In the spring of 2015, GL led six students on its first trip to the Ashanti region of Ghana. Kumasi, the capital of the region, is the bustling city center of a region that produces 96% of Ghana’s exports, including gold bar, manganese ore, cocoa and yams. In partnership with British-Ghanaian agency Thrive Africa, Global Leaders staff and students worked and lived in the Ashanti villages of Besease and Apatrapa.
Most days in Ghana start with work on a service project. During the maiden trip, students worked as a team on three service-projects: service in a children’s home in Kumasi, work on a small farm, and library construction at an existing school.
GL International’s service-learning philosophy is also one of humility – participants are not there to fix a problem or to help the helpless. They work alongside Ghanaians on projects the local community has deemed valuable or necessary, learning about the potential for solidarity and service within the African contexts. For that reason, service projects often change from one year to the next, as our local partners work with the community to identify where need exists. In 2016, GL plans to begin moving toward school construction in the northern part of the Ashanti region in Ghana. GLers have much to learn from their Ghanaian counterparts, and by working together – building team bonds and strong relationships – they do. GL staffers, along with host country staff and student work-team leaders, develop meaningful and challenging discussions and reflections to help participants unpack and understand the experiences they have.
The biggest goal of service learning abroad is that our students step out of their comfort zones. After their year-long participation in service and leadership at home, they have develop the skills, awareness, openness, and confidence to act. Service-learning abroad is an opportunity to put those skills into practice in a much different context. By overcoming new barriers – different language, different cultural background, different values – students are even more empowered to lead the charge to any challenge, and effect positive change.
Global Leaders has long-standing relationships with trusted families who welcome GL students into their homes. Groups of three to five students live with a local host family for the duration of the trip, sharing traditional meals, learning customs, and becoming a part of the family. Past participants have reported that time spent with their homestays is some of the most memorable, and many from life-long friendships with their host families.
In Ghana, the local dialect is called Twi. While this language is not one that students are likely to use in their daily lives at home, they still have the opportunity to practice with a language teacher, so that they are better prepared to communicate with the Ghanaians they meet, live with and work with on their trip. GL believes it is essential that our student leaders.