Personally, I feel that travel is the ultimate learning experience: not only is it beneficial for a person’s understanding of other cultures, but also for learning about oneself. For me, a three week volunteer trip to a rural fishing village in Ghana would be the most significant trip in my life so far.
One day, I was scrolling through Facebook mindlessly, until a side ad peaked my interest. That’s when I found Global Leadership Adventures. This organization billed themselves as a Peace Corp for teens, and as I browsed their website, I couldn’t believe that this group existed. Global Leadership Adventures seemed to be everywhere, and I was in awe of all of the philanthropic work that they did on a global level. I showed my mother their site, and the possible programs I could go on. There were some closer to home, but of course, I wanted something that was impressive and unique. I read about their teaching programs in Ghana, which seemed to be a good match for me. My mother was a little reticent because she hadn’t heard a lot about Ghana as a country, but she thought that it would be an experience that would impact me for years to come (and it did).
After I applied and got in, each month seemed to go by very quickly. I made sure I was properly prepared for my trip by getting vaccines, applying for my student visa and reading up on Ghanaian customs. By the time I was set to leave I felt ready. (However, on the plane ride over, I made the “astonishing” realization that I was going to Africa, and that there was a possibility that I could get malaria or something worse. Though I experienced a panic attack, I managed to be quiet about it because no one wants to be the whacked out Kristen Wiig on the plane!) After an eight hour flight, arriving in Accra made me feel relieved yet still a little nervous.
After three hours on a bus going through rocky roads and shantytowns, my group and I finally made it to the rural fishing village of Anloga. I remember it being very dark and hearing the ocean from far away, as we arrived at our home base. I was nervous but excited to experience something so new and incomparable to any of my previous travels.
The three weeks that followed were really life-changing for me. Everyday, I woke up and went on a run with a few of my fellow volunteers, through cornfields and the beach as the sun rose up. There would always be a man sitting on the beach, performing his morning prayers, who would give us an encouraging smile as we ran by him. After a quick cold shower in a bathtub, I ate breakfast with the rest of the GLA volunteers consuming fresh papaya, mango, cooked eggs and Milo drink. With a nice wholesome breakfast in our stomachs, we would walk to the Anloga-Avete Basic School and usually start our days with brickmaking.
In order to make good bricks, it requires a strong group effort and cooperation in order to fulfill the daily quotas that we were tasked with reaching. Two people would have to go to a water well, and collect 12 buckets. The rest of the group would have to break a bag of dry cement and mix it around a large pile of sand. Then, we would meticulously mix equal parts sand and water, then shovel and flatten them into rusty, 5 pound molds. We would then lift these heavy objects (usually 2 people per brick mold)onto a safe spot where they could dry in the sun, after they had been released from their molds. The worst part of this was that sometimes, if you didn’t pack the brick tight enough, it would crumble after it was released from its mold, and you would have to scrape it and start again. (By the third week, I was starting to get Michelle Obama arms and I felt like a badass brick mason.)
After two hours of brick making, we would take a quick water break, and then go into our assigned classrooms and teach. I taught 3rd Grade English and Math for one hour, and then taught Kindergarten the same subjects for another hour. My favorite part of the day was when we would go out and bond with our students. We all played tag, soccer and danced. (I danced, but not very well, which was amusing for everybody to see.)
After our time at school, we headed back to home base for lunch, quick showers and afternoon activities. These activities included excursions to the open-air market for food and spices, meetings with local teachers and chiefs, and beach trips for team-building exercises with our group mates. The nights had great meals with locally-bred chicken and freshly caught fish that accompanied scrumptious banku (fermented corn and cassava dough paste), fufu (pounded cassava and plantain) and jollof rice (African jambalaya). The nights included leadership workshops, cultural understanding lessons and local speakers. During the weekends, we were able to actually travel outside of Anloga. We went to places such as the foggy mountain city of Ho, went to the Peace Corp-founded Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary to feed monkeys, and to the Wli Falls – West Africa’s largest waterfall.
There was truly never a dull moment while in Ghana, and I think that is one of the reasons why I hold that trip so near and dear to my heart. It was a time – though brief—that I felt that every moment I was there was completely fulfilling. I wish I could have been there for months. I felt like I could have actually made a thousand more bricks and taught for several more hours. It was this trip, with every happy moment of working hard and bonding with other volunteers and locals, that compelled me to make sure that people know more about Ghana and debunk the unfair myths that hold many people back from embracing Africa. It was because of this trip that I realized I wanted to have a career that was based on development and giving back to communities such as Anloga.