Emma Eytan - High School Specials, Care & Community in Ghana
All throughout high school I was part of the “Be the Change” club, modeled by Gandhi’s saying “be the change you wish to see in the world”. Our mission was to help our classmates by researching and raising awareness of the good and the bad in our community and the world around us, to help our fellow students embrace our strengths and better our weaknesses. We were used to doing this on a small scale in our town, and felt it was time to take our passion to the next level.
I woke up bright and early the morning after my junior prom and headed to New York City for a Projects Abroad open house presentation to see how realistic this dream of volunteering abroad would be. There, I learned about Ghana, also known as “Africa for beginners” according to the presenter. 15 months of fundraising later, and two weeks after my high school graduation, my dream came true.
Traveling to Ghana
I traveled to Ghana with 5 fellow members of the club, and our wonderful teacher. After countless hours of travel from NYC to London and then finally to Accra, the “Projects Abroad” sign waiting for us at the gate seemed like a fairy tale ending. I had to pinch myself to believe it - we made it!!
I couldn’t believe how incredibly Projects Abroad treated us from the moment we landed. When we arrived at the Hills office, Prince, the Director, had already memorized all of our names. He already knew who had lost their luggage and who lost their malaria medicine at Heathrow Airport and needed a replacement ASAP. We set off to Koforidua to exchange money, get SIM cards, and enjoy our first meal. Before we knew it, we were well on our way to an amazing two weeks – all within the first 24 hours!
My Placement and Host Family
In my two weeks, I lived in the wonderful home of Reverend Emmanuel and his wife Elizabeth in the village of Kwomoso, about a 10 minute taxi or tro-tro ride from the center of town. My group was supervised by Nathaniel, who went through our daily routine and later became an amazing and unforgettable friend to each of us.
The day was split up into three parts. In the mornings we’d enjoy pancakes, bread, and fruit accompanied by the ubiquitous water bag (1/2 liter of purified water). Our first assignment was at the Amanokrom Presby Primary School, where we sanded and painted. We worked with a painter named Joe, who’s also an incredible artist and an inspiring hard worker. The school was such a delight to work at. Between listening onto the classes in session, talking to the students from outside the window, and the occasional group sing-a-long to Ghanaian songs such as “Azonto” and “African Man,” our morning went by in a flash.
For lunch we typically ate fresh eggs, rice or noodles, chicken, and an indescribable red, salty, and most importantly delicious sauce. From there, we continued onto the Adom Daycare Center in Akropong. The day care is run by Auntie Tina, the most energetic woman I’ve met. She truly had eyes and ears for each and every child in the class - usually all at the same time! A typical lesson involved a song, a game, and a big activity. My most successful lesson was teaching “The Wheels on the Tro-Tro go Round and Round”, the kids loved the creative rendition and each time that we sang it someone helped us add new verses - their involvement was so encouraging!
After class, we got about 30 minutes to play with the kids and get to know them. This was a really special experience. The kids were about 4 years old and didn’t speak much English. Nonetheless, their affection and desire to connect with us through silly noises and lots of face poking was extremely heart-warming. From the day care we returned to Kwomoso where we met up with the other volunteers for activities such as African drumming and dancing, trivia, traditional Ghanaian board games, and practicing walking with buckets of water on our heads. We also got to go out to town to bead, wood, and fabric markets. Dinner was usually a continuation of what we ate for lunch. At night we often sat for hours talking about our day, what we saw, how we felt, what made us think. This was an incredible opportunity to learn from the other volunteers’ perspective and to bond.
One of my most memorable and thought-provoking moments was at the school we renovated. We were to sand and paint all four classrooms and were allotted one roll of sandpaper to do so. When we started to sand the fourth classroom, I went to rip a new piece of sandpaper, but I couldn’t find the roll. It took me a moment to realize that we had finished it in the third classroom. I looked around and saw everyone using old, almost smooth pieces of sandpaper to do the job. This was about a week into our placement, and we had been in Ghana enough time to realize that the people don’t have much, but they make the most of what they have. They don’t sweat the small stuff, because it’s just not worth it. At home, running out of sandpaper would have caused chaos; Who overused it? Who has the money for more? Who’s going to drive to the hardware store? How much time will we waste? Instead, we carried on because in the long run, it’s no big deal. The classroom turned out great and more importantly, it stood as a model of hard work and appreciation.
I learned in Ghana that all you need to achieve your greatest dreams is an open mind. There is no picture, video, souvenir, or story that can truly speak for my experience; they are just the tip of the ice berg. I was able to fully immerse myself into the Ghanaian culture and appreciate every bit of my time there. Memories such as the smiles of the children, the smell of the diesel from the tro-tro, the bright starry nights, and the overwhelming sense of belonging bring such warmth to my heart that I will hold on to forever.
My biggest advice is to expect nothing and appreciate everything. Acknowledge the good, the bad, what makes you happy, and what makes you sad or uncomfortable; it’s the best way to remember, appreciate, and learn from every moment of the trip.