Our service and medical anthropology trip to Ghana has been a life-changing and transformative experience. Our group of almost twenty Wayne State University students and faculty travelled to this region of Africa for an international volunteering and learning opportunity in hopes that we would not only contribute to the wellbeing of Ghanaians, but also gain a deeper understanding of health practices outside of America. For this journal, I will be reflecting on the theme of international volunteering, our impact on the Ghanaian population, and the effect the trip had on me.
I felt very privileged to be giving my time for the benefit of others in Ghana. It makes me realize that different people help in different ways. Many students take part in local volunteering, others write a check, and other people donate their time through overseas volunteering. Margaret Mead once said “Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world…Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have”. Everyone has the capacity to impact the world in their own way. We are a small group of Wayne State University faculty and students and we will definitely impact the lives we encounter in Ghana.
In Choosing Civility, P.M. Forni emphasizes the importance of kindness and consideration in our daily interactions with each other. In essence, this is what international volunteering entails. Many people travel abroad with the desire to make a difference in an underserved area of the world. One’s heart must be full of kindness and compassion in order to leave their comfort zones and enter a new place where adjustments and compromises might have to be made. Whether volunteers are teaching in schools, establishing health clinics, or doing construction, the goal of the project is to contribute to the wellbeing of the native people. That is demonstrating kindness and compassion.
On several days throughout the trip, we had the opportunity to travel to various schools in the Cape Coast region of Ghana and teach about relevant health care topics. Providing health education to this community was a vital aspect of our trip. We taught classes ranging from 20 students to over 300. It was a very beneficial experience, not only for the students, but also for us as future health care leaders. I hoped that the lessons we taught about topics such as sanitation, hygiene, sexual education, and substance abuse resonated with the students. It is ideal that the students take what they learned, apply it to their own lives, and spread the word to their friends
and family. We also had the opportunity to volunteer our time in constructing a library, which was a very rewarding experience.
Forni also notes that civility has to do with courtesy, politeness and ethics. As I mentioned above, international volunteering entails new environments and circumstances that the volunteer may not be used to. In Ghana, I felt like we were in a whole new world. The environment, climate, living conditions and culture were very different than in North America. There were so many different cultural nuances to learn about. For example, doing anything with the left hand is considered rude in Ghanaian culture. It is important to remember to shake hands, wave, or pass money only with the right hand. Also, it is important to greet others and be open to speaking to complete strangers. Although this may seem strange to foreigners, it is a part of Ghanaian culture that we, as guests in this country, should respect. This is a vital aspect of considerate conduct. We need to act upon the realization that the quality of our lives depends on our ability to relate and connect to people. This establishes relationships based on respect, consideration and kindness. The people we encountered in Ghana – volunteers from other areas of the world, the people we served, individuals that took care of us – have in some way, small or large, impacted our lives. We, in turn, have also impacted theirs.