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.
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.
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.