Lessons learned in Africa

Written by Sarah Hoyt
 | Tuesday, 11 August 2009 13:28
Have you had your hot shower and freshly brewed coffee this morning? Are you enjoying Duxbury’s summer breeze? Do you have plans to go to Captain’s Flat this weekend, the beach, or will you just lie around the pool? Even in the most mundane parts of your daily routine, please know I am jealous, for I am in Africa and far away from the luxury of running water, cable TV, and fresh salty air. Whereas your showers are in the privacy of your tub, mine are a cold bucket of water retrieved from the local pipe down the dirt road of Klefe village, a small town outside of Ho City in the Volta region of Ghana. I bathe in a concrete cubicle outdoors that reaches to my neck. This is to let people know not to walk in on me. However, I often find myself conversing in broken English with my Ghanaian family while naked behind concrete, my head bobbing in visibility.

But wait: why should I be jealous of your 20 minute hot shower on a chilly summer evening? You should be jealous of me: I am in Africa! And you are in that same chair you’ve sat in every morning for ten years!

The travel bug seems to hit most “kids” my age, a mere 23 years, for we are at the beginning stages of adulthood: recently graduated from college and trying to figure ourselves out. We are just starting to feel the reality of age and it seems, to me anyway, that we have so little left of our youth. We look for meaningful careers, a good income, a home, a significant other: a niche. Others, like me, feel the need to experience the world and take risks. Why I am risking my health with fried slugs on a stick, a delicacy here in Ghana, I do not know.

I suppose my risk-taking has come from having such a privileged and stable childhood. With the realization of my lucky lifestyle, I have since wanted to use my privilege to make a difference. Little did I know how challenging making a difference is. I have decided to spend every penny and move to this rural village of Klefe.  Here, with the Global Volunteer Network, I am a volunteer working with a Community Based Organization (CBO) named Klefe Youth Development Committee, a group of natives whose goal is to eradicate poverty by providing opportunity for the village youth. They have been in existence for two years and have, surprisingly, a lot to show for it.

Through local fundraising, they succeeded in starting construction of three primary school classrooms and acquiring two computers for the school. Unfortunately, construction on the classrooms stopped over a year ago due to lack of funds and there is no electricity in the schools for the computers, which remain in the headmaster’s office, waiting. The committee has many projects in mind but no financial ability to implement them.  My job is to help organize and fundraise for the committee.

Imagine that Duxbury schools don’t have enough classrooms and children are forced to learn outside, weather permitting. Imagine not having any light in your classrooms except that which comes through the windows. Imagine leaky roofs, no cafeteria, and the constant distraction of goats bleating and chickens clucking through the classroom during an exam.

To help the children of Klefe, the committee has a brilliant idea: to start and run a pig farm, pork being a valuable and marketable meat in the area, which will generate income and allow the committee to begin saving for youth development projects. This is a wonderful and feasible venture that only costs a smidge over $2,000.

I could sit here smoldering in African heat and humidity and humbly ask you to donate $10 for the committee’s pig farm. I would plead you to put your coffee down, head over to the computer and type in the address below to give your donation. Maybe I find something romantic in the fact that my villages, American and Ghanaian, can help each other. If every Duxbury household gave $10, the Committee can start their pig farm to save money for Klefe children to have a place to learn when it’s raining and light in the classrooms. But I feel uncomfortable asking that from you. I felt uncomfortable even asking my family to help out my small little cause for the world.

Instead of asking for things, I want to give you something. I want to tell you the story of how great a time I am having, how I am challenged in myriad ways, and how I am so proud to have made these two lucky months happen.

Before my departure for and arrival in Ghana I was told that I would become frustrated with Ghanaian dependence on volunteers from the West and warned I would be shocked at the poverty. While it is true that Ghanaians in general depend greatly on the good hearts of Americans and that there is great poverty, I have to put this idea that Africa is a dangerous and destitute wasteland to rest.

There is more to Klefe than poverty. I have never felt as welcome anywhere as I do here. I see benevolence every day. It is amazing to realize that, beyond this poverty and “nothingness” lies everything. Beyond the paucity of material things lies richness to life that I never knew. Ghanaians seem to see their lives so fully, and the importance of life is not what you have, but who. Family is the central force that drives Ghanaian life. Family makes you rich.

Americans harbor a stereotype about Africa: dangerous, scary, and lost. No one is lost here – and when I walk around town with my host mom, Bertha, she weaves through crowds with ease and greets everyone, even strangers, who greet her back. Bertha’s whole life is here in this village: family, work, belongings. She has established a strong and successful place in her world. Bertha and my entire Ghanaian family (it is large) are teaching me a very important lesson: success is what you make it.

I hope these two months will not be in vain. I know what I have to accomplish for the committee and I suppose that is the reason for this article. I keep a blog to let my family and friends at home in on a little secret: Africa is amazing. So if you feel like a little armchair travel will do you good, please follow this link: