Making the decision that you know is going to change your life should take longer than 30 seconds, but not for me. My decision to go to Ghana, Africa took all of 30 seconds. I have never had an urge to go to Africa, and I am terrified of traveling, but when I heard about the children’s program in Ghana I knew I had to go. I am so glad I did.
An experience like the one I had changes people; it changed me in more ways than I can count. Everyone was very supportive of me going, but also wary. There are so many stereotypes attached to the idea of Africa, and no one sits down to remember that Africa is an entire continent. You cannot generalize about the entire place, nor can I generalize about all of Ghana. I was in the small town of Bawjiase, situated between Kumasi and Kasoa. Bawjiase is home to United Hearts Children Center. United Hearts is partnered with Momma Hope in San Francisco. Every year Momma Hope is responsible for sending dozens of volunteers to Bawjiase to help out the center. My role was to help the children in any way I could. Some of my tasks included: fetching water, helping with the laundry (which you had to wash by hand), and playing with the kids.
The children I met during my stay are exceptional! There were 26 children in all and full of two things, energy and joy. They were always eager to talk to the volunteers, learn from the volunteers and play with the volunteers. In the morning after breakfast my routine was to go up to the center and see the children. At the end of the driveway you could see most of the children outside playing; when they saw you they would run as fast as they could to see which one could get to you first. When they got to you, you have to brace yourself because they would jump on you and hug you. Most of the time they would ask for something they could see on you — if you had a camera, a pair of sunglasses, or your bag. I would usually never trust a nine-year-old with my digital camera, but any of these kids could be trusted to keep any personal belonging very safe.
I went on this trip in hopes of teaching children how to speak English, but in reality, these children taught me more than I think I taught them. These children have so much less than any North American child, basically because children in North America have running water and electricity. But it is other things like money for clothes, a broad-based diet of fruits and vegetables and not just rice and yams. Even though these kids did not have many material possessions, they have a lot of love and a great support system. Momma Hope has made it possible for each child to receive an education from a government-funded school and the possibility of going onto university when they are finished senior high school.
Arriving in Ghana, the culture shock was intense. I went from living my cushy life with running water, heat and electricity to living in a place with minimal electricity and no running water and where people make on average $15 CAD a month. But after only a week in Ghana the way of life becomes normal. You stop noticing the people that stare at you in the street and notice how nice they are because they wish you a good morning and they help you without expecting anything. Coming home was more of an adjustment than going to Ghana, which was shocking to me.
The fashion in Ghana is superb. Men and women dress in such vibrant colours and most outfits are not all about the brand or where you bought it. Things such as who made it become more important. Being a tailor in Bawjiase is a very good business when the Obrunis are in town. Obruni means “white person.” That is what everyone in town yells at you to get your attention, which was also something I had to get used to. When the weeks were over, the organization gives the volunteers the weekends off because they want us to explore the country to see how other people live. I traveled almost every weekend to different places. At Cape Coast, I saw the slave quarters where they kept slaves before they sold them to North and South American slave traders. I also went to Hoheo, a wonderful tourist destination where you can climb a mountain to see one of Ghana’s majestic waterfalls.
The irony of my trip is that I paid close to $6,000 to live in poverty, but the amazing thing is I would pay double that for a chance to go back. The memories I have with the children from the center are priceless. I am hoping that in the future I will be able to go back; my plan is to fundraise enough money to build a playground for the children, and also contribute to building their new school building. A big motivation for going on this trip comes from my mom; she always used to tell me that life is made of the choices you make. My choice to go on this trip was not a hard one, and I am thankful every single day that I made it because without making it I would never stop wondering what it would have been like.
Jade Davidson, 22, is a graduate of UBCO, and is hoping to work as a high school teacher in the future. For now, she is working and saving money for a return trip to Ghana next summer. “I have always loved children and helping people. My mom always told me to help others whenever you can because the inner joy and peace it brings you knowing you helped someone in need is better than any reward. When she passed away when I was 15, I promised myself I was going to help change someone’s life like she helped change mine.”