My biggest takeaway from being in Ghana is learning to relinquish control. Prior to my arrival in Ghana, I had many expectations of how I would help and what the outcome of my help could be. I was so confident that my presence would be what Ghana needed to be a better place. I wouldn’t say that my contribution wasn’t helpful but I will say I realized quickly that the only help that I could offer was the help they were willing to take. I volunteered at a school, and when I first arrived there were so many things I saw that needed fixing. I had ideas, but I didn’t know how to execute, and whenever I tried talking to the teachers they would laugh at me. It was discouraging and I felt defeated. I wanted to help so badly and trigger change. I wanted to change the fact that little kids had to walk around the street with no shoes on, or wear clothes that didn’t properly fit them.
Seeing a classroom that was empty and had no chairs for the smaller children to sit in was disheartening and a shock to me. I’d never seen a school in this condition before. There were no restrooms for the first two to three weeks I was there. The teachers did not appear to be qualified and one of them didn’t even seem to like the children, or the job. Many questions ran through my mind about how it’s possible for people to be subjected to such terrible living conditions. I often felt overwhelmed, and my initial desire to change everything that was wrong with Ghana began to subside, and I felt like there was nothing I could really do to aid the lives of these people. After spending time with some of the volunteers and sharing some of the same sentiments, I came to the conclusion that my volunteer work was enough in and of itself. Being of service to people in need is enough. Seeing the smiles on the children’s face and being able to make an impact, even if only on a small level, is good enough.
Overall, I struggled with my expectations of how I was going to leave an impact. Throughout the trip, there was a reoccurring theme of plans not going as they should, and thus serving as a reinforcement to leave behind your expectations. When it comes to new experiences, I think the best thing is to set an intention and just let everything else flow. I have learned to not be so attached to my expectations and to just allow life to take its course. Not in a way where I’m just aimlessly floating, but rather allowing change in your path that you have not foreseen. I also gained a new perspective because I had never traveled out of the country before. So up until this point the only real experience I had had in life was through my own lens and not through exploring the lenses of others. While in Ghana, I thought constantly about the amount of access I have to anything I want here in the U.S. compared to the people in Ghana.. A new level of appreciation has been cultivated in me – and I’ve gained a new respect for the people who live there.
I discussed noting all the things that were wrong with Ghana, but I found that it was just as important for me to pay attention to the way I perceived the new environment I was in. Instead of treating these people as if they are below me and in need of my help, I think it was necessary to also put just as much energy into learning about and taking in the beauty of the culture. I was so curious and I wanted to learn about everything. I wanted to understand these people on a deeper level other than the fact that they were oppressed and impoverished. I wanted to connect with them and I felt I was able to successfully. I feel this has taught me the importance of connecting with both the people that are closest to me and with the people who aren’t. I have a hunger that I think will never die to understand people no matter where they are from.