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.
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.
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.