Tag Archive | Travel

A Journey’s End…and Beginning

“The best journeys are the ones that answer questions you didn’t think to ask” was the theme with which I began. Now that I’m returning to my home in San Diego, California, after the trip of a lifetime to Ghana, West Africa, it seems that the journey is actually just beginning. There is so much to be done to help the people of Africa and it can feel completely overwhelming and debilitating, but I can no longer just go about my daily life without doing something—whatever I, as one person, can do.

I have four goals after this trip. My first, and most immediate, short-term goal is to send school supplies to the Mafi Tsati and Gbokorpe School: 375 pencils, pens, erasers, and pencil sharpeners, so each child at the school can have one each. Secondly, I want to raise money for another village school. It takes $10,000 and 4 months to build a village school in Ghana. Katie, a teacher from Pennsylvania who chairs VIDA (Volunteers for International Development and Aid), has raised $10,000 and been back to help build a school each summer since she first visited five years ago, so I know I can learn from her fund-raising strategies. Thirdly, I want to raise money to bring Maxwell over to visit our school—I believe that cultural exchange is more powerful than we can measure. And to begin to close the digital divide, I want to raise money to buy Maxwell a lap-top and teach him how to use the internet while he’s visiting, so he can bring it back to the village and the school can have another source of information besides simply listening to the radio and reading the few outdated textbooks the school has access to. This project will entail getting Internet access in the village, which should be possible since they have electricity; I just need to raise the money to set up the infrastructure. Lastly, I want to return to Mafi Tsati soon to visit Maxwell, to see how the kids have grown, see how the new school building is working for the kindergarteners, and learn what else the village needs.

At the beginning of this journey, I couldn’t fathom how I, one person, could make a difference in the lives of these people, but it feels as if it’s come into crystal-clear focus through this trip. We are all called to help someone else in this life. Some of my friends and colleagues do that by starting Charter Schools in our communities, some of us help by inspiring and educating teachers, others pilot community-based writing projects for teens in urban environments… Years ago, I received help from those around me who were able and in a position to give of themselves. It is now my turn to “pay it forward.” In addition to teaching and working with the San Diego writing project and volunteering at the International Rescue Commission’s Community Farm in City Heights, I will be working to provide what I can to improve the lives of my friends in Africa. So, the journey begins…

The Importance of Being Ernest

The biggest blessings in life are often unexpected, as was the case with Ernest. Two days before my trip, my friend Scarrain called to invite me to join her and her family in Balboa Park for a birthday outing. I wasn’t able to join them, because–true to Margit-form–I had too much to do to prepare for my trip. When she learned I was going to Ghana, she said her daughter’s best friend’s boyfriend would be in Accra working with the UN for the summer and maybe I would like to contact him. I absolutely wanted to!

Ernest has been the best travel companion ever—a native Ghanaian who is studying at UC Berkley,  speaks four local dialects, and can negotiate cabs in the city ten times better than I can. We ate our share of Red Red, braved the mass transit bus to Cape Coast, met Alex from South Africa at the canopy walk in Kukum National Park, and even petted a crocodile! It turns out Ernest was not only a huge, unexpected blessing and important travel companion, but is also my neighbor in Hillcrest! Can’t wait to learn how to make Red Red when I get home, so I can have Ernest and his girlfriend, Amberly, over for some reminiscing…

Village “Bankless Bank”

(Tues. July 10th)

Today I had the privilege of learning about a village lending system called the Bankless Bank (Mafi Tsati Fafali), which is truly like a micro-credit union.  Becoming a member of the Bankless Bank is voluntary and all who join (currently approximately 30 members) contribute a small amount to this common cash “savings account” when they join. The group meets once a week, at which time each member contributes what they can, and if they have nothing to contribute there is no penalty. Records are kept in small, green notebooks–one for each member. Those members who need a loan, can borrow up to three times what they have put into the pot, have one month to pay it back, and repay it with a 5% penalty. For example, if someone has put a total of 100GH (Ghanian cedis), he or she can borrow up to 300GH, but must repay 315GH within the month. When someone is sick, they can borrow and pay back without interest. The total earnings from this group account is divided among its members (not sure how often…) At the end of each weekly meeting, the money in the community “account” is placed in a safe box with three padlocks and three members are asked to each lock one of the locks and be responsible for the key until the next meeting. Anyone interested in starting one with me?

Is there an app for that?

(Sun. July 8th)

After saying goodbye to David Lettero, my friend Maxwell and I walked to the next village for a visit. In the afternoon, I got some practical, hands-on knowledge of roasting gari. Cassava root is the staple food here in the Volta Region and the fertile soil provides a plentiful harvest for most of the year. When the cassava root is ground into powder the locals call it gari, and gari is mixed in with different foods (like Red Red) or just eaten plain by the handful after roasting. The smell of the roasting gari is reminiscent of popping popcorn. Wish I could impart all the smells of the village in these photos. Is there an app for that?

Harvesting Cassava Root

(Saturday July 7th)

Thanks to Augustine, the amazing woman who prepares my meals each day (Grace’s and David’s mom), I got to walk to the local farm and harvest some cassava root with them. The earth is so fertile here and the cassava root pulls from the ground with no trouble whatsoever. The “shaving” of it is another story…

Local Food

This one’s for Katie

(This one’s for Katie and the students in the MAC class)

Many of the kids got to pick a bracelet today, thanks to Katie Proal who made all of this possible. Katie, a 9th grade student at SDA, made 100 beautiful bracelets for me to bring, and taught my students back home, who made the rest. The village kids swarmed to the bracelets like bees to the hive and I need to hand out more tomorrow. Kids without one pass me and hold their wrist out saying, “Give me one.” Can’t wait…

A Journey Begins

“The best journeys answer questions you didn’t even think to ask.”

These words from adventurer Jeff Johnson in the documentary 180 Degrees South resonated with me as I snuggled into my coach seat crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Ghana. Some people dream of one journey their entire lives and do whatever it takes to get there, putting most of their time and energy into it. This is something I deeply respect and was true for Jeff with his dream to summit Corcovado Mountain, Chile. My dreams and journeys have evolved over time, as is true with this one to Ghana. Some have asked, “Why Ghana?” and others have wondered why I would you spend three weeks of my summer to volunteer to help build schools and work on projects to improve infrastructure in Ho, Ghana. I know it doesn’t actually make economic sense for one person to fly half way across the world to help in a small village in Africa for three weeks. The total cost of this trip would probably pay for 5 water pumps in 5 different villages…  Though I struggle with this knowledge, and how to make sense of the economic end, I trust that there is a much greater purpose for this trip than the physical change the dollars bring. I trust that the connections I will make and the learning I will gain and share, will grow beyond the economic value and be more than worth it.  I know this journey will bring up questions I didn’t even think to ask, though the answers remain to be seen…