Stefanie Hutchinson - High School Specials, Care & Community in Ghana
My entire life I have wanted to travel and volunteer. The summer before my senior year of high school, Projects Abroad allowed me to combine those desires with my love of working with children into a life changing, High School Specials Care & Community project in Ghana.
The two weeks prior to my trip in July were unbearable! I was so excited to leave, and had been looking forward to my trip since December. The fact that the days until my flight were dwindling, meant that the amount of hours I slept each night were also decreasing. Finally, on July 14th, I took my eleven hour flight to Ghana. Not even ten minutes off the plane and I could already see how friendly everyone was. Even the airport workers were smiling!
All of the volunteers were packed into a bus-like taxi called a “tro-tro,” and headed to our host homes. I stayed in Akuapem Hills with a wonderful host family that welcomed me into their home like it was my own. While our host brothers took a little bit of coaxing to warm up to us, they were soon begging us to play soccer with them during any free time.
I lived with eight other volunteers from all different backgrounds! My roommate was a medical student from France, but I also lived with an architect from Germany, a teacher from Paris, and other people my age from Colorado, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
During the day we worked with other volunteers staying with different host families. They came from Australia, France, Germany, London, Switzerland, and Canada - to name a few! Apart from learning about Ghanaian culture, we also learned about each others culture (and I even got to brush up on my French)!
Throughout the two weeks, we spent our time in a variety of ways. The mornings were spent helping to rebuild mud huts in a nearby village. We were put to work carrying dirt, mixing cement, and then plastering and painting the homes. By the end of our two weeks we had transformed nine dilapidated huts into beautiful, sturdy homes, which we then painted a bright cheery yellow!
After working in the village we traveled back to our host families for lunch, and then went out again to volunteer some more.
In the afternoons we played with children in local foster homes, day cares and orphanages - coloring with them, helping them with their English, and teaching the children new games like Duck Duck Goose! At one day care in particular we were only able to visit for a couple of hours, and yet by the end of our time with them the children were chasing our "tro-tro" down the road, waving goodbye and offering smiles all around. Despite having so little to call their own, I have never seen children so easily contented with a smile.
Even the families whose houses we plastered in the village were always smiling - thankful for our company, and able to look past their slowly deteriorating homes. Thanks to the people of Ghana, I realized that I could not base my level of contentment on material things. After all, every single Ghanaian that I met was so joyful, despite never having very much.
When we were not volunteering, we were experiencing the local culture, and exploring all of the activities that Ghana had to offer. We had trips to markets selling handmade beads and wooden sculptures and masks, trips to local restaurants, and - my personal favorite - African drumming and dancing lessons!
Projects Abroad even organized a weekend trip to Cape Coast. While there, we visited an old slave trade port, a rainforest where we walked 100 feet above the ground, and one of Ghana’s beautiful beaches. At night, we were treated to an African dancing and fire acrobatics show! The weekend excursion was a great way to experience the Ghanaian way of life and helped me establish lifelong friendships with my housemates and fellow volunteers.
Upon leaving Ghana I was filled with mixed emotions. My trip was filled with moments and experiences that I will never forget; and while I was happy to return to my own family and my own bed, Ghana had become like a second home for me and I was sad to have to leave such a cheery place.
In Ghana, I always felt as if I was among friends, and the people’s smiles warmed my heart each and every day of my trip abroad. The people of Ghana had shown me that it is not the material things that make up life’s most enjoyable moments, it is the company that we are given.
My experience in Ghana is something I will never forget. I will treasure the friends that I made, and the experiences that I had forever.