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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.