Stepping off the plane into the sweltering Ghanaian heat in early September, I had no idea what awaited me. I didn’t know that, three months later, I would be able to understand Twi, that I would have taught my own second grade class and become the school nurse at the young age of seventeen, or that I would have grown to love my Ghanaian family so much that I would weep when I left them. I didn’t know that, in the space of a few short weeks, I would respond to “Ma”, nor did I know that nothing warms my heart more than having a child fall asleep in my arms. The only thing I was sure of was that I had stepped into a land, a culture, and an experience which would forever change my life; I was right.
From my first day there, people have asked me how I find Ghana, and I have always replied that “there is nothing bad to say”. The culture is more beautiful, peaceful, and genuine, and the people more welcoming and kind than any other place I’ve ever been. Coming from a metropolitan area of America, it was a relief to see people living life for the right reasons, passing over the materialistic and monetary concerns many people become so involved with that they begin to lose sight of what is real, and instead living for what is truly important: family, friendship, and happiness. It is as though life there has been put through a sieve and all the bad aspects have been caught, leaving behind only what is pure: respect, caring, and love. It touched me. I lived every day there in complete, and almost disbelieving, contentment.
Although magical, my time in Teshie was not without challenge, yet nor was I ever without helping hands to guide me down the right path. More than anything, those moments enabled me to grow and discover who I am and what I truly care about. I learned to be a teacher and a mother. I learned to be a big sister. I learned to be a symbol of comfort and safety to children who could find those things nowhere else.
Ghana enchanted me and I let it change who I am and amplify who I was. When I left in early December, I said that I was going home, yet I couldn’t help feeling that I was really leaving my home behind. It is a place where I have loved, and learned, and cried, explored, discovered, and been forever altered by its touch. It is a place I refuse to say goodbye to, and one to which I will always return.
Because of my time there, I am finally awake. Awake to the world, its intricacies, and their subtle beauty. Awake to who I am. Awake and acknowledging of how fortunate I have been and how much those around me deserve my help and caring. Awake to the fact those human similarities are a much stronger bond than cultural differences are a division. Most of all, I am awake to the truth that individuals can make a difference. True, I did not change the world, but for the children I nurtured, and for myself, the world has changed forever.
I would recommend, and have already recommended, HAF to anyone who is new to volunteering, wants to see the world and make a difference, yet also desires freedom within that experience. The cost, of course, is another factor which would cause me to highly recommend HAF. Coming from a low-income family, the large price tag on the majority of international volunteering programs was a major concern for me, and what had prevented me from exploring opportunities abroad in the past. HAF presented a very reasonable cost, which allowed me to stay in Ghana for much longer than I had anticipated.
The staff, namely Emmanuel and Michael, made the entire process very personal -- something my mother and I both appreciated. It was a relief to find an organization that you could really trust and get to know; there was no waiting on hold, receiving automated emails, and all the other things usually associated with companies like this. Instead, every question I, or my family, asked was treated with the utmost care and was addressed personally through emails or telephone calls. This allowed my mother, especially, to feel very at ease, and led us both to completely trust the program -- something it is not easy to do when you, or your only daughter, are/is going to live by yourself/themself in a foreign country for the first time.
More than anything however, I appreciated the freedom I was given by HAF once in Ghana. There was never a moment in which I felt unsafe or as though I had no one to turn to, yet I was simultaneously allowed to create my own Ghanaian experience, rather than having one dictated to me. I feel that this enabled me to truly become a part of the community, immerse myself in the culture, and create strong and lasting relationships with the people I met, rather than remaining as an outsider during the length of my stay.