J-term: Ghana

Bowman is a junior elementary education major and can be reached at emily.bowman@drake.edu 

Emily Bowman-w2000-h2000

One day after school I was walking through the village and ran into a woman carrying a cooler on her head named Felicia.  I smiled and said “Hi,” and she invited me to her house — as simple as that. I had known her for less than 10 seconds, and was already headed to her house, to meet her mother and sister, with two of my friends.

On our last day in Asikuma, Ghana we went back to find Felicia. It took some looking, but we eventually found her selling snacks by the school. Before we left she gave each of us a packet of biscuits, which are like crackers here, just because we came to visit her. During the eight days I spent in Ghana, I have never felt more welcomed anywhere in my life — and half the people I met didn’t even speak English.

With assistance from the Olson Global Scholarship Fund I was able to spend my January-term in Ghana, Africa teaching in the village of Asikuma. Here’s a little of what I experienced.

Our first night was spent in Accra, the capital, and it was our first and last hot shower.  However, my shower didn’t function in the typical manner. Instead it was more like a hold-the-shower-head and shower-with-one-hand, but at least it was warm. The rest of our trip I showered from a bucket of cold water.

Each morning we would wake up, put on sunscreen, bug spray, walk outside and instantly be dirty and sweaty. We went to a church with a membership of 10,000, and I have never seen so much praise in my life. While my congregation definitely has more members than in Ghana,  they are much more thankful than we are.

Everywhere you look there are goats, chickens and trash, but not one trash bin can be found.  The kids, and everyone, just throw their trash on the ground — the best outcome is that it eventually gets burned, however, this is still not a great option.

We could only drink bottled water and had to remember to save a little each night to brush our teeth. I quickly learned that Voltic is the brand of water to buy — the other brand tasted like dentist water.

Nothing runs on time in Africa, and we’re just not used to that. Breakfast was usually around 8 a.m. We were served chicken and rice for lunch and dinner every day, but none of these things mattered. I knew that every day I would go to the school and be greeted by kids smiling ear to ear, excited just to see us. I knew that I could love on these kids all day, every day, and that was enough. Spending time in Ghana made me very thankful for all the conveniences we have here in America, but nothing can beat a smile and the kindness I felt in Ghana.

School in Ghana is nothing like school in America. All schools require a uniform, but if you can’t afford a uniform, then you don’t go to school. If you can afford a uniform, hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to live close enough to walk to a government school, but you probably won’t and will have to go to the private school, if you can afford it. Otherwise, you won’t go to school. If you are able to go to school, you have to pass the eighth grade exam. If you don’t, you’re done. Assuming you can pass the eighth grade exam, all high schools are private, so chances are you won’t be able to afford high school. According to the Iowa Department of Education, in 2011, Iowa’s high school graduation rate was 88.3 percent. According to UNICEF, the enrollment rate of upper high school grades in Ghana was only 35 percent from 2007-2010. Unfortunately, many people know they won’t be able to afford high school anyway, so they don’t waste their time with school at all.

We complain about so much, even simple things like going to school. But these people are gracious and thankful for everything they have and anything you give them. They are kind and hospitable, smiling and living with what they do have — not focusing on what they don’t have.  I’ll admit,  it’s much more preferable to live with all of the amenities we are so used to, but I do wish that they could come with some of the hospitality, kindness and thankfulness I saw in Ghana. Nothing will ever be able to trump that.

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