This Final Update from the Ghana group is a series of photos and captions provided by Christina Welsh describing the final month of the program when the group was living and working at the Sankofa Eco-Arts Village outside of Cape Coast.
At Sankofa Eco-Arts Village we participated in multiple workshops to learn about building with mud, which is cost-effective and utilizes local materials. There are different methods for building with mud, here, we are experimenting with the rati
It is almost 7:00pm but the darkness of the sky resembles midnight from where I come from. I am in the front seat of a rickety taxi with my four friends cramped in the back like, as the clichÃ© goes, sardines in a can. We are leaving the center of the city back to our homes, a drive that should have taken half an hour but is protracted to three times its length because of the bad roads.
We wind our way through the dark and crowded 37 trotro station. Brandon leads the way, sidestepping the open sewer and dodging a trotro that has suddenly decided to go into reverse. Neeta stops briefly to buy a roasted plantain (her favorite) from one of the many vendors that crowd the station. Christina ignores a persistent taxi driver who yells "sweet lady, come!" as she passes by.
The Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) is a not-for-profit, independent, non-partisan, research and advocacy organization set up to advance and protect human rights in Ghana. Established in 2008, the mandate of the HRAC is to deal with these issues by providing free legal assistance to needy individuals, communities, vulnerable groups, Most-Risk-Populations and institutions.
During the first four months of BYP, I am volunteering at New Horizon Special School in Osu, Accra, Ghana. New Horizon is one of the few schools in the country for kids with special needs. Mrs. Salome Francois, who is currently the Executive Director, founded the school in 1972. Her daughter, Helen, who is still a student here, was her inspiration in building this facility.
For the past three months, I’ve been working at the Autism Awareness Center in Kokomlemle, Accra, Ghana. Mrs. Serwah Quaynor founded the center in 1998 when she found there were no resources in Ghana for parents with children with autism, like herself. The center serves as a school for children as young as 5 and as old as 19, and also provides training and support to their families.
A typical day at school begins at 9:00 with circle time, when we sing songs to welcome all the students.
When someone tells you to prepare to be unprepared, you don't actually do that...at least I don't. I thought I was equipped to conquer the world. I thought I was over prepared, in fact. And then when I finally got to where I was going, when I met my destination face-to-face, only then did I understand. Before the confrontation, I learned all about culture shock from books and articles and orientation sessions, but I didn’t have a clue of what I was about to go through until it was happening.
How do you follow up on a year like this, make it stay with you, make it truly count? But just as importantly, I'll be finding ways to keep in touch with Ghana. In big ways, like planning a trip back with my family next summer. And small ways, like wearing the Ghanaian dresses that I still have to wash in a bucket and occasionally calling Aunty Sewaa to hear her bellow at me in Twi.
There were stretches of time when teaching and working became mechanical, not joyful; when it was difficult to bike to school or to carry tools into the workshop. That, however, was precisely the greatest challenge - to maintain the same effort regardless of circumstances. When teaching seemed ineffective, I forced myself to plan lessons more thoroughly and teach them with twice the dedication.
Most of the time, I feel that the seven months I have spent in Ghana have greatly lessened the distance between the life that I come from and the lives of people I know here. For example, we do lack many of the conveniences of home but I no longer feel like I am being forced to do without these things – I have entered a way of life that does not include them.
The feeling in my gut as I handed over the insignificant amount of loose change in my pocket or sometimes just walked by on my way home—-or even worse, into the mall--is indescribable. That feeling, I imagine, is a staple in any type of development work: the feeling, the knowledge that you cannot save everyone in such a big universe.
Settling into an incredibly remote and independent community has provided me with time to reflect on all of the challenges I faced in Accra. Life in the city has definitely changed me. I can feel it in the way I view sick or injured people, I can feel it in the way I place value in a life, I can feel it in the way I want to develop my relationships, and I can feel it in the way I want to approach these next four months.
Bridge Year has given us the incredible opportunity to immerse ourselves in a community that is virtually inaccessible for the average foreigner (despite the fact that in many ways it is quite Western). We’re trying, albeit often unsuccessfully, to live like an average Ghanaian. With that said, it’s impossible to integrate. Being so visible has a massive impact on our experience, bringing a unique set of opportunities and challenges.
I can honestly say that I have been placed here for a reason. Although I met a dead end in trying to share my faith by way of speech, in doing so I discovered how to better embody my faith. Being here has been incredibly enriching for my spiritual growth and has given me creative outlets to further interpret and develop my beliefs.
As we stepped off into the dimly lit Ghanaian air strip, blasted by waves of warmth and bombarded by what seemed like hundreds of stares, I knew that the next nine months of my life were going to be full of pain, grief, love, joy, and most importantly of all: tremendous growth. With forty-three days spent in Ghana I remain sure that the program will lead to meaningful personal growth but it is still difficult to define exactly in what way...
A quick glance around the room that Aria, Kathleen, and Jessica are sharing during the final week of BYP Ghana elicits a variety of reactions, ranging from surprise to disbelief to worry: how will all this fit into our suitcases? Though we couldn't imagine this moment on that bustling, hazy night nine months ago when we arrived in Ghana...
Nine months in Ghana with the Bridge Year Program: a time to serve, a time to learn, and a time to grow and change in unexpected ways. The BYP has been all of those things and more, and it will continue to be so for our remaining month here. We have had joyful times with the new friends and family we have made, and we have had fascinating encounters with people, ideas, and culture.
If someone had asked Nick Ricci, Jessica Haley, Aria Miles, Kathleen Ryan, or Cole Freeman those questions before January 11, 2010, all of them would have struggled. After more than 70 days in the village of Oguaa, Sekyere East District, Ashanti Region, Ghana, however, each of these Princeton Tigers could give you vivid, vivacious, and more-than-amusing answers. What's more...
Every weekday morning at 7:00 AM the Bridge Year Ghana group congregates around the breakfast table to nourish ourselves for the full day of learning ahead. We are all teachers at different Junior Secondary Schools (JSS) both in and around the village of Oguaa, and after each ingesting our early bird specials of bread, eggs, and ripened papaya we set off on our walks.
Gone are the dusty days and sweltering nights of Ghana's bustling capital city, Accra, replaced by the inviting air and chilly mornings of a little village in the Ashanti Region called Oguaa. Gone are the petty fights with our younger host siblings and the silliness that always ensues when those little disagreements give way to an impromptu family dance party.
As we, the Princeton Bridge Year group in Ghana, closed out the year 2009, we ended not only a year, but also the first phase of our Ghanaian adventure. On January 6th we moved from living in suburbs of Accra, the capital of Ghana, to Ghana's second largest city, Kumasi, for a week-long orientation period before settling into a village about an hour and a half outside of Kumasi.
"Adwuma, adwuma" is a Twi expression that is literally translated as "work, work." It is commonly used to ask someone who is occupied with work how said task is progressing. For example, I may pass a tailor on the street who is busily sewing a shirt in his shop, at which time it would be appropriate for me to ask, "Adwuma, adwuma?"
Another month has passed, and thirty days and nights have quickly grown to sixty-one. We five Princeton Tigers continue our daily struggle, but the struggle is going well. Even though it came second, October certainly gave September a run for its money in terms of wonders seen, fun had, and lessons learned.
Our Ghanaian adventure began when British Airways flight #0081 from Heathrow International Airport in London touched down in Accra, Ghana at 9:05 PM GMT. The sign at the airport read "Akwaaba," which means "Welcome" in Twi. At every turn in our Ghanaian adventure thus far, we have indeed been welcomed. At first, we - Cole Freeman, Jessica Haley, Aria Miles, Kathleen Ryan and, myself, Nick Ricci - were overwhelmed by the sheer newness of our situation.