Open Mind Open Heart

Sunrise over the city

Sunrise over the city

I will try to put into words how I felt when I woke up to my final, beautiful Ghanaian sunrise from my friend Erica’s apartment in Accra. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude. I was thankful for everyone who believed in me to head out and start this epic journey. I was grateful to everyone who wrote to me, sent me notes of encouragement and to Erica for giving me a room in her home, an introduction to the life of an ex-pat, and my first hot shower in 9 weeks.

Machete in hand...

Machete in hand...

For my last Sunday in Ho, I decided it was time to get out of town and go for a hike to the top of the one mountain in the entire Ho area. I asked the French solar energy volunteer Julian, if he would go with me, since I knew he had hiked it before. He agreed, and picked me up on his motorbike (I can barely ride a regular bike, let alone a motorbike). I am not religious at all, but I think I started to pray at the moment I got on the bike until the moment I got off. This was not a Camel’s Hump hike like I was expecting (the main big mountain in Vermont). This was legitimately “let’s just machete our way through this lush jungle (no maintained trails here) until we reach a solid rock face cliff.  Then let’s climb that without any ropes until we get to the top”. We did eventually, only to get caught in one of the largest thunderstorms that I’ve seen this entire trip. At one point, we stopped at a spot where it seemed other people had been before, and someone had carved “Natalie” into the stone.  This was very odd because no one is named Natalie here, so I decided it was some sort of good omen that I would make it back to VEG alive, which I gratefully did. I felt like someone was looking over me during that experience.

My VEG home for last 9 weeks

My VEG home for last 9 weeks

Can't forget a smiling face like that :) 

Can't forget a smiling face like that :) 

Now, here we are at the end of this trip. I cannot thank Julie Spaniel enough for coming to visit me (and revive my spirit with protein bars :) ). We are going to start a new health project out of our time together. She showed me the power of how simply brushing a child’s teeth and giving them a toothbrush and toothpaste can be a seriously appreciated highlight in someone’s life. I am grateful for both of my parents who allowed me to complete the trip even when there was a point where it would have been reasonable and appropriate to have come home. I am thankful for Village Exchange Ghana for allowing me the opportunity to meet a community of beautiful women and children who now have a second chance at life by creating jewelry, batiks, and learning to sew. Finally my greatest appreciation goes out to Kofi who acted as my mentor, my brother, and my friend. Without Kofi none of these programs could have ever gone into effect and I will be forever grateful for the time he spent watching out for me this entire trip.

Little things in life

Little things in life

I am returning home with a new perspective on my life. I have a new appreciation for things I didn’t even realize needed to be appreciated. I have seen a part of the world that many Westerners do not choose to explore.  This is a world filled with unbelievable hardships and sacrifices that are difficult to write about, let alone witness or live. Yet, at the end of the day we are all more alike than different. No matter what the circumstance, we are all human.  Who is to say that a 17-year-old girl from a rural junior or senior high school in Ghana should not have the same access to education, healthcare, and a future like I have? We all have a right to these things and I will do everything in my power to make this happen starting in Vermont and in Ghana.

This trip was a bit of a “soul-searching trip” to help revamp my personal goals for R.O.C. Inc. and rest assured this trip accomplished that mission. I have a defined new goal for the organization as a whole and am beyond thrilled to come home start the footwork needed to make these new goals happen. We live in a globally connected world, so let’s start connecting.

Do not get me wrong.  This trip also had its share of difficulties that I did not always mention in this blog, but I can say that I made it a full 63 days in Ghana on my own, living in conditions most people could not actually imagine (I wasn’t quite expecting some of it either…), but nevertheless, I did it. I set out to Ghana with an open mind and open heart not knowing what to expect.  My only goals were to set up high schools in Vermont with Skype calls to students in Ghana, and to make bracelets for each other. That was really it. 

I want to end with a quote from a poster I saw hanging in the room of the Headmaster at the Anloga Hafikor Basic School: Eulogy to I Can't

 

“Friends, we are gathered here this morning, to bury the memory of I Can’t.

I Can’t was with us for a long time and he was especially present when things were difficult.

He affected the way we do things, the way we lived, and the way we worked.

It is not easy to let I Can’t go, but it is time for us to move on.

He is survived by his brothers I Can and I Will and his sister I’m Doing it Right Now.

Although his siblings are not well known, we hope that they will become more important as time goes on.

Today we lay him to rest.

Let us all try to get on with our lives without him, Amen”

 

I will continue to live my life by following my dreams and passions and believing that I Can do it and I Will do it.

I am home, safe, healthy, and happy. Thank you for following this this blog. It has been my pleasure to share a glimpse of this life with you.

Love always,

Natalie

Courage in Action

On my way into Accra, a slogan under a billboard caught my eye: “Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do”. This trip started as a dream that would require me to “do” something. On my final and 63rd day in Ghana, I sat and reflected that the work we did here was above and beyond all of my original dreams and goals. In 63 days Kofi and I established 5 concrete programs at two junior high schools, one senior high school, one vocational school, and one children’s shelter; we finished a 9-week curriculum on reproductive and sexual health; we connected each of these 5 schools with a high school Vermont R.O.C. chapter; with Dr. Julie Spaniel’s help we provided dental care to over 800 men, women, and children; we interviewed 10 children who were rescued child slaves; and we developed partnerships with local NGO’s, and companies. I am humbled. And, I am in complete awe of all the incredible people I have met along this journey.

Last day at Madamfo Ghana :( 

Last day at Madamfo Ghana :( 

Courage in Action

Courage in Action

As our programs came to a close, I noticed the biggest change I had seen the entire trip, the students had become bolder and more inquisitive. No longer were they shy and holding back the answers to the questions that they knew were correct. They were standing up and speaking out about things that they had noticed or wanted to learn more about. On our final day at Have Junior High School we had our last Skype call with CVU R.O.C.  A group of girls came up to my computer and said they had some questions for the Vermonters. The first question they asked was, “Abortion is illegal in Ghana, but do you think abortion is bad? Is it bad in the U.S.?” We had just finished one of our units on culture. I was so proud of this girl for asking this question, however awkward it may have been for the CVU R.O.C. student who answered it. The point was that a 15-year-old girl in Ghana (where she knows abortion is illegal) was able to stand up in front of her class (including her headmaster, Kofi, and I) and ask a question like that to a group of American teens. She was confident enough and curious enough to do this. This was our goal in action. We wanted to empower students to stand up and ask questions and facilitate discussions around sometimes uncomfortable topics and listen, with an open mind, to other opinions. This is the cultural exchange of knowledge we wanted to see happen, and it did, right there in a rural junior high school in Have, Ghana, and Hinesburg, Vermont.

The original crew (minus a few)

The original crew (minus a few)

Faith (on the left) and Abigail (on the right)

Faith (on the left) and Abigail (on the right)

Deep in discussion with the kids

Deep in discussion with the kids

I spent one of my last days visiting a school in Anloga where I had worked before through GLA three summers ago. I had stayed in touch with some of the students and they knew I was coming. Last time I was there, I taught English in a classroom for 3 weeks. When I arrived they were writing mock exams to graduate from Junior High School and I learned they would all be attending Senior High School next year. I sat down with them and we talked about what had been going on the last few years.  We all seemed to have grown up so much! It was cool to see how the school I made bricks for has grown and flourished. The kids shared with me their plans for after graduation and their new future aspirations. Joseph, who was the main person I stayed in contact with over the years, plans to study politics and development and he wants to be President of Ghana one day. Kini became a well-known local artist and plans to go into graphic design. Abigail wants to be a doctor, and Faith wants to be a soldier. I remember a boy that was mentally challenged, but always tried his hardest and engaged in all of our activities. I still remember how we had asked students to write about world peace and the boy drew a heart on his paper. I remember almost crying with my teaching partner, Tres, as we picked up the papers and saw his. Well, I was able to see him again and watched how the other boys helped him and look out for him.  Again, this filled me with happiness and he, too, will graduate from school this year.  

The week before, Kofi and I had gone to Accra to the American Embassy to meet with the Mission Director of USAID.  We did not expect to meet the entire development team as well as a representative from the US Embassy/State Department, but we did. Turns out the connection between Vermont and Ghana had already been well established, as the Mission Director of USAID is a Middlebury alumnus.  He recommended that I try to meet Jon Isham, the Middlebury Professor who is living in Ghana on sabbatical with his family (whom I had already been in contact with).

Dr. Richard Selmorey and Kofi

Dr. Richard Selmorey and Kofi

The folks at the USAID meeting shared with us the names of other organizations doing similar work and how we ought to connect. One such organization is Oral Health Express, run by Dr. Richard Selormey, a dental surgeon in Kumasi and also a YALI fellow. I reached out to Richard right away asking to see if he would be available to meet in Accra on my last day in the country, and he said “Yes!”  We met and talked about his successful dental program in rural communities in Ghana.  It was an inspiring meeting. It reminded me of why we do this type of work. It is very satisfying to watch the positive impact on the communities we serve. As we move forward with planning future health programs I know that we have a team in Ghana ready to work with us to bring health care to everyone while we help educate and empower the students of Ghana.

Happy and confident Have girls

Happy and confident Have girls

If that wasn’t enough inspiration, we also arranged for a meeting with an investment manager who lived near the town of Have, one of the schools we worked at. Kofi and I wanted to meet with him to discuss any ideas he had for how to raise private funding for our cultural exchange program. He was enthusiastic about the idea and promised to provide financial support, personally, and to connect us with a network of other private individuals as well as companies who would be interested in funding the programs. While he has traveled the world, for some reason he had never come to America. In Ghana there is a saying that “the elder has to try something first before someone younger tries, to make sure it is okay”. I told our new partner that he had a complete and open invitation to come to Vermont to visit with us and meet everyone so he could see for himself where the students would be coming on the exchange program :) 

Refugee Outreach Club Inc. has officially launched R.O.C. Inc. Ghana.

Natalie

Humble and Kind

Students at Have listening to Kofi give a presentation on Relationships

Students at Have listening to Kofi give a presentation on Relationships

The last day at Sokode Senior High School

The last day at Sokode Senior High School

The past two weeks I have been incredibly busy as Kofi and I have been travelling all over Ho to start wrapping up our programs. We have engaged in thoughtful conversations with the leaders of each of our schools and started a discussion to continue our programs after I leave. By the end of this week all the schools will have finished the Reproductive Health Program we designed and Kofi will continue going to our partner schools for weekly video calls with Vermont R.O.C. chapters. Three out of the five schools have all made bracelets for the R.O.C. students back in Vermont as our physical symbol to remember the connections we have begun to develop here.

Children on the Volta Lake

Children on the Volta Lake

This weekend I had the opportunity to interview 10 children that are living at MadamFo Ghana Children’s Shelter. These are children that were rescued from dangerous slave operations in the Volta Region. In the Volta Region there is the Volta Lake, one of (if not the) the largest man-made lakes in Africa. The fishing communities depend on children to manage their fishing operations on the lake. Children as young as 4 years old are sold by their parents (or relatives) to go live with a master. These masters force the children to paddle canoes and fish all day long working from early in the morning to late in the night. The lake is filled with all kinds of different dangers from parasites to snakes. The boys are sometimes made to dive into the water to detangle the nets as they get tangled on the underwater brush, and a lot of children drown. The girls are house maids, forced to help cook, clean, and sell the fish on the roadside for little money. The children are lucky to get two meals a day, but mostly get one, and are not able to attend school. Lucky to have been able to have the opportunity to hear (and eventually share) the stories of these incredible children

The apocalyptic landscape of the Volta Lake

The apocalyptic landscape of the Volta Lake

Children working on Lake Volta

Children working on Lake Volta

Lucky to have been able to have the opportunity to hear (and eventually share) the stories of these incredible children

Lucky to have been able to have the opportunity to hear (and eventually share) the stories of these incredible children

At MadamFo Ghana these kids have been given a second chance at life and I can assure you they are making the most of it. During my interviews I asked them to pick a word from a big picture of different words and to then share a story about it. The past two days I heard stories about bravery, courage, boldness, and being powerful. These kids now have hopes and aspirations to become teachers, doctors, journalists, and investigators. These same kids had been forced to live a life none of us could possibly imagine. I am humbled and reminded yet again how lucky we are back home, and how important it is that we not take our advantages for granted.  If these kids can defy the odds, then we all sure can, too.

My time here in Ghana is very close to being over. Although I am excited to return back home I am going to miss everything about being with the students everyday-our mutual learning and discussions of issues that matter to all of us. I know that I will be back (hopefully again before the end of the year), but it is always hard when things are slowly starting to wrap up.

Students at Dogame school after Skyping Stowe R.O.C. for the first time

Students at Dogame school after Skyping Stowe R.O.C. for the first time

Hard at work making bracelets at VEG

Hard at work making bracelets at VEG

Tomorrow is Independence Day in Ghana. Kofi and I will be going to the town early in the morning to set up to watch all of the different marches and festivities.  All the of the schools organize a different march and march all the way through town with a banner out front, it is an event that the kids practice for all year. It is definitely a little different than our Independence Day celebrations in Vermont where we have candy thrown from floats and watch fireworks going off. I asked about fireworks in the beginning of my time here and everyone looked at me like I was crazy. So I will not be expecting that tomorrow! With Independence Day the schools are closed on Monday and Tuesday so we will not be able to have our programs until Wednesday. We will have our final Skype call between South Burlington R.O.C. with our school at VEG. On Thursday Kofi and I will be traveling to Accra to meet with the Mission Director of USAID to talk about our program (small world-he went to Middlebury College and knows Vermont!). Friday Kofi and I will be having our final meeting with Have school and our final Skype call with CVU R.O.C.  On Saturday and Sunday we will be at MadamFo Ghana saying our goodbyes and Skyping for a last time with MMU R.O.C. Finally on Monday, we will have our final program at Dogame where we will have a final Skype with Stowe R.O.C.

Something must have been very funny :)

Something must have been very funny :)

I am feeling blessed to have had the chance to meet and connect with all of these people and I am looking forward to seeing what will happen next.

Stay tuned for my final blog! :)

Natalie

Impossible? Never.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”-Anais Nin

Can you tell we were both very excited that Julie finally made it to Accra?!

Can you tell we were both very excited that Julie finally made it to Accra?!

Wow. Last week was probably the most exciting week of my life. Julie Spaniel, DDS landed on Saturday night and right away VEG was bursting with energy. I haven’t laughed more in 7 days than I did last week. On the first night Julie showed me the movie collection she brought, and one was Kung Fu Panda…Uh oh, I thought, that is for little children. Julie assured me I was mistaken.  Sure enough she was right. The movie was filled with phenomenal and inspirational quotes. Our favorite, which we lived by for the entire week was: “If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be better than who you are.” This is similar to my long-standing perception of myself (accurate or not) that I am an “impossibilist.” For me, this means that I strive to do the impossible (even when others tell me “no” or that it can’t be done) and I push myself to the best of my abilities and actively enlist others to help me, as well. It turns out Julie shares a similar outlook. After our first night watching Kung Fu Panda, laughing and eating beef jerky and protein bars we hit the ground running and did the things that we had previously thought impossible.

Big smiles all day long

Big smiles all day long

Some of the kids at Sunday School before we got started

Some of the kids at Sunday School before we got started

Sunday morning, we got up early to start our day. We organized two of the five huge bags of supplies Julie had brought over, filled to the brim with tooth brushes, fluoride varnish, toothpastes, floss, toys, and surgical equipment. Kofi got to the compound early and we set off to our first location of the week. A local church. It was Sunday morning and a church in Africa… The music was loud and people were dancing, dressed up in beautiful dresses and the men in colorful button downs and suits. The children were all in a building in the middle of their Sunday school classes. Julie and I set up shop outside the Sunday school building, organized our tables with all the supplies we would need and set up all the chairs for the patients. Then we started. Our original plan was to see no more than 40 people a day.  Quickly that idea vanished. Over 200 children came that first day. Julie showed me the proper way to brush, floss, and fluoride the patients and she sent me off to work while she got started on some of the more technical issues (like extracting teeth). I learned how to treat gum infection and the difference between plaque and tartar. I had thought that teeth would gross me out and I would not really be into this, but I was hooked. By the end of the day Julie and I had successfully treated every single child (and some community members) that were in line for our services.

I walked away from that first day with a new sense of purpose. This was the first time on this trip where I was able to see a physical acknowledgement of the work I was doing. Every child walked away with a better sense of oral health, smiling with gleaming teeth and completely pain free. It was the same feeling I had last time I was in Ghana as I shoveled cement to make bricks for our library. It is nice to see the product of your labor. That night as we were going to sleep, I listened as she told me stories about her experiences and how she found this work so rewarding. Inspired by her story, I’m seriously contemplating becoming a dentist.

Who has the biggest smile out of us four?

Who has the biggest smile out of us four?

Our set up under the trees

Our set up under the trees

Monday and Tuesday we spent at one of the schools in a rural community called Gbogame. Kofi and I start our program here this week. Julie, Kofi, and I set up in the shade underneath some trees in the back of the property. This is exactly what I picture as a “rural dental clinic”. The school is a junior high school and has about 170 students, but the entire community had also heard that a dentist was coming to town. The first day Julie and I had got through most of the adults in the community and about half the school. The adults kept on coming. We had to ask people to please come back the next day because we needed to focus on the children in the school. It was interesting because these children had different problems then the children back at the church in Ho. Back in Ho there were a lot of cavities and decay, while in Gbogame there was more gum infection and tartar. In Ho the children have more access to sweets (toffee is what it is called here) while the children out in the rural communities don’t, but they aren’t brushing either. By the end of the second day we had treated the entire school and almost all of the community members that came to the clinic (the remaining adults came to our clinic at VEG Friday).  It was a very long two days. Julie and I both fell asleep as soon we lay down.

Wednesday and Thursday we spent in Have. Have is one my favorite places, primarily because the Headmaster Felix, is so sweet. We were able to meet and treat every student in two days without having to rush.  Only a few community members came with extreme tooth pain and Julie helped them out, of course. I will be working with Have for the next few weeks with Kofi and our programs. Felix already considers us all family.

Form 3 at Have

Form 3 at Have

Felix, Julie and I (plus Champ)

Felix, Julie and I (plus Champ)

Friends around the world

Friends around the world

During our long car rides to the different villages Julie and I had the opportunity to talk more about being a professional service provider to underdeveloped areas. Last summer at a horse show (her daughter and I rode together) we started talking about her desire to come to Ghana with me as I was already planning my trip. When I arrived, she texted me and asked if she could come do a free clinic.  I checked with my VEG partners, and within a day she was booked and ready to come over (with extra food supplies for me).  It turns out we had been working on parallel projects back in Vermont. She had been working on organizing a health program for refugees in Vermont, specifically regarding dental care, while I had been starting R.O.C. Inc. It makes total sense to join forces! She had extensive experience working on international service trips where she would bring dental clinics to the developing world, including a prior trip to Ghana and she wanted to come back too. Our new goal is to work together back in the U.S. on providing dental and health care to refugees in our own community, as well as helping start this dental program here in Ghana. The idea we are working on is to create a dental clinic for each place we have established a cultural exchange R.O.C. school. Julie is a woman who gets things done! I was so glad she was here.

My favorite sisters (and patients)

My favorite sisters (and patients)

Friday was our final day of clinics. We set up shop at Village Exchange, in the shade in the batik making area and got started early in the morning. By noon we had finished all the women who worked there along with their children. Julie had done all the difficult extractions of the community members who had come from Dogame (they were the last few that hadn’t been worked on before) and others from around Ho.

Learning from the master

Learning from the master

After we had cleaned up Julie, Kofi, and I went out into town exploring the art galleries and walked around taking pictures. It was the first day we finished early and we were able to go exploring. That night as our final night Julie and I stayed up late munching on snacks and talking about our dreams and goals for future projects. Julie was my live-in mother for the week, and happens to actually be quite similar to my own mother. We got along like we had known each other for years. On Saturday we went to the market in the morning to take some pictures and explore a little bit more before the long drive back to the Accra airport. I know that it won’t be the last time we are here together.  We are already planning our next trip back later in the year.

Energized and ready to take on the next 3.5 weeks :)

Energized and ready to take on the next 3.5 weeks :)

This was a week filled with learning about an entirely new area of how important dental clinics are, and I was able to do things I had never done before.  I have gained many new insights into my passions and goals for the future. I saw first-hand how rewarding it is to be in a profession to provide high quality health care and experience the positive outcomes and happy clients. This week was a great interlude between the work I had been doing (laying foundations for building relationships over time) and has reenergized me to keep going for the next few weeks. My time here is more than half way done and we still have a lot to do, but I know that nothing is impossible and it is all worth it.

Natalie

Other Points of View

R.O.C. Nation here at Have

R.O.C. Nation here at Have

The past week in Ghana has been been a whirlwind of activity. A month in an another country has shifted my view on myself, my peers, and my surroundings. One of my mentors told me last time I was here that “Poverty is a complex puzzle, do not let anyone tell you otherwise”. The poverty that I see back home is different than the poverty that I see here. People here are content with their lives although there is sometimes little money for things like food, housing, clean water, and medicine.  But they deeply value some of the freedoms we still have at home, or continue to fight for such as public education, access to health care, civil rights, and equal pay. As I delve into the discussion of cultural differences between the youth in U.S. and in Ghana, I am developing a new appreciation not just for material things I have in the U.S., but also the openness that allows for differences within our community.

Kofi and I have been focused on facilitating conversations around cultural differences. One of the major themes has been about equality, specifically sexual orientation equality, and relationships.  I learned that homosexuality is illegal in Ghana. I explained to the students that although it was also once illegal in the U.S., it is now legal through the civil rights efforts of protesters and law suits. This shocked everyone! There is only one known civil rights lawyer in Ghana.

Getting ready to Skype with SB R.O.C.

Getting ready to Skype with SB R.O.C.

Students deep in discussion with SB R.O.C. regarding sexuality

Students deep in discussion with SB R.O.C. regarding sexuality

On Wednesday, prior to our Skype with South Burlington R.O.C., we asked students some questions before we got online so we could start the discussion without delay. Right away someone asked about what it was like in the U.S. if people could be out in the open about their sexuality. We introduced the term “LGBTQ” and explained what the different letters meant. The students had only ever heard of Lesbians and Gays; the other terms were completely foreign to them. When we got online (I warned SB R.O.C. first) they started hammering away at answering their questions. The SB R.O.C. students were awesome at explaining in words everyone understood. The SB students explained what it was like to “be out of the closet,” and then they asked the Ghanaian students what it was like in Ghana. Their answers startled me a bit. They said they had never seen a homosexual ever in their lives and they had never heard of anyone either. Sexuality is very private regardless of the type of relationship, and no one speaks about it unless someone becomes pregnant or gets married. And if someone found out about a homosexual relationship they said they would be banished from society. This caught me off guard I know that the LGBTQ community has struggled with hate crimes and being accepted in their own families and communities, but growing up in Vermont I was always taught to accept everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, and I knew it was the law. After the VEG students heard from the SB students about how important it is to keep an open mind, I think the Ghanaian students started to realize that in other places, it doesn’t matter who a person loves.

This was one of the first serious discussions about cultural differences and we ended the conversation with a broader understanding of our differences. This is one of the goals of this project, besides making friends and connections around the world. We want students to come together to discuss issues that affect us.

Talking to Rice R.O.C. students about Spirit Day

Talking to Rice R.O.C. students about Spirit Day

At Sokode Senior High School we Skyped with some Rice R.O.C. students where the students focused on the educational structure of their school. Both groups (in the U.S. and Ghana) were small that day so it allowed for everyone to really engage in conversation. It was spirit week at Rice, so the students were all dressed up for 80s day. Everyone was laughing at their crazy hair and outfits. It was a little bit confusing to explain how one week during the school year students get to let loose and wear silly outfits for “school spirit.” Maybe the Sokode students are thinking about starting a new trend?

Students at MadamFo Ghana eagerly answering questions about culture

Students at MadamFo Ghana eagerly answering questions about culture

At MadamFo Ghana, the kids are becoming comfortable with us and are talking even more! Kofi and I try to get there three days a week, which allows us to make a lot of progress in both the Reproductive Health and Leadership Program, as well as the R.O.C. cultural exchange program. Last night Kofi was giving a presentation while I was trying to figure who we were going to Skype with. We had planned to Skype with a group of freshman from Champlain Valley Union R.O.C., but there was a small miscommunication. Thankfully my NEXUS teachers at CVU were able to pull together a group of kids in the library.

Charlie and the boys back at CVU Skyping with the students at MadamFo Ghana

Charlie and the boys back at CVU Skyping with the students at MadamFo Ghana

When Kofi finished the presentation I got online and Troy (one of the NEXUS teachers) had just texted me saying that Charlie Bernicke (who, along with Cole had created the video on this website) and a group of CVU R.O.C. boys were there and available to talk. The kids at MadamFo were so excited. When we picked up everyone was talking and asking questions. When we finally got everyone to settle down Charlie introduced the boys and started talking about sports. One of the kids is a big soccer player and all the MadamFo kids went crazy!! One student came up and asked them what kind of music they like. Charlie told them he likes Folk Music, specifically, The Lumineers, and one of the other kids said Rap music. The Vermonters started to play the music- I don’t think the Ghanaian students had ever heard Folk music... They were laughing so hard, but they seemed to love the rap!

Asking about favorite types of music... (Background noise consists of hysterical laugher and The Lumineers)

Asking about favorite types of music... (Background noise consists of hysterical laugher and The Lumineers)

After listening to some music Charlie took us on a tour of CVU and showed the kids the Cafeteria and all the hallways.  The students were blown away. I always forget that CVU is one of the nicest schools. Then they went to the gym… that shot elicited many gasps as the students could see the shiny floors and all the different basketball hoops. The Vermonters started playing basketball for us. Not bound for the NBA, they kept on missing which set the MadamFo crowd back into hysterical laughter. Then the tour went outside during the big snow storm, and Charlie picked up some snow. No one had seen anyone touch snow before (or go outside in it for that matter!) The call ended and the kids in Ghana were smiling from ear to ear. It was the happiest I have ever seen them and it was a great way to end to the night.

Today Kofi and I head to Have to Skype with the entire CVU R.O.C.! Unfortunately, due to the snow storm back home Dr. Julie Spaniel’s flight was delayed so she will be arriving tomorrow evening when we will start the dental clinic first thing Sunday morning.

The entire school in one classroom, Skyping CVU R.O.C. for the first time at Have Junior High School!!

The entire school in one classroom, Skyping CVU R.O.C. for the first time at Have Junior High School!!

Felix (the headmaster) and I at Have Junior High School

Felix (the headmaster) and I at Have Junior High School

My time here is halfway over, but it feels like a real turning point. Things are starting to change and the discussions are starting to flow. We hope to continue having deep cultural exchange discussions, and we also want to keep seeing the kids smiling and laughing from joy after having made new friends and shared a glimpse into each other’s very different lives. We all have different opinions and viewpoints, but we are starting to be able to see and understand our differences and how we are still very much alike.

Natalie

Akpene and my running buddies... 

Akpene and my running buddies... 

The temperature barely dips below 90 degrees... But that doesn't stop us from running!!

The temperature barely dips below 90 degrees... But that doesn't stop us from running!!

Something Small is Better Than Nothing At All

Kids peaking out of the windows in Have

Kids peaking out of the windows in Have

Last time I was in Ghana we visited a place called Father’s House, it was a boys’ home for children that had been rescued from slavery in the Volta Region.  Jeremiah was the man in charge and he completely dedicated his life to providing opportunities to these young boys. We went to the home once to meet him and the boys and he came to our guest house to talk with our group. I was going through my old journal and found a quote from Jeremiah in 2014: “If you want to make a change in the world, you end up losing the status of being ‘cool’. You lose friends and luxuries and also parts of your old self. It can get really hard at times and sometimes you feel hopeless or like you aren’t making a change, but any little thing makes a difference.”

I have been thinking about this and it feels quite applicable to what is going on in the United States at this moment in time.  I have tried my best to stay out of politics, but there is no denying the fact that I am working with people who may have had dreams to come to the United States to better their lives. Working with refugees and fighting for internationals causes is now being looked at as anti-American by our own President. This is baffling to me especially as I am in Ghana watching what is happening at home, from afar. I am so proud to see the resistance against these extreme policies against refugees, but I am also feeling heartbroken about Americans who are actually supporting these “bans”. Now is a time in history where we have to stand up for the vulnerable. It may not seem “cool”, and there may be some serious back-lash for standing up, but we cannot back down. Jeremiah was right, any small act of change, does in fact make a difference.

I am always one for huge (sometimes too huge) ideas that later work themselves into a concrete plan. The past few days have been wonderful. I feel lighter and it seems like our original ideas are now falling into place. On Wednesday Kofi and I traveled to a rural town to visit a school called Have. It was about an hour drive (on pretty scary roads) and we had time to talk and reflect on the past few weeks. We both agreed that the cultural exchange program has taken hold better than we both had imagined. So far, it has proven itself as a modern, cutting edge way to establish international relationships. We spent the entire drive talking about how we both want it to continue, grow and thrive. Over the next 6 weeks we will work with the schools we have to set up a sustainable weekly connection, while we also start networking with other schools in the area to help set up the program. Once the virtual connection is strong, then our long-term vision is to set up an actual high school exchange program where students in Ghana can go to a R.O.C. high school in Vermont, and vise versa.

A view of Have and the lunch time huddle underneath the trees

A view of Have and the lunch time huddle underneath the trees

The bathroom...

The bathroom...

When we arrived at Have, the school was tiny compared to the other ones we had visited. It was up against a dense forest backdrop. Everyone was outside eating lunch when we arrived. The headmaster, named Felix, had a huge smile on his face as he went around introducing Kofi and I to the rest of the school staff. Kofi and I originally planned to take a picture of their toilet, which we did, so that we could send it back to someone in the U.S. who is raising money to help install a compostable toilet, with an organization called Dream Big Ghana.  Such a small world, because I actually met the folks from Dream Big Ghana the last time I was here! As we were talking to Felix about what we had been up to the past few weeks he asked us if we would be interested in doing our program at their school. Of course we were thrilled and we decided on Fridays, around midday. This will be the partner school with CVU R.O.C. and we will start the video-calls next week! After we toured the classes and met some of the kids Felix took Kofi and I to meet his daughter who is 18. We exchanged numbers and I know that I have a new friend that I can count on here in Have. Kofi and I also organized for Dr. Julie Spaniel’s visit here for the dental clinic in two weeks!

When we got back to VEG we had another Skype call with the VEG students and SB R.O.C., it went great. We were able to talk about some deeper things this week instead of just basic introductions. The South Burlington students ask fantastic questions and I think they are a wonderful match for the VEG students.

Deep in conversation with South Burlington R.O.C. students

Deep in conversation with South Burlington R.O.C. students

Thursday and Friday were a bit of a blur of programs with MadamFo Ghana and lots of work preparing for next weeks’ lessons. Friday Kofi took me to a local art gallery and I was able to find some beautiful paintings that were made right there in the shop. I also had the opportunity to FaceTime with a group of CVU Freshman this afternoon to talk about my experience here in Ghana. A bunch of the students were excited to start getting involved. They will be the next generation of R.O.C.  :)

The past few days have been exhilarating with so much going on and so much excitement. I realized that Ghana will always have a special place in my heart and any new projects I work on, I want to start here. Just like Jeremiah said, start with one thing at a time. I will start slow with the cultural exchange program, with a vision of it getting bigger one step at a time. My passion and spirit for this type of work has only grown stronger over the past three weeks and I am sure that will continue for my stay.

Natalie

Slowly but Surely

Someone once told me that it is close to impossible to actually accomplish a goal of implementing an international program in less than a month.  A more realistic goal would be 3 to 6 months. I understand that if I go somewhere for 3 or 4 weeks, I will be taking more than I am actually giving. I knew there would be no way for me to actually plan, create, and implement one of my big ideas in such a short period of time. I also knew that I wasn’t ready to leave Vermont for a full 6 months (I’ve never been away from home for more than 3 weeks-and that was my last trip to Africa!).  So I figured I would compromise a little. I thought that 9 weeks would be enough for me to get accustomed to the culture, plan, and start to implement the cultural exchange program. I am finishing up my third week here and things are truthfully just getting off the ground. It has been a solid three weeks of adjusting, planning, and creating. Kofi and I have successfully completed the introductions of both our courses, but we are just barely starting to break the surface. My work here is really just beginning. The past few weeks have gone by quickly. I know that as I get busier, time will fly by, but the goal is to create something sustainable. I don’t want to just come, do and leave with nothing to show for it. I realize that 9 weeks still isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things, but my hope is that by the end of this trip, I will leave something tangible behind.  Something that will endure after I leave and that will be here when I return again.  

Everyone watching the projector as one of the students asked MMU R.O.C. a question

Everyone watching the projector as one of the students asked MMU R.O.C. a question

Asking questions for R.O.C. (it is hard to hear, so students came up one by one)

Asking questions for R.O.C. (it is hard to hear, so students came up one by one)

This past Saturday was the first time we video called the United States from MadamFo Ghana. We planned to talk with Mount Mansfield R.O.C., and we had the bonus of some South Burlington R.O.C. members as well. Thankfully we had no technical problems and made contact quickly. All of the kids at MadamFo were very excited and were practically jumping right out of their seats. They had questions about the American President. The students talked politics, and had a long conversation about people with different sexual orientations. The Ghanian students were curious about the rights people had in Vermont and then the rest of the U.S. A South Burlington R.O.C. student explained in a very clear way what it was like here with respect to rights about sexual orientation and gender issues. It seemed like the students in Ghana were very surprised that people were openly allowed to have a different sexual orientation in the United States and that they could talk about it so openly. I think that this was the first time that homosexuality, sexual orientation and gender issues were been brought up to students in a positive light, or any light at all for that matter. My goal as the sessions continue is to have another conversation about sexual orientation over the course of my stay. It goes hand in hand with the reproductive health and leadership component of our program. In addition to these serious questions, the students asked funny ones too that got all the students up laughing and dancing.  It was a fantastic introduction to an actual international cultural exchange.  The students on both sides of the world are very enthusiastic about talking again.

Sunday and Monday were brutally hot days with no break from the heat, except for my nightly runs where the temperature dropped to about 80 degrees. At this point almost all of the VEG girls are running with me, not just Anita!  It seems like the children of the entire village of Hovefe also run alongside us. It really is quite something; I wonder how that would look in America? Probably wouldn’t happen, but you never know. We have been running further each day and once we pass through the town it is a single dirt path that leads directly into the forest (or jungle, whatever helps your imagination :) ). This isn’t how most of Ghana looks.  It really is more of a dry and bare landscape, but up in Ho it is much more green and lush. Unfortunately, no lions or giraffes.  

We had our staff meeting on Monday. Kofi and I had shared our progress from the week. Albert asked me if I planned to continue the cultural exchange program once I was gone. I said yes of course that is my goal and to also help start it up in several other schools in the area. He was very happy to hear that and said that we would keep working towards that goal and we would make it happen.

We are also excited and planning for Dr. Julie Spaniel’s arrival on February 10th. We will be organizing a dental clinic to work specifically with people in the rural areas that would not have access to getting treatment from the hospitals. I am thrilled that Julie was able to put her trip together on such short notice. It is a great opportunity to see another aspect of international aid work on the ground, this time dental health.

Doing introductions with Rice R.O.C. students

Doing introductions with Rice R.O.C. students

Intently watching the screen!!

Intently watching the screen!!

Kofi and I traveled to Sokode Senior High School where we had another video call with five Rice R.O.C. students. It was perfect because it gave everyone in the class enough time to understand and digest everything the American students were saying. The students at Sokode seem a bit more conservative, with questions mostly around education and family life and structure. Both sides (Vermont and Ghana) were able to openly talk about our educational structures and all of our plans once we graduate. Next week the students want to focus on American relationships and how that works (specifically boyfriend/girlfriend relationships-which EVERYONE is always asking about). This was the first time I have seen Sokode students really engaged and speaking up.  Usually they are very quiet (with me at least), but today they were responding to questions and coming up to the computer to ask more. I am looking forward to what next week brings. We left Sokode as a thunderstorm passed through and left a rainbow in its wake.

Natalie

More Alike Than Different

My first trip to Ghana taught me that we are all more alike than different. The main priority my teacher partner and I had was to show the students that we were quite similar- we were all young people (for the most part in high school) and we all wanted to make a difference in some way or another in the world. Tres (who was my teaching partner from GLA) and I spent at a lot of our classes immersed in round table discussions about different issues we faced in our own communities and how exactly we could solve them. Upon my return home and the start of R.O.C. my main goal was to help show high school students that we have a lot in common, and that just because the color of our skin or the country that we come from, or what our parents did for work (or not) should not limit our opportunities as students. The goal was to break cultural divides and allow people to make friends with and learn about someone else’s culture and community, whether you are a white suburban teenager living in South Burlington, VT,  a Burundian teenager who had been resettled to Burlington, VT after years in exile, or a student in the Senior High School in Ghana. We realized that everyone does have different backgrounds, but that difference is a great place to start learning and growing from each other’s experiences.  I urge young people everywhere to keep on working towards the goal of equality and to check yourself if you find yourself scared, or pointing unkind fingers at other people who are our peers, our friends, and our community members.

Finally getting connection with SB R.O.C.going through introductions and asking about what we all do for fun.

Finally getting connection with SB R.O.C.going through introductions and asking about what we all do for fun.

Wednesday was the first day of our official R.O.C. International video call day with the South Burlington R.O.C. chapter. The class we had in Ghana was here at VEG and it was a small group of students. This group was part of the Lady Volta Vocational School, the women (and two men) were older who are not in high school anymore, but are between 20-26 years old. This is the oldest group of students we are working with here in Ghana. Suffice it to say, after about 40 minutes of technical difficulties, (the SB R.O.C.  leader and I were both texting each other that we were each having problems with the HDMI cord to connect to their project in school and Kofi and I were laughing because we were having the exact same problem.) Kofi and I told the students “See it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you can still have technical difficulties.  They are having the same problems there as we are having here. ”

New R.O.C. stickers!

New R.O.C. stickers!

Trying to get everyone in the computer screen-showing our R.O.C. stickers here in Ghana as SB students show theirs in VT

Trying to get everyone in the computer screen-showing our R.O.C. stickers here in Ghana as SB students show theirs in VT

We finally connected with SB R.O.C. through improvising and using a student’s phone in Vermont. The connection was weak, but we finally got it! Students in America were actually talking to students in Ghana. Although we weren’t able to talk for long, we did some introductions. Then the R.O.C. students asked us “what does everyone do for fun?” Some of the girls here said singing and dancing. It turns out that two of the SB R.O.C. leaders are big time dancers themselves. One of the girls in Vermont said she runs for fun. Anita is in the class at VEG and she I started laughing since we have been running together the past couple of days. Although this was a short interaction, we showed students everywhere that we are more alike than different. Young adults in Ghana have made their first friends in Vermont, and vice versa. Our next video call will be with the Mount Mansfield Union High School R.O.C. chapter on Saturday with our students at MadamFo Ghana.

Yesterday was a more laid back kind of day.  I was recovering from some food poisoning (not a good idea to eat “sweet water-rice” with non-bottled water from my kind neighbor who offered it). The only class we had was at MadamFo Ghana in the evening. Kofi and I went around 6:30 and we talked about relationships. Kofi did most of the talking. He was able to answer the student’s questions that we had come up with the Saturday before.  He encouraged everyone to speak up and ask new questions on their own. It was a very productive class which was fantastic. One of the house mothers came in at the end of our talk and made a quick presentation in front of the class saying that she expected everyone to be engaged moving forward, and that she will be checking everyone’s notebooks to make sure they are remembering things. I think she scared everyone into submission :)  Hopefully, they stay as engaged for my class with them on Saturday! I know they are looking forward to talking with our friends at MMU R.O.C.!

I am learning more every day that I am here. The country is wonderful and the people are kind and beautiful. Two weeks down seven more to go.

Natalie

P.S. Everyone needs to check out this video done by our CVU R.O.C. members about our refugee community here in Vermont (who are all now U.S. citizens). The video was put together by Charlie Bernicke, Cole Bartlett, and Kiera O’Brien. 

Turning Points and Opening Up

Everyone experiences turning points in life where you start to feel settled in. Like going back to school after a long break, starting a new job, or traveling to a new place. Yesterday, day 10 of my trip, was a turning point for me. I was finally able to break out of the thin, but notably there, shell that I had made around myself. Yesterday and today were the first days I actually felt like a part of the community here, not just the young white girl looking into the lives of foreigners. If I think about it, it’s really not that surprising that it took a while to finally get settled.

The last time I was in Ghana I was surrounded by a group of 35 Americans-- students and mentors. I was one of the youngest on the trip. I had just turned 15. The group shared the same experiences-the first time this far from home living in a culture completely foreign to us. We had each other to rely upon and a staff of people working with us who knew how to deal with a group of teenagers who were either homesick, and for some of us, me included, actually sick. Now I am here alone, without anyone else my age. I am almost completely immersed in a culture that I still don’t understand. Yes, I am able to talk to the girls living here and talk to my family and friends at home, but it was starting to get a little bit lonely.

Ruth and baby Esther in the nursery next to my room

Ruth and baby Esther in the nursery next to my room

Yesterday Kofi was finishing up work and didn’t come to the office. I called Stephen and he was planning to come, but at the last minute canceled for lack of transportation. I spent the majority of my day in my room working on French, typing up notes from the weekend with MadamFo, and working on a few essays. Around 5 o’clock I was so tired of being cooped up all day I decided I would go for a run. I knew I couldn’t go alone so I set out to just run sprints up and down the hill in front of the compound. When I went outside Senyo, who is the director of the Vocational School here at VEG came over to me and we started talking. He noticed I was in running clothes and right away called over one of the girls living here (Ruth) to see if she or one of the others wanted to go running. I guess he didn’t think that running sprints up and down the sandy hill would do me any good. While he was waiting for one of the girls to come back he reminded me about how the journalist was coming tomorrow and that he would be staying late to clean everything and make sure it was all organized. I promised to help when I got back and that tomorrow I would make sure I set up a desk in the office.

Francis running along side us

Francis running along side us

Running buddies

Running buddies

Ruth didn’t want to go for a run (I don’t blame her), but Anita volunteered. Anita is always laughing and talking (I asked her today if she could quiet down a little at 6 a.m., and she laughed saying “I don’t know why, but I love to shout!”). She has a great sense of humor. She came back down in a brightly colored outfit and a pair of ballet flats! I said I had an extra pair of sneakers, but she said “no, no this is fine.” So off Anita and I went, down a road the locals refer to as “River Road” (not sure why, I didn’t see any rivers…) and we ran all the way to another local town. Yesterday I saw my first real African sunset. The sun was a huge ball of bright pink so big hanging low over the mountains off in the distance. All the children in the local village followed behind us tagging along. One boy named Francis asked if we were “training” and I said, “yes!” We said we’d come back tomorrow. Anita and I ran down the dirt road laughing hysterically to ourselves at the sight we must have been.

After returning from our run we came back and helped Senyo clean up the classroom. I love organizing. My OCD tendencies come out strong. I organized a huge pile of books into different categories. Akpene and I made the book area spotless! The classroom looked great by the time we had all finished.

For dinner I went out on the porch and sat with the other girls. At first it was just a girl named Rosemary, and myself. Finally she started to talk to me (after I asked a million and one questions) and she started telling me about her family and her boyfriend. Apparently she met him when she was in Form 4 in Senior High School and he was her teacher…. He is 35 and she’s 23. Apparently he is not a teacher anymore. This story reminded me of what Kofi had said to me earlier in the week that a lot of girls just expect to find an older man to marry so they wouldn’t have to worry about finishing school or getting a job. I wondered if that is what happened with Rosemary. After Rosemary (Rose for short) finished showing me a bunch of pictures and videos from home she asked to see pictures I had of my family! So I brought my computer outside and all the girls crowded around and I went through some pictures with them. They were fascinated by the idea of prom and why we got so dressed up? They asked for my dresses and for me to bring them to America.

R.O.C. stickers with Sokode Senior High School

R.O.C. stickers with Sokode Senior High School

Today I got up early and went down to help Julian, the other volunteer, set up his classroom. I cut up bottles and made signs to represent the different elements for his science class. Then I went into the office when the other staff members got there. They brought me over a desk so I could sit with everyone. Now I have a place in the office and I feel like a real member of the team. Kofi arrived and we made our lesson plan for Day One of Relationships at Sokode Senior High School. I cut out more R.O.C. stickers to give to the kids.

Ginanne Brownell, the freelance journalist, arrived around 10:30 and we all went to greet her. She wore bright pink lipstick and eye-shadow (the only reason this stood out to me is no one here ever wears makeup, so I thought: a girl after my own heart…). We all sat down together for introductions and talked about the plan for the day. She then went off to do interviews for the solar and technology school and most of us went back to the office to work. Julian and I were fortunate enough to be able to have Ginanne sit with us at lunch where she shared her stories of what it was like being an international journalist. She has a strong focus on education for women and girls and helping break barriers for them to access education. Based out of London, but originally from Flint, Michigan, she wrote for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal covering pieces on arts and culture. She was in Accra covering a piece for the Times in the arts, and then she had heard about the Solar and Technology School with VEG and decided to come check it out and write about it. She was writing the piece for NPR’s program called “Goats and Soda” a page of articles on development. Ginanne had just launched a website called She-Files.com (launched this Saturday to go along with the Women’s Marches) where women can submit articles about arts, education, development, and health. She was intriguing to talk with.

In the afternoon, Kofi and I went to Sokode high school to start our Relationship Unit. The students were hesitant at first to talk to me, but Kofi helped them open up. We were able to have some great conversations about what it meant to have a healthy relationship. We spoke about students dropping out of school because of relationships -- either getting pregnant, or starting to have to pay for the boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s school fees. Kofi reminded the group that “You can only help people with what you have.” We gathered questions to ask the R.O.C. students next week when we Skype. These questions were so much more serious than the questions we received from the group at MadamFo. I wonder why?

Writing down for the Know's and Want to Know's at the start of class

Writing down for the Know's and Want to Know's at the start of class

Kofi leading the class in a group discussion

Kofi leading the class in a group discussion

Goodnight Ghana

Goodnight Ghana

By the time we got back everyone in the office had gone home for the day. I asked Anita if she was up for another run and she said yes!!! I brought her a pair of socks and converse sneakers. We set off on the same route as yesterday stopping to say hi to the children we had met before. Francis ran with us again for a portion of the route. And we made it home just in time for the entire sky to light.

Natalie

Marching into Ghana

One of the leaders of the Women's March in Accra on January 21st, 2017

One of the leaders of the Women's March in Accra on January 21st, 2017

Today I woke up to pictures and videos of Women’s Marches around the world. It was an absolutely beautiful thing to see how many people got up yesterday and marched with millions of other women to stand for equality and social justice for all. Although I was unable to attend the march here in Accra, I have been able to witness a powerful march of my own. I have seen the male leaders of the communities I am working with here in Ho: the headmasters, NGO directors, village elders, and other school teachers, all of whom have been working diligently to promote the fair access to education and materials for women and girls in this community. The societal norms where women are solely the head of the household, used only for cooking, cleaning, and having babies, is slowly starting to shift. This shift that I am seeing here is due to the influence of strong and compassionate men in the community. As the men push the girls to achieve more for themselves it seems to create a domino effect.  The girls then bring everyone around them up to fight for equality. It may be awhile before we stop seeing 16 and 17 year-old girls here having children and getting married,  but it is changing. A change, even a small one, is still a change. One step at a time.

K and W of the KWL Chart on Relationships (Unit 1)

K and W of the KWL Chart on Relationships (Unit 1)

Yesterday was a good day. It was a leisurely start, like most days are here in Ghana, and then the pace picked up. Stephen came to the VEG compound around 2 o’clock and we went to Madam Fo Ghana, the home for enslaved children. We had not realized it was a Game Day for Football here in Ghana, so it was a good thing we got there early. We rounded all the kids up and met in the auditorium room. Since Kofi was not there today and the first Unit for our Reproductive Health Unit is technically “Kofi’s Unit” I did not want to start it without him. I remembered back to my middle school social studies classes where we practiced KWL charts-Know, Want to Know, and Learned.  I thought we should make one for the Relationship Unit, so Kofi would have a baseline for next class. It was hard to get the class talking at first, but Stephen (thankfully!) was able to get them excited and comfortable sharing.  The list was not too long, so I guess we will be learning a lot about relationships next week! It was interesting, because the majority of the responses had to do with “How do you maintain a healthy ‘boy/girl’ relationship?” The students seem conscientious about cultural norms for unhealthy relationships and are eager to learn about what a healthy relationship looks like in these modern times.

Giving out R.O.C. stickers (only half the room pictured, boys got them too!!)

Giving out R.O.C. stickers (only half the room pictured, boys got them too!!)

Once we finished our KWL chart, we started to generate a list of questions for when we Skype with the R.O.C. kids in Vermont next week. This got everyone excited. The majority of students spoke up and asked questions, which was fantastic. A lot of questions in fact had to do with our new President Donald Trump, one girl straight up asked “Will President Trump ban homosexuals?” I didn’t know if I should be alarmed and worried but I had not expected a question like that. I try my best to stay out of politics and everyone at R.O.C. Inc. does the same, but I think it is astounding how the Presidents we elect can completely reshape the identity of the United States to other nations. I told the girl that I certainly prayed that would not be even be an option, but that we could certainly discuss those types of issues.  After all the questions I gave all the students a R.O.C. sticker! They loved it. 

We left promptly at 4 o’clock so that all the kids could watch the game. Stephen wanted to watch it as well so we set off to find one of the local restaurants that had open seating and a television to watch the game. I sat in with all the local’s intent on watching the game and cheering right alongside them. The entire town shuts down for the 90-minute game as everyone scrambles to find a seat. I watched as Ghana won with a 1-0 victory against Mali. They play Egypt next.

Today was quiet, there was a huge thunderstorm so I stayed inside for most of the day. It was a nice change from the heat, everything cooled down finally. I was working on writing up notes from yesterdays class, reading, and working on French. When the rain had subsided, I went outside to eat dinner with the girls next store and listened to them sing in their native languages and cook their dinners over charcoal fires. We don’t have to talk for there to be a connection between us.

Tomorrow is another new week and I am excited to see what new adventures it will bring. :)

Natalie

One and Done

Did you know that everyone in Ghana who graduates from an accredited tertiary institution is required under law to complete the “Ghanian National Service”? This is a year-long service project that takes Ghanian citizens all over the country. People work in schools, with local NGOs, orphanages, etc. I find this concept fascinating. The culture here is based around family and community. When you see someone on the street, no matter what you are doing or where you are going, you stop and say good morning (or good afternoon) and shake the persons’ hand. Always. There are no exceptions. On the other hand, I come from a cultural of individuality where the emphasis seems to be on yourself. and your own immediate family. Think about it, do you stop and wave or say hi to every single person you see going through your daily activities? Probably not (unless you live in Hinesburg, Shelburne, or Charlotte, and you literally do know everyone). I want to live in a culture that values service and doing work for others.  That is one of the main reasons that I started R.O.C.  I also wanted my peers to see how they could make a difference by becoming involved with students from different cultures. The mission of R.O.C. is working, and service opportunities are all around us, and it is starting to change our culture, one student at a time. I love the Ghanian practice of a year of service in our own country or a foreign one. This is such a phenomenal idea. I remember watching the Michael Moore movie last year “Where to Invade Next”, and I took away from that movie the idea of taking the best practices from around the world and bringing them back to the U.S. There are so many opportunities locally in the United States that we just pass over, but there is a very strong need to get out and do good work right in our own background. School and work are both very important aspects of life, but service is too. When I give back to a community, I think about how fulfilling it is to me. Yes, I am “helping” others, but when actually, they are helping me.   

VEG headquarters and my home for the next 8 more weeks. It is a new building so they still have to finish the roof!

VEG headquarters and my home for the next 8 more weeks. It is a new building so they still have to finish the roof!

It has already been a week here in Ghana, which is shocking to me. Last time I was here I thought it went by so slowly, but this has gone by quickly. So much has happened. The Village Exchange welcomed me with open arms and Kofi and I met with 6 different school programs: 3 senior high schools, 1 orphanage, 1 group home, and our own VEG school here. We were able to start 4 of our programs this week, with 2 of the programs starting officially next week. We organized a schedule for all the R.O.C. high school (and hopefully college) chapters to engage in a weekly Skype session with one of our six schools here in Ghana. I got to watch how batiks were made and make new friends here at the compound and reconnect with old ones. I finished my first Unit of French, read a book, and wrote a lot. It was a week of learning and reflecting.

My new favorite neighbor

My new favorite neighbor

Yesterday was a very easy day. The only work we did was organizing and making our schedule for every day for the different schools. I spent last night outside with the girls living next door to me. One had the cutest baby ever who smiled and danced with me while her mother ate dinner. I have yet to encounter a baby as happy as this one was last night.

The girls were joking around with me asking why I had no husband and if I had any children yet? I laughed and said I was only 17! I explained in my culture, that is too young for me to have any children or to be married!  They were confused. The norm here is to start having children young, and most of them had already had children. The oldest girl I met next door was 26. They asked me to help them find an American husband. They said they wished I had a brother. They were all very funny and we all got along well. I sat with Akpene and she helped translate anything that I didn’t understand.  When I excused myself to get ready for bed there was a HUGE spider in my room. I’m quite terrified I am of spiders… Luckily Akpene, the goddess that she is, came in and got rid of it for me. I am starting to see how we all have each other’s backs. It is part of the culture to be there for one another no matter what (not just to get rid of spiders for the scared white girl!).

Today was the start of our program at two places. One was here at VEG. It was a small group of students, only 4. Apparently the other 10 had just not shown up today (but I recalled from my last trip, that they probably have very serious reasons why they didn’t make it to school). It turned out that some of the students were the girls that living next door that I had hung out with yesterday! Kofi and I gave our introduction about who we were and what we were doing. These girls are older than the other program we are working with. So it is going to be slightly different. Some of them have children of their own already and/or have been married. I think for the reproductive health side, we will have to adjust it a little bit to fit the needs of the group we are serving in this particular instance. But on the other hand I think this will be great for the R.O.C. side of things. This will be able to give American high school students the idea of what it is like to grow older (and after high school) in another country. There is more of a language barrier with this group of students so Kofi will have to translate, but I think it should generate some interesting conversations.

4 of the girls in the VEG program-also my neighbors in the compound :)

4 of the girls in the VEG program-also my neighbors in the compound :)

Augustina, one of my students, but also the mother of my favorite baby!!!

Augustina, one of my students, but also the mother of my favorite baby!!!

Pink sky over Madam Fo Ghana

Pink sky over Madam Fo Ghana

Next Kofi and I went back to Madam Fo Ghana, the home for children that were previously enslaved in some type of child labor. It was a beautiful night, not too hot, a nice break from the 100-degree weather. And the sky was pink. I can never actually see the sun set here, but with the haze at sunset time the entire sky lights up to a glowing pink. The children were all very lively and very responsive to our introduction.

It was hard to get a picture of everyone sitting still! But here is Kofi doing introductions infront of the class at Madam Fo Ghana

It was hard to get a picture of everyone sitting still! But here is Kofi doing introductions infront of the class at Madam Fo Ghana

On our six topics of our reproductive health program, one is called “Reproductive Health.” Originally the unit was going to be called “Sex”, but we changed it before we started because we felt it was more culturally appropriate to call that topic reproductive health and reproductive systems, and then cover sex within that unit. After we had finished presenting we asked the students if they wanted us to talk about anything specific and right away someone put their hand up and asked if we can talk about sex? We said yes, of course. After we had left, Kofi, the director of Madam Fo, and I laughed about it, because we had just changed the topic name! This just goes to show that when we work with teenagers on these topics, sex is a real issue and it should be addressed and talked about. I wonder if any of the other schools will make a similar comment.

When we introduce ourselves to the students we use an adjective first and he is Knowledgeable Kofi. It fits him well :)

When we introduce ourselves to the students we use an adjective first and he is Knowledgeable Kofi. It fits him well :)

After our introductions with VEG and going to Mama Fo Ghana, I had time to talk to Kofi a little bit and get to know him better. He is 37 years old, much older than I thought. But my age radar here is way off.  I always think people are much younger than they look. Anyway, Kofi  went to Polytechnic College and then completed his Bachelor’s degree. He then completed a year of service for his national service requirements along with being a country host for a Peace Corps volunteer. Now Kofi has two master degrees and is working on applying to schools in the U.S. to get his PHD in Public Health. He really is brilliant. Kofi has worked all over this area with different NGOs in the area of public health, with an emphasis on reproductive health and HIV. One of the organizations Kofi worked with was designed to help people living with HIV/AIDS and offer support groups for them. He still does some work in Hohoe, which is about an hour and a half from here. He said he would take me on one of our weekends to go visit with the group and go to one of the support groups.

Kofi believes that service is done from the heart and that you should not expect to be paid much for it. We then talked generally about karma and what you put out into the world comes back to you in other ways, not just financially. It is true. A career path of aid work does not usually have high monetary gains, but you live a life of fulfillment. In some way or another the work you do pays off. 

Talk to you all soon. Happy early Inauguration Day :)
Natalie

Official Starts

I have a new appreciation for running water and the amount of water we use on a daily basis. You see for the past 5 days we have been without water at VEG headquarters. This evening was the first time I was able to take a shower (from a faucet) since arriving last week. In front of the compound there are construction workers who have been digging and apparently hit a pipeline, our pipeline! Luckily we have a tank, a “Poly-Tank” that has been storing water, so every day since Friday myself, and the other women in the compound have been helping me carry buckets into my bedroom. The size of the buckets is comparable to a size of a horse water bucket, slightly bigger. It takes 1 entire bucket to fill the toilet with water to then flush. And another bucket and a half to bathe yourself. Then you take into account all the times you wash your hands in a day (I have been washing mine compulsively) and all the times you need to use the water to wash off silverware and plates. That is a lot of water to use in just one day. It’s fascinating to me how easily we take water for granted and having access to water. Luckily for us we have this Poly-Tank that has a water supply, but what about all the other thousands of people in our surrounding area that if their pipeline or well stopped working they would be forced to go without water for daily needs?

The past two days have been unlike anything I am used to, you could say my days were hectic, but yet for 8 out of my 12 hours awake (actually functioning) there was nothing to do. For 4 hours both days Kofi and I were running all over Ho doing a million and one things. Yesterday, for instance, we went to 4 different schools, with one meeting in-between at a hospital, and managed to set up and start our program all in the span of 4 hours. While today we had a staff meeting, prepped for a New York Times journalist to come to VEG, discussed the idea of bringing a dentist over from America, met with an assistant head-master of a senior high school, and launched day one of our program at the same high school (school number 3, but 5th location). I am used to being busy and doing a ton of stuff in one day, but for me that usually means my day starts non-stop at 10 and goes until 9 that night. While here I am doing nothing until 1 o’clock, lounging around coloring, writing, talking, and then we go and do things until until 5 o’clock, and then I am off to my room to write and get ready for bed. It is a very different combination; my mom says it’s good for me to learn to relax. I have never had this much time to myself in one day.

A view of the two holes dug for the road expansion in front of the VEG compound

A view of the two holes dug for the road expansion in front of the VEG compound

Another view of our construction zone... you can see the haze of 95 degree heat in the dry season

Another view of our construction zone... you can see the haze of 95 degree heat in the dry season

Yesterday I had an early start. I start my day off by going outside and walking around and then coming back to breakfast, usually the cook is there by then. I had asked for just fruit and fried rice with vegetables, she laughed at me like I was crazy, but she brought it anyways. It is the best fruit here. Kofi got to the office around 11:30 and we set off walking to visit one of our 3 senior high schools. Yesterday’s school visits were all about formal introductions, we met with the vice principal and gave him our letter of intent. Apparently the program had been all set to start when I arrived, but the principal had just retired and a new one had taken over, meaning we had to start the introduction process all over! Kofi is a good sport though so he didn’t mind. The VP seemed fine with the idea and said he would let us know in the next few days when we could officially come and start working with the kids.

A little confused by a Yevu?

A little confused by a Yevu?

On our way to the next school there was a woman with her baby at a fruit stand. I went over to them because the baby was watching us, when I got over to her at first she kept on covering her face, but then finally she smiled and stuck her hand out. I think I was the first white person she had ever seen. I am 100% in the minority here. The only other white person I have seen is the other long-term volunteer with VEG.

Kofi and I kept on walking to catch a taxi to go to the next school where the school looked more like the schools I had worked at in Anloga, the other high school had been multiple stories high, this one was only the ground floor and in the shape of a horseshoe with a dirt yard in the middle. Here we met with the headmaster, who was so sweet. He was one of those people you automatically feel comfortable around, he was really excited for Kofi and I to start our program and he was especially excited for my R.O.C. program cultural exchange as well. We will officially start at this school later in the week, we are just waiting for confirmation.

Next we took another taxi to a hospital, the original one in Ho. The hospital was used by a lot of universities and was about to be turned into a teaching hospital. The taxi driver was funny, they were talking about politics and the new President who had just been elected. We walked through the hospital to the other side where we crossed through a yard (and through a gate) to a home that we thought was an orphanage. It was called ­­­­Mamfo Ghana Children’s Shelter Home. We met a man outside named Emmanuel who was the director of the home, he was with his daughter, and a man I assumed was a groundskeeper who was holding a live bird in his hand. He started laughing hysterically at me when I realized that it was a bird in his hand.

Emmanuel was a very lively man and obviously very passionate about the work he was doing. The facility was beautiful, by far the nicest building I have seen in Ho thus far. The walls were all colorful, there was a playground for the kids, a huge dining hall, a library, and a common room, and in the middle of the dormitory was a big green courtyard with flowers growing. Emmanuel took us into the common room and sat down with him to talk about our program and our interest in his. We shortly learned that it was not a home for orphans, but a home for children rescued from manual labor and child slavery. We listened to him share his stories about the struggles of running the home. We learned that the government had just passed a new policy making it so that group homes would have to return the children to the original parents and could not keep the children for longer than 6 months at a time.

Emmanuel was right when he said none of the children wanted to leave, I wouldn’t either, they have clean water (their own water filter), 3 meals a day, showers and toilets, and a clean bed to sleep in with mosquito netting. Emmanuel was very excited about our program idea, and I think this home will be great for the R.O.C. program because they have computers and we can continue the cultural exchange of Skyping with Vermont R.O.C. students even after I leave which is HUGE.

Finally, we went back to the hospital for Kofi to meet with one of his friends who then drove us back to the headquarters where we ate some food and then headed off to New Seed International. The orphanage I had gone to on Sunday with Stephen. I wanted to go again with Kofi so the director could meet Kofi (they had already known each other, but a new program) and we could pick a time and day to start working with the kids. We settled on a few days a week after school and then on Saturday and Sunday. Then we went back to the compound and that was my day.

Akpene working on drying some batiks outside

Akpene working on drying some batiks outside

Today had an even lazier start then yesterday. I got up relatively early to some of the girls knocking on my door and and I got up and got ready for the day. I didn’t realize my day wouldn’t really start until 2 o’clock… But I got up and went over to explore the batik making room with Akpene and the sewing rooms, I watched some of the women make batiks, then went to the nursery to play with some of the babies and then back to my room to get out of the 95 degree heat.      

Then at 2 o’clock we had a staff meeting with the team. I am the only girl, and the youngest by at least 7-10 years. But they don’t seem to care. And still take me seriously J  Kofi and I presented what we had been working on an our plan moving forward. Everyone was on board and happy to see that we were making progress.

I am always coming up with new ideas and plans that in some way relate to a project I am already working on. Well… yesterday one of my friends from home Dr. Julie Spaniel, who is a dentist, mentioned that she would love to come back to Ghana to do some work on the kids and help out in anyway that is needed. I said I would bring it up at the staff meeting.

After everyone else had gone around talking about what their group was working on I brought up the idea of Julie coming to Ghana to set up a clinic for the kids, and they loved it. They asked if she could come before I left. So now Julie and I are working on trying to figure out how to get her here before March 17th to set up a dental clinic for the children here in Ho and possibly back in Anloga! It is crazy what can happen when you keep your mind open at all times.

Another topic today at the staff meeting was that a New York Times journalist was coming next week to write and article about VEG’s solar and technology program. After listening I went over to Kofi and asked him what he thought about seeing if this journalist would be interested in coming to the orphanage with us. And to talk to the girls about her career, because a bunch of the girls had said they wanted to go into the news world, and one had even said being a journalist. He gave his word that he would do his best to help make it happen.  

After the staff meeting Kofi and I went to Sokode Senior High Technical School (our third high school), Kofi and I met with the administration briefly and then went off with Sandra, Moses, Evanam and Majid who were the patrons of a club called Think Twice Club based around reproductive health and leadership. Everything had already been approved at this school so today was day one of our program specific for introductions and getting to know one another. I was excepting a small group… but it was huge! Boys and girls and all four grades of high school. Kofi and I introduced ourselves and the program overview and I explained what R.O.C. was and how the cultural exchange part of things would work. It turns out the matron of the program is a professional bead maker! So she will be working with this class on making bracelets to send back for R.O.C.

All of the students of the "Think Twice Club"

All of the students of the "Think Twice Club"

Kofi and I presenting in front of the class

Kofi and I presenting in front of the class

When we had finished presenting they asked me to share with the class how old I was and I said I was 17. Everyone was shocked and so confused as to why I was up in the front of the room. Then the teachers Sandra and Evanam used me as an example of how to be “bold” in order to stand out and take a chance and these were the types of leaders they wanted to get out of the class by the time our 8 weeks were through. I am very excited to work with these kids.

Thank you for reading, I know this was a long one :) See you in a few days!

Natalie

Our team here at the Sokode Senior High School! From left to right: Kofi, Evanam, Sandra, Natalie, and Majid

Our team here at the Sokode Senior High School! From left to right: Kofi, Evanam, Sandra, Natalie, and Majid

The First Weekend in Ho

Most people who know me, know that I am always busy and I am always doing something. Well yesterday was the first time in probably two years where I had absolutely nothing to do. I woke up to Akbene, a student of The Village Exchange, knocking on my door. She brought breakfast with her. She was in the middle of doing laundry so I came outside and sat with her for about two hours talking here and there while she was working and I was eating. I learned that she was 21 and in school with The Village Exchange in a 2-year program where she would learn how to make batiks, jewelry, and learn to sew. She lived quite far away so she was one of the few VEG students who actually lived on the compound at all times. We were the only two people on the compound all day yesterday so we spent the majority of the day together, I mostly just sat around and listened to her tell me stories. After some time she went back to her room and I went to mine to read and work my French language practice.

Smiling faces of Ghana

Smiling faces of Ghana

I realized that this would be how most of my weekends would probably be as my Village Exchange program was only Monday-Friday. I needed/wanted to get out on the weekend and work with kids. I decided I would try to reconnect with an orphanage I had visited last time I was in Ghana.

In Ghana if you meet someone once then you will most likely stay friends with them forever. I had let one of my old GLA (Global Leadership Adventures) leaders, Dodzi, know that I was coming to Ghana and I reached out to him yesterday asking if he would be traveling back to Anloga, which was the village I had stayed in before. I also asked him for the names of the orphanages we had worked with. I then found out the one I had in mind had been shut down. Dodzi said he would be going back to Anloga in the month, but that Stephen, who was another one of the GLA leaders lived in Ho and I should reach out to him to catch up and to find another orphanage. I called him, but there was no response so Dodzi called Stephen. About 20 minutes after this exchange happened Akbene knocked on my door saying someone was here to see me, it was Stephen and his brother.

Stephen is a goofy guy with a huge heart. He refers to himself as “Humble Lion”. That night as we were catching up on all the different projects we had been working on the past two years he brought up the idea that it was his “destiny” to do good work and that we all have a purpose. When I told him about my R.O.C. Inc. project of international culture exchange he was ecstatic, and right away knew what we should be doing. He arranged for us to visit an orphanage Sunday to start developing a program where in supplement to the work I am doing with VEG we could do a cultural exchange program together, with students at the orphanage.

Stephen (in the middle), his brother, and a little boy on the way to the orphanage

Stephen (in the middle), his brother, and a little boy on the way to the orphanage

Today Stephen came to meet me and we went to an orphanage called New Seed International, which is run by a man named Livinus Jackson. There are a total of 28 students, 18 of them are there because their parents died of HIV/AIDS, while 10 of the them were there because the police had rescued them from some sort of child slavery, mostly working in the fishing villages on the Volta Lake regions.

Livinus talked to us about his dream to empower the young boys and girls, specifically the girls to fulfill all of their dreams. And to push them to follow through on their education and to achieve their goals. He thought it would be very beneficial to have me there to work with the girls on the weekend (and sometimes the week days). He absolutely loved the idea of having a cultural exchange and Skyping with American students to start developing friendships around the world. Tomorrow I am going to go back with Kofi to see how we can also work on our reproductive health program here for the boys and for the girls.

When we went to introduce ourselves to the girl’s class we asked them what they wanted to be after they were finished with school, here were some the responses we got: a journalist, a nurse, a doctor, a professor, an accountant, a weather forecaster, a news anchor, and an actress.

The full class of girls at New Seed International

The full class of girls at New Seed International

New Seed International Girls (the one in front wants to be a journalist!)

New Seed International Girls (the one in front wants to be a journalist!)

These girls were between the ages of 11-15 and all were incredibly bright and passionate about learning. I am thrilled that Livinius will be allowing us to come and work with them.

Stephen is all about making up new sayings and one of his favorite saying is “the heart is like a two-way song”. He said that the only way I would eventually understand the saying is if your heart is in the right place, and that specific place has the be right for you. I think that over the course of these two months I will be able to learn and see if this place is truly “right” for me.

selfie with the boys :) 

selfie with the boys :) 

Natalie

Getting there...

The people of Ghana are said to be some of the kindest and most heartfelt people in the world. Today clarified this to be true yet again. The flight to Accra is direct from John F. Kennedy airport and is about 10 hours long.  I happened to be sitting next to a man who was originally from Ghana, but now worked as a doorman for the Marriott in New York City. He was returning back to Ghana for a vacation with his family. He saw that I was alone on the flight and after waking up from 9 out of the 10 hours he had saved me one of the breakfast boxes as well as organized all of my immigration paperwork. He claimed that I would be his “daughter” for the flight since his other children weren’t coming home with him. He preceded to tell me about how he loved Patrick Leahy (after I said I was from Vermont) and then showed me a picture with Hillary Clinton. When we landed he told me to follow him as he knew people at the immigration stations, he knew everyone there and and we walked through the door without any troubles at all. When we got through to the other side he had a boy waiting for him with two carts, another one of his airport friends, where they both waited with me until I had all of my luggage. As I was waiting though this little boy about three years old was looking for his mother and came up to me and wrapped his arms around me until I picked him up and held him, until his mother came back. We left the airport saying our goodbyes as I met up with Kofi who is my partner on the reproductive health project at the Village Exchange.

Kofi and the driver helped me and all of my stuff into the car and off we went to Ho, which is suppose to be about 2 hours from Accra, but it ended up being more along the lines of 4 hours. The city was completely packed with a ton of people driving in all different directions, our driver was pretty aggressive and passed about every other car in front of us. We stopped twice once for the driver to eat lunch and another to get fuel. On the first stop at the food hut there were a few girls my age and one, Mariama, came over to me and started showing me around the area and talking to me about what she did everyday. She was 19 and had been out of school for 5 years. The idea of dropping out of school at 14 is such a foreign idea to us, that sometimes we forget that for most people in the developing world that is when education stops and working and/or caring for your entire family begins. Mariama gave me her phone number and made me promise to come back to her shop one more time before I left.

Finally, we arrived in Ho, which is up in the mountains. It is still quite dusty, but there are trees and it is a little bit more green than the other parts of the Volta region of Ghana. When we got to the Village Exchange compound we held a mini staff meeting with everyone that was there, just six of us, and went around giving introductions and then I was able to have a tour of the facility. The compound consists of two long structures, one that hold the office, a small sitting room, an upstairs guest room, a sewing room and a classroom for the science and technology school. The other structure holds the housing: my room, a baby’s nursery for when mothers are here working with their children, another guest room for the other volunteer, and an extra room for rural community students to stay.

 Kofi and I then went into town to get lunch and pick up a “Modem” which is a broadband internet stick that you plug into your computer. It’ll come in handy for our Skype sessions with Vermont. Kofi and I discussed our plan for the program and he explain how on Monday we would be visiting 3 of the schools we are working with to go over an introduction to the program and start organizing our material. He also told me that there would be several other schools that we would be going to just for one day programs. Whereas these three specific schools  would be the schools we taught at consistently for all 8 weeks of the program.

I forgot to mention that it is 95 degrees here, the sky is usually overcast, but it is a sticky and stifling heat. Luckily it just started raining so hopefully that will cool things off for tomorrow morning.

I am so grateful to be here and I cannot wait to see what the rest of this trip entails. 

Thanks for reading!!

Natalie

R.O.C. Inc. International with The Village Exchange-Cultural Exchange with Ghanian Students

Hi everyone,

As some of you know I will be traveling to Ho, Ghana for 9 weeks this winter. I am working with an organization called The Village Exchange International. I first learned about them when I traveled to Ghana two years ago.

After inquiring about volunteer opportunities I told the Founder, Christiane Milev, about R.O.C. and I realized we shared similar missions. I explained to her that I wanted to find a way to take R.O.C. international, but also work alongside another established organization and learn about other program areas. At this time The Village Exchange International was in the process of starting a program and curriculum that would be implemented in schools around women's empowerment with a focus on reproductive health. I happily jumped on board.

Over the past few months I have been working with Kofi Nyalimba who is a social worker and the head of the Sexual and Reproductive Health Department at The Village Exchange International. Kofi and I have been working on designing a curriculum based around leadership and reproductive health to teach at several different schools to girls aged 11-18. 

In addition to working on the program, I have been working on putting together a cultural exchange component, and a part of R.O.C. to take with me. The idea is to start creating cultural exchange between the students I am going to be working with in Ghana and the R.O.C. high school chapters in Vermont. Every week we will be having Skype sessions with the high schools in Vermont. In addition there will be a bracelet/pen-pal campaign that will be taking place to help connect the students around the world. 

This is the official blog page for my entire trip. I will be posting pictures, messages, and updates about everything including the program progress as well as the cultural exchange component. 

I am so honored to be able to work with such an incredible organization and I am so excited to be traveling back to Ghana.

Stay tuned :)

Natalie

P.S. Here is the link to The Village Exchange International: http://www.villageexchangeinternational.org