to it all, was when we went to bring her home; we sat down with her mother and grandfather to explain what happened. Sure enough when I looked up at her grandfather, I realized I knew him! He was one of the chief’s members and i had met him when I went to the chief’s palace a few weeks back to discuss the camp! He didn’t speak much English, but he didn’t need to; his smile said it all. He thanked me for paying, and gave me a firm handshake. It was in that moment that I got the chills because it wasn’t just that I knew this man… I felt like such a member of this community in that moment. It’s the best feeling. Things keep happening to me that continue to make me see it, feel it ; the more things come up, the more I really truly feel I am a part of this community. That’s what makes this trip so much more unique from last years. People know who I am here. They know I come to help. I am part of the culture here. I am part of their world. Even when we were leaving the clinic, it happened…when we were walking out of the clinic, into the van, I suddenly heard “Madam Alana!!”…it was two of my kids from the school I worked at last year, who saw me down the road and wanted to say hi. It’s such a good feeling 🙂 I love it here and really could see myself spending more than just a few weeks here. I feel so comfortable, and oddly, so at home. I am not ready to leave!

We only had three days with this group, but from what I saw it wasn’t about how much time they had with our volunteers, it was the time spent with them that really mattered to the kids. This goes back to what I have written about in the past, when people ask if they think a few days/weeks can make a difference. I personally think 1 day is definitely not going to, but if you have just a few days to spend with them, you end up giving the kids a gift that they’ll keep in their mind and hearts forever. It doesn’t just end there, it stays in the community… it stays in conversations, it stays in the school culture. For some kids, we are the first people with different races or from different countries, that they have ever met. Our impact is strong and it’s such a great feeling knowing that what we are doing may perhaps make a lifelong difference. As I always say, you can’t change the world but you certainly can change a few people’s individual worlds. And that’s exactly what we are doing.

Ghana Summer Camp: behind the scenes

Camp is going so, so well so far! Today we finished our last day at the first village we worked with. I will blog about it all, but before I do so I thought I’d talk a little about the behind the scenes of it all.

There is so much that has gone into making this camp happen; meetings, phone Skype phone calls, google docs over the winter and spring, and then in person planning meetings and scheduling that goes on, on-site here in Ghana. I have loved every second of it so far. Before I left I thought this part of the experience may feel daunting or intimidating, but in actuality it’s been the most amazing, exciting part of it all. This is a whole new element to the trip that I didn’t have last year and it has made my experience so different in such a positive way.

For the past 7 months, I have worked consistently with a team at The Humanity Exchange, to put together all the componenets of the program. The first 2 steps were to begin thinking of the dates we wanted to run the camp, as well as the villages. The first one was a lot easier than the second. I selected the dates for our summer camps based on when I was available, while also keeping in mind when the school we worked with last year ended. Then exact details of the program aren’t planned until the few months leading up to the program, but there is so much that is done before those months are reached. During this time, I worked on the details of each day of the program, as well as how many days will be best at each camp, the age groups we want to work with, and the total amount of kids I think is best for each camp. The process was worked on up until the first day of the program! Needless to say, it took a lot of time and team work to make it all come together into the final schedule that we have this summer!

Through out the winter, I worked on my very first marketing project. I was responsible for writing up a few things: an ad for the program, the website portion of the program, and a video advertising the program as well. Though this was all very new to me and at times challenging, it was a great process and felt very exciting through out. It got even more exciting when emails began to roll in and the interview process started. I had so much fun getting to know different people’s backgrounds, occupations, and motivation to travel abroad. It was a long process, and though we originally intended to find 10-15 volunteers, we were able to find 6 fabulous volunteers, who straight from the phone call interviews, I knew were perfect matches! With all the advertisements and work we had done thus far, we had to work on the next step; finding the villages that were the best fit for our program.

It all begins with Adamus Mining company. The Humanity Exchange works hand in hand with a mining company here in Ghana called Adamus. This year, because of all the community work I’ve been able to do, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot more about the company, and how they have worked in both positive and negative ways with their communities, as well as their involvement in the selection of the villages THEX works with. There are lots of different opinions about the mining companies in Africa overall and how they affect communities within; I myself have conflicted feelings about it. When I first heard about the mining companies and how they move villages out of where they live in order to mine there, it felt unsettling. I thought only negative thoughts. However, as I began to talk to mineworkers and community members, my opinion has changed a little. The first time I heard it, I thought it sounded so invasive and unfair to the people. I am learning that it sounds a lot worse to a bystander, than it actually is for those who are moved. This is because, as much as there are a lot lost, there are also a lot of benefits in a mining move.

Just last week, I learned all about the process, from the start when a mining company wants to move to a particular place, to the time that the locals have settled in. First the mining company will use different gps tracking systems to find areas that are potential for gold mining. Once found, Adamus will then apply to see if they can get a license for this area. When I was talking about this with an Adamus employee, two thoughts crossed my mind…1-‘do the people have a say at all?’ and 2- this oddly reminds me a lot of the charter school space issue in NY. The similarities actually continue; I was told that Adamus then holds a big hearing. At this hearing, there are Adamus members, important political figures, and the members of the potential village are also invited to listen as well as to speak. The hearing lasts for a while and whoever would like to speak can, similary to other types of hearings. It made me happy to hear that the village members at least get a chance to be heard, but I comtinued to feel concerned about their well being. My next question was, is their opinion really heard? I was told that yes, their opinions were heard and were very much so taken into consideration. Besides acting as a place for voicing opinions, the hearing is also a place where offers are made to the village people and negotiations begin to take place.

I was really interested in hearing more about what it is that gets negotiated. The mining company takes into consideration all that takes place on the land they want to move into. So, for example, they consider whether there was farming and crops growing there. Once all of those details are considered, they will then make offers to the people so that there needs will be met. Offers include money, but also agreements such as the amount of new land given, etc. Adamus will also give each family a newly build brick house with rooms, doors and electricity. These houses are a lot nicer and bigger than the houses that they had before, so they feel this is an advantage. I have heard that some people try and move into the village that will be relocated, so they can also be included in benefitting from a new home. I also heard that some families will have several people stay at their home, so they can get a bigger house; since the number of rooms in the new houses will match the amount in the old houses. The families who are moved are given a lump sum of money, which makes most families very happy. However, there is much controversy about this, and possible plans for change in the future. This is because if some families who were previously making money on crops they sold from thier farm land, and in their new space they do not have this space any longer, in the long run they will be deficient of funds they once had. When speaking with someone from Adamus, I myself felt this was a concern and he told me that Adamus is already trying to update the system. Perhaps in the next few years families will recieve money through out the year, rather than solely in the beginning, in one lump sum.

With this said, Adamus works with The Humanity Exchange, in order to help give back and provide support to these villages which they re-located. There was a lot of discussion around which areas would be best to work with, for our summer camp. The 3 villages that were decided in the end, are called Salman, Nkroful and Anwia. Above is a picture of the houses that were still being worked on last year, in 2011 when I visited. The other is the “after” picture of the village after the houses were completed and the families have been all moved in. It was pretty cool to get to see the work both before and after.

One important step that needs to be taken before proceeding with any of our camps is to consult with the chief of the town. This was definitely one of my favorite parts of my trip thus far! The chief is the promiment decision maker and figure of the village. One becomes chief through passed down generations, so there is no voting involved. The chief has many representatives who work with him and makes decisions with them, as the chief delegates tasks to them. For example, one time we were unable to meet with one of the chiefs, so his members met with us instead. (When I say us, I mean me and Rockson, the social community liason for Adamus Resources). I had the opportunity to meet with the chief of Salman, and Anwia. Both were such different experiences but equally as exciting! Because I arrived in Ghana a few days before the volunteers, I had time to have meetings and do different prep work. It was during this time that I met the chief of Salman. Me and Rockson arrived at his “palace”, which wasn’t much a palace at all, but it is a larger living quarter than most people have. When we got there, there were a few seats lined up in front of the chief, who was sitting down with 2 woman, and 2 men. Rockson began the meeting by explaining what the camp will be like, listing the number of kids, ages, activites, etc. The chief’s assistant than spoke. The interaction between the 2 went back and forth for a little while. Every now and then, Rockson would translate to me what was being discussed; he said that overall, the chief was very pleased with this idea and was very grateful for my help. Then, Rockson presented my gift for me. Allison, the program director, had suggested perhaps I get alcohol at the duty free shops in Morocco, to give to the chiefs, so Rockson handed over a bottle of rum to the chief and his members. Once they took a look at the bottle, huge grins appeared across all of their faces, and everyone was laughing and saying things I couldn’t understand. I took this as a sign that they were happy, and smiled along with them 🙂

Meeting with the chief of Salman was similar, but more intense. It was such a surreal experience! When Rockson and I went to visit this chief, there were 10 people who were there to represent the chief. Though he was not there, his representatives were equally as important and involved. The process was similar with Rockson explaining, me talking, him translating. This crowd had a lot of questions for us, such as what will happen with the local staff. We ensured them that they can be a part of the program, and that it would in fact help to have them around to help when there are language barriers and to control behaviors. Similar to the last meeting, everyone was very pleased and thankful with the camp idea. I was able to shake each representatives hands, and provide a minute of entertainment to them all by repeating a few phrases, to express my thanks and happiness. It felt so empowering to be working on making this camp happen first hand, and watching it all unfold made me feel so proud to be able to help these communities. It made me feel like I was suddenly initiated into their communities. Both visits were really unique and special opportunities; I don’t think I’ll experience anything like that again.

Another important task upon arrival, was to meet with each of the principals, in order to review the camp details. This was another favorite part of my experience so far. I was able to meet with the principal of Nkroful on my own and met with the principal of Anwia with Rockson. The schools are all a bit different in number, so we had to work out how many children we were able to have, based on an approximate 1:25 ratio for each of our 6 counselors. It took several meetings to make sure that we can work out an appropriate number, but we were finally able to come up with final numbers for each camp. We would be working with 130 kids in 2 of the camps, and around 145 kids for the third. One major factor that also played a role, was looking at how much program money we had in order to pay for lunch for each student. I think one of the hardest parts of this has been turning down groups of kids that we just don’t have the man power or finances to work with. However, as I’ve been teaching the volunteers, there comes a time you do have to set boundaries of some sort, because it’s natural here to feel like you want to keep helping people more and more as much as you can.

Adamus has taken an interest in learning more about how our summer camps are affecting their communities. Because of this, I’ve created a pre and post interview, which includes questions about the locals views on Adamus, and how they feel the camp has affected their school. Hopefully it will help us get further insight, and we may even be able to see if their opinions have changed or stay the same over time. I was really excited at the thought of delving deeper into the local communities, and was really looking forward to this step. I had the chance to do a final interview with the principals at Salman today, and it was an amazing experience. I’ll talk all about it in my next blog coming soon.

I am enjoying the role of Team Leader so much, and it’s the community work that I am doing this year that is making this experience unique and very different from last year. I love it! Who would have known a year ago when I came to Ghana for my first time, that was just the start of a whole new experience and chapter in my life? I never thought I’d be running a volunteer program and creating a summer camp program in Africa. I feel so lucky to have such an experience and can’t wait to see how this shapes me moving forward in my career and life experiences. The first week of camp is over and I can’t believe always, time is flying by. Soon I’ll be posting all about Camp A, Salman. There are so many amazing pictures, but with the slow internet connection we have here, I am unsure if I’ll be able to post them. I will definitely try 🙂 I look forward to sharing more with you about my experience running my first Ghanian camp in the town of Salman in my next blog!