Julia Simone - Care & Community in Ghana
When an opportunity arises to explore new surroundings, don't let it pass you by. That's what Ghana taught me the most and I'm glad that I took that chance; it was worth every minute.
From day one, there was no doubt how much I stuck out. Whenever I walked by in the neighborhood, everyone would wave. Even the kids would run up beside me yelling “Obruni, (white person) how are you?”. I was welcomed at left, right and center. My host mother, Molly, called me along with seven of the other volunteers in our house her children during our stay in Cape Coast. It was somewhat of a rude awakening having to take cold showers, watch children beg for food on the streets and keep mosquito nets around our beds. However, it put life into perspective and really made me realize what truly matters.
At my placement in Outreach Orphanage and Evangelical International Mission, the kids took our hands and welcomed all ten of us volunteers the minute we walked off our tro tro. There were fifty four orphans between the ages of 6 and 18 living in a one-floor house the size of a small nursery school. Many of them didn't have proper shoes, and I noticed after a while that they all shared the same clothes. They did their laundry and worked on a farm by hand, and hardly had proper school supplies. At first it seemed to me that they were underprivileged, but I realized that with less they had more. They were united as brothers and sisters constantly helping each other, always with smiles on their faces.
Throughout the two weeks, we painted the entire orphanage inside and out. The painting that we did in the mornings at the orphanage was tiring but somehow we always managed to have a soccer game or play duck-duck-goose on the rocky red clay ground that surrounded us. I even attempted some math questions with the older children by using chalk on the floors of the orphanage! We took turns teaching each other new soccer tricks or how to wash clothes by hand, and day by day we built trust in each other.
The days with them passed by too quick and for me were not enough. So Princely, our supervisor, and I planned a few outings. Our last one was on the beach. It was a cold day and the waves were huge. If I was back in Canada I would never have dared go swimming. But within a few minutes I felt myself being dragged in the waves by all of the orphans who never let an opportunity pass them by, regardless of the fact that some of them didn't even know very well how to swim!
There was so much more I learned in Ghana: For the first time in my life, I bargained in the markets. I even traded my old puma bag for a new bag, a wallet and 3 bracelets! While I was scared that my soccer coach back home would be upset with me for not getting any exercise this summer, I even got the chance to practice with a local rugby team, and I ran with them on the beach bright and early one Saturday morning at 5 am. Everything I did in Ghana was in the spur of the moment, making it all more enjoyable.
When I look back on the entire trip, it's the people who most affected me. It wasn't the poverty, or the stories of how the orphans lost their parents that were the hardest to endure, but saying goodbye to those persons with whom you've created lifelong relationships, knowing that you may never see them again. I'll never forget the orphans calling me 'Sister Juliette' and giving me the Ghanian name Ekwa (Wednesday).
I'll never forget the strength of the men, women and children comforting each other in the worst of times and appreciating each and every moment in their lives, regardless of their circumstances. Nor will I forget the volunteers from around the world who became like family. My stay in Ghana enlightened me with the experience of a lifetime that one can only relish first hand.