Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sara Richardson in Kenya

I scanned the crowd in front of me, anxiously awaiting my driver and soon enough, I saw a man holding a sign intended for me. He took my bags and in seconds, we were cruising away from the airport and into my Kenyan adventure. I breathed in the distinct scent of Africa- of reddish brown dirt swirling in the air, mixed with men burning garbage and women cooking along the roadside- and memories of my trip to Mali two years before flooded over me. Although this was my first time to Kenya, driving along the highway with this stranger who had failed to tell me his name felt oddly familiar and unusually safe.

I found my stay in Kenya to be much more meaningful than my previous journey to West Africa, and I believe this to be for several reasons: fewer language barriers, cooler temperatures, a defined project and purpose, and most importantly, the outstanding organization and oversight of Village Volunteers. I have studied abroad in several countries, with various organizations and agencies, and have realized over the years that overseas, things often go wrong. I can truly say, however, that Village Volunteers has it together, and the planning and preparation this organization put into my trip allowed me to have an enjoyable and safe experience. From the time I was picked up at the airport until the time I was dropped off to return home, I was escorted and hosted by gracious individuals who continuously put my needs before theirs.

I traveled to this country to teach Kenyans about clean drinking water and when it was time to go, I had accomplished just that. At times, my efforts seemed futile and at times, I became frustrated. But when I think about Kenyans, I take pride in knowing they are a little healthier, in part because of me.

What I learned from living among Kenyans for six weeks will stay with me forever and I believe I am a better person because of this trip.

Kenya has taught me to live simply. For six weeks, I lived out of a suitcase and realized that I brought more with me than most Kenyans owned. And when it was time to go home, I realized I didn’t need or even want most of the things I had left behind at home. When I returned to the States, I gave away a lot of my stuff because living like an American again seemed too overwhelming.

Kenya has also taught me to live slowly. Kenyans have a way of talking, moving, and doing that is slow. And at first, I found this to be quite annoying. But the more I interacted with Kenyans, I realized that living slowly allows them more time to exchange greetings with passerby and visit family and friends, and this is what is most important to them. Kenyans don’t know how to rush and after my initial annoyance, I found it to be rather refreshing.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Campbell Hall & St. Michael’s University School Group, March 2010

We have now landed back safely in Canada, but all I can think about is Atorkor! I just wanted to write to the four of you (who were the real architects behind our incredible experience), and on behalf of our entire group say thank you. It is actually hard to adequately express my true gratitude and exactly what I want to say. Your organization and support made the whole trip invaluable for each and every one of us. We will each take away different things from our time in Ghana, but it is safe to say that all of us have been profoundly impacted by the whole experience, and that we will never forget it. Atorkor and its people have touched our lives, and we will always feel like we have a home there. Thank you!

I would also request that you pass along our heartfelt gratitude to the many other people who were also important players in making this happen. Please thank Caroline and Marla (at the VV office) for their patience and efforts in getting us there in the first place, as well as Agbe and Kaye who were both phenomenal supports for our whole group while we were in the village. I would also like to recognize the tireless efforts and support that we received from Beulah and Seth at the school, and Togbe Avege’s guidance and expertise. They all made a huge difference.

I am sure as time passes, we will each continue to reflect at length about what we saw and learned during our time there, and how it has really changed us all for the better. I am also confident that you will see at least some of us back in Atorkor at some point in the future. We will look forward to hearing details from that end, and doing what we can to continue supporting all the fantastic work that continues to go on.

Once again, thank you.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jon Gebbia, February 2010

For my first time volunteering, I went to Nepal and had the pleasure of working with SADP-Nepal and all of the people associated with the organization. I chose to go to Nepal because of its diverse terrain and culture, and now feel like I couldn’t have picked a better destination. Their lack of education coupled with an unstable government makes Nepal a slowly developing country that is “arms wide open” for volunteers.

The hardest part of the trip for me was trying to give back half as much knowledge and know how that I was receiving. One travel quote that I have always lived by is “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is the change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living” (Miriam Beard). That quote does a great job of explaining the type of experience anyone can have by volunteering internationally; an experience that goes way beyond short lived excitement, but self fulfillment and personal growth that will be with you the rest of your life.

In preparation for this trip, I tried to acquire as much information as possible about the people and the area; when in reality an open mind and a friendly attitude was everything I needed. When you surround yourself with such a wonderful group of people, the need for a travel partner and even home comforts becomes unnecessary. You become comfortable with the simple things in life like the sunset over the Annapurna Mountain Range, homegrown meals, simplicity and peacefulness; and since the best things in life aren’t things at all, the ability to slow down, relax, and appreciate life for what it is becomes a gift that many people will never understand.

If you are considering any sort of volunteering or even international travel, the value gained through helping other people will pay you back tenfold. Make sure you lace up your hiking boots, clear your schedule, and hold on, because the experience will rock your world! I thank both village volunteers and SADP Nepal for this life changing trip that will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Peta Hall, February 2010

I have been a volunteer with Village Volunteers for three years, I have worked in Kpando and Atorkor, Ghana. In Kpando I established a womens cooperative, Dzidefo, (meaning "there is hope" in Ewe.) The 10 women make beautiful colourful toddlers clothing, and home accessories using 100% Ghanaian cotton that is batik printed by Claudia in the village. Our website will be live soon! This will give us an even bigger window on the world!

I am now working with Village Volunteers and the Atorkor Development Foundation to bring a Centre to the village of Atorkor. The fishing industry, the main source of income, has been crippled by off shore trawlers. However, there is a nucleus of artisans working there, so we are hoping to build a Centre there with 3 large workshops training women and the youth in batik, kente weaving, glass bead making, ironwork and woodwork. The centre will bring employment to about 90 people when it is fully operational. It will make a huge difference to the economy of the area.
Throughout my working in Ghana I have had the unflinchingly dedicated support of Village Volunteers. I have worked with other NGO's so have had experience with some that are non-professional, careless, and unreliable. I cannot stress how impressed I am with VV. They should be THE MODEL for every volunteer organization! It should be the way every volunteer organization operates, with thought, care, deep commitment and such service. Their profound belief in humanity spreads throughout every sector of their work, and organization. Truly they are the best, their dedication is phenomenal.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brett Weiss, July 2009

Would I recommend other people take the journey I just took? My quick answer is yes however I would have to say realistically that this is not for everyone. In fact for most of my life I did not think it was for me. While it was something I always had an interest in doing I never really thought I would do it.

I had to reach a point in my life where I was ready and willing to commit myself to making this trip and prepare myself mentally, physically, and emotionally and to buy all the “things” I needed for my trip and make all the travel plans. I am not an “outdoors” person and I think most of the people who make trips like this consider themselves outdoors people. I had to learn quite a bit about being an outdoors person to deal with this journey.

If one wants to do this kind of a trip one has to be ready to be very flexible and open to anything and everything. If someone does not think they can be this flexible, they should not even consider a trip like this. Another key point is that you cannot make a trip like this if you are going to get caught up in judgments.

I know each of us in our own way makes judgments…it is only human. However on a trip like this we have to do our best to put them on hold as judging people will take away what you can learn from them and we all can learn a great deal from each other, regardless of our financial status in life.

Another point I would make here is that one has to realize one person’s limitations. I do believe that the main way we make the world a better place is one person at a time taking actions that help other people. Thus if one makes a trip like this you need to be realistic about your impact. You need to realize that if you can do one thing to help out this kind of poverty that is a wonderful thing. Just think if everyone who is able does something this next week to help poverty….the world would be dramatically improved.

It was a thrill and an honor for me to have made this trip. There are so many people for me to thank. First, Village Volunteers out of Seattle, WA was the agency I made this trip through. They were incredibly helpful to me and were very patient with the many questions I would ask them either via email or over the phone. I could not have asked for more in the agency I chose to make this trip with. Shana Greene and her staff are wonderful and I would recommend to anyone who wants to make a trip like this to do it through them. Just go to to get all the information you need.

Duncan and Pamela and their wonderful family who were our hosts were incredible. I could not have asked for more. They did everything and more to make me feel welcome and comfortable. They are truly wonderful and genuine people who are doing amazing things to try to help the people of Kenya. They are true heroes in a world where many people are called heroes but few really meet the definition. Duncan and Pamela are the real thing.

Wendy and Cindy and their home in Nairobi. They were wonderful in helping me trough my first and last nights in Kenya. They were full of class and were incredible hosts.

I thank everyone I met in Kenya who was so warm and wonderful. There will always be a special place in my heart for the people of Kenya and especially the people of Dago and the children in the Dago orphanage and at the Dago School. I will never forget them and they will be a part of everything I do in both my personal and work life.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jessica Warner July 2009

After my trip to Ghana in July and August of 2009 I have fallen in love. I travelled and lived
in the village of Kpando, living and volunteering at Ryvanz-Mia Orphanage. I was also lucky
enough to teach at two of the schools in the village: Delta school and Miracle Preparatory
School. I brought YOM (Youth Outreach Mentors written by Devon De Leña) with me to teach
and found the curriculum to be a success for the village.

At Ryvanz-Mia I was adored and cared for with the utmost respect. Every morning there was
a breakfast of eggs and bread or oats with tea or Milo. The kids and the volunteers would walk
to school together; these walks were a joy in themselves. On one rainy morning in particular I
walked outside to find all the kids dressed up in bright colorful ponchos. It was a silly memory.
I’d teach in the morning at Delta School. I was the teacher for P2 level. I tried to bring YOM
to the school, but I was having difficulty making things happen with the headmaster. I instead
taught math, French, English, geography, etc. Anything I could bring to the classroom was

At lunch time I traveled to my second school: Miracle Prep School, where I taught YOM. The
headmaster at Miracle was a delight to work for. He was very enthusiastic about my curriculum
and made everything work out that I wished. We ended up putting together a group of 17
students and 2 teachers that were open to learning about HIV/AIDS. My students all passed
their tests, and I granted each with a button: “Ask me about HIV/AIDS.” They loved the buttons
and I think this was a great gift to contribute to the students in the end of their studies.
At Ryvanz-Mia Orphanage, I helped out with cooking dinner for the volunteers and cleaning up
afterwards. I mostly played with the kids when they returned from school every day. I brought
Twister which was loved by all and was a fun afternoon game.

My trip to Ghana was an amazing success. I loved every day of it and was so thankful to have
done all that I did. The children at Ryvanz-Mia and all my students have left an imprint on my
heart forever. I plan to visit them again one day, as soon as I can.
Lastly, I wrote a poem while there, that I thought I’d share:

I love the SOUND of an African night. It's loud enough to make music. Crickets are chirping,
frogs are croaking, bats are screeching. Drums can be heard from afar. Families are quiet
because dinner has finally been prepared. It is just loud enough, to close your eyes, and be
content with what your ears bring to you.

I love the VIEW of an African night. A setting sun paints the sky with pinks, blues, and yellows.
Stars appear quickly, twinkling 'star light, star bright.' Fireflies illuminate the bush and you can
only imagine what is roaming around in the dark. Palm trees are faint shadows. The red dirt of
the day is now black and unpredictable. Children's eyes become droopy, it is time for bed.
I love the FEEL of an African night. The warm winds are changing cooler to please a salty face.
The sun ceases to burn into my fair and tan-lined skin. The balmy breeze is enough to rock me
to sleep.

I love the SMELL of an African night. It is almost as if the sun has left her scent amongst the
earth. Charcoal stoves are smoking from a long days work. Cassava leaves smashed into
banku and okra stew served for dinner. Soapy dishes for washing and soapy children cleaned
for sleep.

I love the TASTE of an African night. It is unknown to the world, yet home for its people. Few
strangers can accept the beauty it holds. For these few hold an entirely new beat in their hearts,
for Mother Africa has blessed another with her wise grace.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My trip to Kenya

Dago Dala Hera Orphanage
Alex Salkin
Sunday, March 1, 2009

I’m currently staying on a farm with the Odoyo Family, who are basically the patrons of the Dala Hera Orphanage. The farm is about a 5-minute walk away from the Dago Kogelo Primary school, and the Orphanage is another 3 minutes beyond that. There are about 55 orphans in all, all supported by a feeding program ran by the Odoyos and a Canadian sponsor. The Orphanage is basically a girls dorm, housing about 20 girls at night. The building itself was made possible from a donation from a Peace Corps volunteer in July 2002. While they would have liked to house both the boys and the girls, the government here makes it illegal to house both sexes in the same building, so the executive decision was made to house the girls while they wait to raise the money build a boy’s dorm.

The kids there are some of the sweetest you will ever meet. Most of them are shy around white people (Mazungus) because they see so few of them, but also I don’t think they get much personal attention from many adults. Sarah, the Canadian volunteer, while she was here was great with the kids, teaching them duck, duck, goose (which they call “Dok dok dok”) and playing with the skipping ropes and listening to them sing. I have been spending most of my time elsewhere with Edwin Odoyo, but the times I’ve been over at the orphanage while they’re playing I taught them how to use a Frisbee and recorded some of their songs with my digital voice recorder. They had never seen either of those things, so when I first threw the Frisbee or played back one of their songs they all burst out laughing.

The kids are taken care of by 8 different volunteer mothers, who rotate throughout the week with the cooking and supervising of the children at night. They do it completely without pay except for eating some of the meals they cook.

But through talking with Edwin the program always seems to be in jeopardy. “If our donor stopped paying for the feeding program we would have enough money and food saved up for about five weeks” after that, they wouldn’t be sure what to do. His ultimate dream is to buy an eleven-acre piece of land right next to the farm. By doing this, the whole program may one day be completely self-sufficient, with them growing their own food, and even selling any excess they may grow back into the community. At this point the land is full of sugarcane.

But at this point there are always ways to help the program even in small ways.

Did you know that for 10,500 shillings (135 dollars) you could bring a mobile clinic here every three months for a whole year and immunize all 55 orphans from malaria? For an additional 15,500 shillings (200 dollars) you could provide all the orphans with medicated skin cream (for ringworm and scabies, which almost all of them have) for the entire year?

You would be surprised at how much a little donation of just about ANYTHING helps someone here. An old pair of shoes can go to someone who has never owned shoes. A package of pens could go to a school that can’t afford them, ten dollars could feed a child for weeks.

Sometimes it’s hard to look at what some of these kids have to go through every day.

But when you see something really appreciated, it’ll touch your heart. A donor in the states sent me along with reading glasses to give to each village I go to while I’m here, and the first people I brought them to were the teachers at the Dago Kogelo Primary School.

One teacher admitted he had problems seeing the words on the pages of his student’s homework, and when he put on a pair of glasses he exclaimed, “I can see!”

Here’s an excerpt from the thank you letter from the headmistress of the school: “To Whom It May Concern: May I take this time on behalf of the Dago-Kogelo Primary staff, through the hands of Brother Alex to thank you very much for having donated to us very good glasses for reading. This will enable us to cope up with the present dynamic in Kenya which is always exhaustive to the bare eyes.”

I just have to smile when I read that.

Helping out at Namunyak Maasai Welfare
Sunday, March 22, 2009

My host Emmanuel Tasur and his wife, Lillian, run the volunteer program here about half an hour drive from Kilgoris (Should show up on Google maps) and 50 km from Maasai Mara game reserve, near the “Oloololo” entrance gate. Their house is in an area where nature is more abundant than houses, and our closest neighbors are Emmanuel’s sister, Georgina, and her family. She has two boys and one girl. Larry, her middle son, is 7 years old and incredibly smart. He speaks English better than most adults here and even figured out how to use my digital camera without any input from me (his artistic talents, however, leave much to be desired). I recently taught him and some of his friends how to play the card game “War,” and when Larry is on a hot streak he tends to say, “Tonight I will eat goat!”

Emmanuel’s school is already showing a great deal of progress, even in the short time I’ve been here. Three classrooms have been cemented and they’ve begun on the administration offices. The walls need to cure for 7 days, then they’ll be painted and other finishing touches will be added. Even though I’ll be gone when they start painting, I’m glad to know that the students here will soon be able to learn in permanent buildings.

When Emmanuel got the idea for his school, he had some requirements that he wanted to meet. First, a quality education for everyone. When he went to school as a child, there were too many students and too few teachers, so he made sure that his school would have a good student/teacher ratio. He also has a few mentally handicapped students in some of the early classes, which is almost unheard of here.

Second, cultural preservation. The school is in Maasai land, so he wants to preserve the “good parts of Maasai culture” (don’t ask me to define them). There is a rich history and strong traditions here, and what he sees as a loss of his culture worries him. However, when he hired the teachers and staff, he made sure that there was a good mix of the different tribes represented.

Third, environmental sustainability. He plans on using organic farming methods to grow crops, and wants to teach to his students the importance of the environment to their community. I’d say that’s pretty respectable, yeah?

A few weeks ago he got a letter from the Minister of Education letting him know that he’d been appointed to the “board of governors” of a local high school. He hadn’t applied to the position- he didn’t even know that there was an opening. But his reputation preceded him and at his first board meeting was elected chairman. Laughing, he said to me “I told them that I wasn’t going to serve unless certain things were met, including me being chairman of the board, so they elected me!” Everything was going according to plan, until he found out that the principal and the old chairman had been funneling funds meant to go towards building a new dorm into their personal bank accounts. He tried to stop them, but most of the power lies with the principal, so Emmanuel stepped down from the position instead. The other board members talked him into staying on the board, though. That is just one of the parts of Kenya I can’t stand. It’s so corrupt here. Even though the board knows about the money, there’s nothing they can do about it, and the principal knows that everyone knows about the money, but he does it anyway because he can. Screw everyone else.

So that’s why Emmanuel is a breath of fresh air. I envy the honesty, focus, and drive he has when it comes to his project. Basically everything goes towards the school. While the classrooms are almost finished, he still needs about 65,000 dollars to build the two dorms. (about 33k per dorm, but he may be able to get that down to 25,000 per dorm) He plans on building a public library and a clinic available to the whole community on the school property, and needs money for that. He still needs to build a permanent kitchen and living quarters for the staff, which will cost even more money. And also, to sponsor a child at his school costs 365 dollars for the whole year. That includes books, food, uniform, school fees, everything. All for a dollar a day. Just remember that even a few dollars goes a long way in this country. If you want to donate, go to

I asked what Emmanuel wants to do when he’s done building his school. He replied with a smile, “Build more schools, of course!”
If he’s the person in charge, than I know it will get done.

Alex Salkin is a 24 year old graduate of Willamette University with a B.A. in Anthropology. He just returned from a 6 week trip to Kenya through the Village Volunteer program ( If you have questions or comments, please contact

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Blog entry by Michele Fujii

I have been in Kenya since August 13, 2008. I did not plan on being here for the US Presidential Elections but the plane ticket worked out that way. At 5:30 this morning I was downstairs at Wendy’s in Nairobi glued to the TV only to find out a couple hours later that Barack Obama is to become our next president. The people of Kenya are ecstatic and share the joy with so many Americans. Last night we went to see “Obama: The Musical” at the Kenya National Theatre; where they announced that the next nights show would have a different ending. President Kibaki has declared tomorrow a public holiday in Kenya to celebrate the win.

For the past 3 months I have seen more of Kenya then ever before. I traveled here last summer for 5 weeks to Mama Maria and Namunyak Maasai. This year we held the first (of hopefully many) Kick it with Kenya Conference in Makutano, just north of Kitale. It was partnered with an in-country program called Inspire Life Outreach Ministries (ILOM), founded by Charles Wambula. The conference was very successful. About 75-100 students attended each day along with about 20 pastors from around Kenya. One day a free medical clinic treated over 250 patients within the community. Lessons of the conference included HIV/AIDS, sanitation, good hygiene practices and youth empowerment. The soccer tournament was also a success with 16 teams in total participating. A trophy was awarded to the first place team.

The next 2 months, I spent in Kitale, mostly at Sister Freda’s Medical Centre. This was another incredible experience. The day Caroline and I arrived we were immediately introduced to two newcomers at the hospital. Eliya, almost 2 years, was from Kipsongo slums were his meals consisted of tea and dirt. Emmanuel, about 5 months and weighing a mere 2.5 kgs, was brought by a grandmother who was unable to take care of all her daughter’s children when the daughter died 2 months before of an unknown cause. These children became an immediate part of our lives, feeding and loving them, we watched them grow and become active and alive once again.

The feeding program at Sister Freda’s nursery school is also wonderful. Maize and beans are grown on the 26 acres of land and feed about 100 children every day. The children are just beautiful, like all Kenyan children. Playing with them everyday brings a certain joy to your heart that I cannot explain in words. There is also a nursing school being built on the compound and it’s coming along very quickly. The brick walls are almost finished and the roof is going on some of the rooms as I write.

I was told that I would fall in love with the place before I went and I found that to be very true. Sister Freda has a heart of gold that is rare to find and I feel privileged to have met her and her family.

The rest of my trip was spent at Namuyak Maasai, with Emmanuel Leina Tasur. Last year I walked on the land that he had purchased to build a school. This year I walked on the same land now filled with children playing football or skipping rope. From nursery to class 3, the school has amazing teachers and most of all eager students ready to learn. During the duration of my stay another two classrooms have been painted and are almost ready for classes 4 and 5.

Emmanuel is another incredible person with a passion for his community that almost no one else has. He has seen his people and land being neglected by not only the government but by each other and he is now bringing a change so great that it will impact the future of the area greatly. It is also an honor to have worked by his side.

To wrap up this entry, not enough can be put in words to describe my second stay here in Kenya. I feel like it is becoming a second home and I feel so welcomed by everyone I’ve met. I have built friendships and partnerships that I know will last a lifetime. And I already planning my return.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ghana: My Second Home

After spending a month in the village of Have, Ghana, my departure was highly emotional. I had become so close with one particular family that leaving them tore my heart in two.

Emmanuel, me and Salomé
My new sister Salomé often prepared a variety of local dishes for me with incredible care, a voluntary gesture since my meals were already provided for. It was over those meals on her porch where she, her husband Emmanuel and I shared cultural insight, dreams, desires and a whole lot of laughter. These were treasured experiences that grew into a valuable friendship.

Relaxing with the children
After dinner, I’d play clapping games with the children and, one night, I judged thier dance contest to the tune of Jingle Bells chirping from a cell phone. Before leaving, I also had the chance to paint with the children who produced some beautiful watercolors (thanks to the gifts left by volunteer Denise Ward). There was nothing better than spending time with these little gems. Their curiosity was insatiable. I'll never forget the day Kofi (in the stripes) was holding my hand and, when I wasn't looking, quickly stuck my fingernail between his teeth and bit down. I never knew what to expect but they all made me laugh at every turn.

Through it all, I was accompanied by Jimmy, my 16 year old friend who met me in the morning, went with me to work, walked me home for lunch and guided me down the dark paths at night. I would let him practice typing on my laptop so he, in return, typed me a language guide in Ewe (pronounced Ay-way). Jimmy was one of my favorite companions and will always be my little brother.

My only comfort from the sorrow of departing my new family stemmed from the ways in which they had become so tightly woven into the fabric of my being. They had changed me forever, become a full-fledged part of me. We have shared several phone conversations since my return to the US and I’ll be looking into a cheaper calling plan to always keep in touch.

EDYM's Moringa Tea
I had the opportunity to engage with several programs while in Have. My first day, when told to rest and “feel free,” I asked instead to help in the tea house. There I immediately learned the greatest lesson of all time. Before lunch, a young boy named Julius taught me to glue boxes together and afterward, I learned to pack them. The more I thought of productivity and profit, eager to help as soon as possible, I’d all-too-quickly cram the tea bags into my box. The end result was that some didn't fit and I would have to start over. Watching Salomé work with patience, grace and pride in the end product, I tried to emulate her style and found that it went a great deal further. Slow as that process may have first appeared, it was twice the pace I had been keeping.

Regardless of my learning curve, Salomé never lost her patience with me. Instead she would nod her head and say with a voice as thick and sweet as molasses, “Good! You are trying!” I had thought my technique was improving and that “You are trying” meant that I was getting better. I was wrong. It wasn’t until heaps of teabags were placed from the bin into my lap without comment that I knew I had finally found my stride. The prize was drinking that very tea for breakfast the following morning.

Weeding at EDYM with Paulo and Felix
With that lesson under my belt, I took it to the farm at EDYM Village the following day. There I spent most of my days sitting on a log weeding the newly sown lawn installed to avoid erosion in front of the new office building, tending to the clean-up of the nursery by clearing out old seedlings that never took, recycling the plastic planters for reseeding, and preparing recycled water sachets for more plantings by tediously cutting holes in them with a dull, double-edged razor. By the fourth day I brought 4 pair of scissors from my bag of school donations. Here I offered my own lesson: Sometimes patience and tenacity can use a bit of mechanical help.

The chiefs and queenmother of Have's surrounding areas
Inspired by the recycling of the water sachets from the farm, I met with local chiefs, a queen mother, three linguists and  advisors. In conjunction with Denise Ward, a nutritionist volunteering at the clinic, we were able to deliver a message about the dangers of plastic whether it be leaching toxicities into food (as in the way hot porridge is served to the children in plastic sachets), polluting the air when burned in the trash heaps, or littering the landscape when scattered among the streets. On my behalf, she talked about placing recycling bins throughout town (perhaps even decorated with slogans and murals by the children), reusing the sachets as exemplified on the farm, and her own message emphasizing the pride that local people should feel in the healthy food they grow themselves rather than aspiring to the appearance of wealth by buying unhealthy processed foods that come in plastic.

The chiefs had a great deal of questions on topics such as freezing vs. heating food in plastic and they chuckled in agreement about the ways in which certain products indicate wealth, not health. Overall, they were grateful for the insight and the care with which it was delivered. They then offered to spread this message to all the surrounding areas of Have. It was the most amazing and productive hour of my entire month.

Me, Denise, and the three linguists
After our message was delivered, Denise and I were taken outside where the linguists ceremoniously poured libations into the earth in our honor. Returning inside once more, we were asked to drink gin (at 11 in the morning, eh!) from a communal glass and our wrists were then decorated with a bracelet and scented powder to symbolize peace. It was wonderful to see that some traditional rituals had survived a widespread erasure of culture in the name of Western beliefs.

As for the last few items on my list of my duties, I’d classify them under the field of education. I had planned to assist with the RC Primary School kindergarten class all month, but Paul Kpai, EDYM’s program director, was away for two weeks and unable to properly introduce me to the school officials. By the time he returned, exams had begun and we decided it might be a distraction for me to embark on this task at such time.

Visiting the RC Primary School
I learned just how distracting a visiting white person could be when I delivered 70 pounds of school supplies donated by family and friends (the other 50 lbs. of medicine and books were distributed to the library and clinic). I was greeted with the most beautiful smiling faces eager to see what I brought as well as the images of themselves on my digital camera. Interestingly, after the children burst into song, touching my skin and holding my hands, I learned that they were eager to see me too. (I invite you to watch the video of my visit with the children.)

At the library with Felix
Spending a day at the library, I helped to clean the shelves after a termite infestation had destroyed a number of the books. EDYM's Director, Paul Kpai, had already arranged for the fumigation but the clean-up was now underway. It was a stinky and tedious job until Felix arrived and we had a few good laughs. He and I had already said some difficult goodbyes at the farm after I had worked with him nearly every weekday. It was through him that I learned a great deal about the customs practiced in the region. Seeing him at the library just before I left was not only a pleasant surprise but a real treat.

Maia making lists at the library
Volunteer Maia Warchol, a librarian from Maryland, organized the books into their Dewey Decimal categories and catalogued them into lists. I then labeled the books by section (from children’s books to a young adult section to adult fiction) and replaced them on the shelves. Together with the young boys from the village, Jimmy, Fidel, Sampson and Richard, we finished a large portion of this task just in time for a meeting of school headmasters in which decisions were made on how to sustainably fund the library’s electrical bills and pay for the services of a librarian.

Jimmy (front) and Christian (back)
Lastly, I had asked Jimmy and his friend Christian to collect discarded water sachets from the school yard where a full day of sports had ensued earlier in the week. (I bribed them, of course, giving away Mini Mag Lights as incentive.) Not only did they come back with plenty to recycle at the farm, they also had cleaned up what trash had been left to fly around for days. I had been asking any villagers I knew to save their personal sachets for seedlings but the response was next to nil. Thanks to Jimmy and Christian, there were enough bags to do an entire planting.

Then, just before I left, I was approached by Raymond, one of the teachers at the school. He came to me in the morning before work to delivered three water sachets. For two weeks, when I’d ask if he remembered, he told me that he had not. That day he said, “It has taken me some time to change my thinking. No volunteer before has asked to recycle these. Today I remembered. Please, take them.” I had never been so happy to accept a piece of trash in my life.

Monkey Sanctuary, Volta Region
For fun, I spent weekends touring the Brong Ahafo, Northern, Central and Volta Region. Gunadiish, the in country coordinator, and his assistants Eric and Raymond (yes, the teacher) were fantastic guides and, more importantly, we became friends. Between them all, as well as the gift of a personal tour from Paul Kpai, I fed monkeys, saw elephants, warthogs and fields of antelope. I also visited the Mystic Stone and the oldest mosque in West Africa. I hiked up the top of Gemi Mountain, over the hills of Tano Sacred Grove, through the rainforest and over the network of rope bridges in Kakum National Park. I stood under two gorgeous and very different waterfalls, Wli and Kintampo, and basked in the sun on the ocean shore of Cape Coast. The guides at both the Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles gave two very distinct tours so I had no regrets about spending time at both. I also saw the large, old, pained tree at the slave center near Techiman where I cried as I heard the story of what had taken place there. Finally, during my last day in Ghana, I went to the Accra Art Center and took two drumming lessons. I played until my hands moved beyond pain and well into numbness. I bought a DVD from my teacher and drum to take home so I could continue without killing myself. Overall, I could never choose one tour over another. They were each special and awe inspiring in their own way (and with a different brand of travel adventure for each, to be sure).

I also did a bit of exploring on my own. On my independently arranged mini-tour, Paul’s wife, Comfort, took me to Kpandu to visit the fishermen at the river, the grotto’s Stations of the Cross, the Fesi potters, wood carvers and to buy batik fabric. As an added bonus, we stopped off at the secondary school where the children there care for a crocodile. Jimmy also took me up the mountain behind my house to see the village of Have from above one morning. It was a spectacular sight under the fresh morning mist, leaves glistening in the gentle rain.

Aerial view of Have, Ghana

My going away party
My last evening in the village is one that I hold dear to my heart. A gorgeous dinner was held in my honor (made by Salomé) and I was presented with the special hand-woven Kenta sash that all volunteers working in Have receive. I had known to expect that from reading previous volunteers’ blogs, but it was a delightful surprise when I received two for taking part in activities to do with both the school and the farm. Paul also presented me with a wood carving of The Thinker so that I would always remember Have and, in return, I presented both him and Emmanuel with wood carvings to remember me by. We took tons of photos and I was tearful in just about every one. The gifts were lovely but the people were what I really wanted to take home. I love them all. 

What was most special that night was the shimmering blue, sleeveless dress that Salomé had made for me. It had a matching bracelet to go with it. This was certainly not part of the protocol so I was unbelievably moved. After the party, she walked me home where we hugged, cried and couldn’t bring ourselves to say good-bye. Salomé suggested that she bring breakfast to me in the morning and walk me to the tro-tro so we could simply say “goodnight for now.”

I was leery of trying the dress on in front of Salomé in case it didn’t fit, afraid of disappointing either one of us, but once she left I couldn’t wait. I quickly undressed and snapped it down over my head. It was absolutely perfect.

The following morning, along with Jimmy and Raymond, Salomé arrived in her own blue dress of the same fabric. I ate, did my last packing and asked them to wait outside for just a minute. Quickly, I dug my dress out and slipped it over my head. Making my appearance outside, I asked Salomé, “How did you make this to fit so perfectly??” She had never taken my measurements. Salomé smiled devilishly and said, “The clothes you left for the church... I measured those.” I asked her to accept my favorite hat and scarf in return, the only things I had left to give that were American. We took pictures together saying that she and I even matched like sisters now.

I knew when I left that I had been deeply affected by this place, its people, its culture, but I was never so sure of it than when I returned home. There were the small things, of course, like being startled each time my spigot produced hot water, or any water for that matter. It also took time to instinctively trust my tap water when brushing my teeth, automatically reaching for a water bottle that wasn’t there. What affected me most though was the independence, excess and the attitudes of entitlement I was confronted with immediately after landing back in the US. I had become spoiled with the Ghanaians' unending generosity, humility and the empowerment that comes from being a necessary ingredient to the full function of the community rather than a disposable or interchangeable cog in a capitalist machine. I was tied directly to my labor, knew my place, and felt wholly appreciated. My entire experience, a culmination of things both great and small, was an incredible gift.

For more on my travels, please visit my personal blog

Kim Clune
East Nassau, New York, USA
EDYM Village, Have Library and RC Primary School
July 7 – August 2, 2008