To sum up my whole experience in Ghana, I thought it would be easiest to list my highs and lows of the trip. The highs majorly outweighed the lows (there were hardly any), so I’ll start with the lows first.
- I got sick a few times, about 2 ½ to be more exact. I never figured out what this came from, but luckily each instance was short lived and I didn’t have to miss out on any part of the trip. This was my first time ever being sick on any sort of international trip, so I feel like I’ve finally paid my dues.
- The projects I was assigned to co-lead with Lauren were transition services and vocational skills building. We did our best to prepare for our time in Ghana, but as I’ve explained more in other posts, what we had prepared wasn’t as helpful as we’d hoped. A variety of issued factored into this, but the upside was that we learned so much about the culture, education system, and people that we know what will work better next time.
Now for the highs… there’s too many to list in one post so I stopped with ten, but could go on and on.
- As part of the Volta group, I was able to see both urban and rural Ghana. Since there were so many differences between the two, I felt that I was able to learn so much more about the culture just by comparing Accra and Hohoe.
- Our driver, Vincent, was amazing. He kept our time in Hohoe and Accra running smoothly and always looked out for us (he also helped me keep track of my back pack which I somehow always lost in our tro tro). On our last night at the orphanage, Vincent came and sat with our group while we were hanging out with the kids before they went to bed. One of my favorite kids, Luke, had been talking to me about our flight home and was getting sad for us to leave. He wanted to know when I would be back again, and I was having a hard time figuring out how to tell him that I didn’t know. This turned into Luke asking me about age and how big he would be when we came back. Thankfully, Vincent stepped in and steered the conversation towards how old Luke could become. He told him that when he got to 100, he would be walking with three legs, and then picked up a stick and showed him how to walk with a cane. Luke couldn’t believe this, and then picked up the stick and walked around like and old man. It was nice to see how the younger kids looked up to Vincent. This little moment became one of the more memorable parts of the trip for me.
- Getting to know the children at Eugemot was the core of the trip. We all had planned different projects and also worked with children at the school for several days, but the majority of our time was spent at the orphanage. Almost all of the kids spoke English, so it was easy to get to know all of them. We helped them with handwriting and health education, read books, played soccer, worked on fine motor skills with loom bracelets, and talked with the older kids about their plans for the future. It was impossible not to become attached to the kids and I think we all miss them more than anything else.
- Our day trips to Mt. Afadjato and Wli Falls added so much to the trip. Mt. Afadjato is the highest mountain in West Africa and by far the steepest mountain I’ve ever climbed. Parts of the trail on the way up were so steep that we were using our arms to climb more than our legs. From the top, you can see Togo in one direction and a sweeping view of Volta in the other, so it was worth the effort. Wli Falls is the tallest waterfall in West Africa. We were able to take about 20 of the Eugemot children with us. Many of them had never been before, so this was a pretty big event for them. The force of the water falling from 70 meters up was so great that we had to turn around and walk backwards as we got closer. Luke loved playing in the water and wanted to come with me when I walked under. He had been identified as sensory seeking on a previous trip, so this might explain why he was the only young kid to make it under the waterfall.
- On one hand, it was disappointing that my projects didn’t work out as planned. But this opened up many learning opportunities, which will hopefully end up helping groups who go in the future.
- Speaking of learning opportunities, in Volta, we spent a good amount of time talking with the older Eugemot kids and Mama’s daughter, Yvonne, over dinners. I doubt we would have learned half of what we did if it weren’t for these conversations. Yvonne had been to the United States to work at a summer camp, so she had a lot to offer on the differences between our two countries. We talked about everything from Ghanaian social policies to veterinarians and clothes for pets in the US (it’s starts to seem excessive when you’re in a country that hardly has adequate health care for humans). She summed up the disability culture differences between the US and Ghana perfectly by saying that we both have the same problems, but on different scales.
- Bright, who I wrote about in a previous post, crushed my plans to not become attached to one kid at the orphanage more than others. He provided our group with endless entertainment. I’ll think of him every time I hear someone say ‘Jesus Christ’ or get my haircut. His nickname, Mr. Sassypants, was well deserved.
- Through this trip, I realized how much I didn’t know about classmates who I’d been around constantly for an entire year. Traveling helps reveal layers of personality in a way that not many other things can (I mean this in a good way, promise!). Our group meshed well and made the trip that much more enjoyable.
- Our hotel/nightclub in Volta was a definite memory maker. It will be hard to forget eating my fried egg and rice for our first Volta dinner under nothing but the light of a miniature spinning disco ball with Slumdog Millionaire playing in the background. We put an end to this sensory overload by unplugging the disco ball and using cellphones as flashlights. We really had nothing to complain about with our hotel though, which was much nicer than what most of us were expecting. We even had hot water for showers most of the time. The cute lizard that liked to hang out with us when it rained was a nice touch too (sorry Macy).
- When we came back to Accra before leaving to come home, our group was able to visit the New Horizons School and see the work the Accra team had done there. New Horizons is a school for children and adults with disabilities. The Accra group was able to work the positioning of many of the students who used wheelchairs. The used duct tape, foam, towels, and other supplies from our MacGyver kits to make the children more comfortable. They also fixed up the wheelchairs themselves. It was awesome to see that the group had made such an immediate impact on the children’s lives. Later, we were able to help with training the school staff and University of Ghana OT students on safe transfers. The staff loved this and wanted us to watch them practice to make sure they were doing everything properly. This put our long days of class at Theater Row into perspective.
There’s not nearly enough room here to list all the highlights of our trip. If you’re thinking about going next year, hopefully this post has helped to convince you. It’s worth it!