What luck that brought us all together at this wonderful organization in Sogakope, Ghana!
When Ghana emerged as my dream destination a few months ago, I joined the Couchsurfing.org “Ghana” group. (Tip: Do this on CS before going to a new place!)
Almost instantly, I received a dozen welcoming messages from various people and organizations in Ghana who were eager to have visitors and volunteers. One emerged as the most interesting and the most committed to forming a partnership: John, from Youth Creating Change (YCC), pictured in the red shirt above.
As my email correspondence with John continued and my desire to volunteer at YCC grew, I sent a request to John for the contact information of former volunteers. (Tip: this is oh so helpful in making you feel informed before crossing oceans for a job!)
All twelve former volunteers I emailed sent back rave reviews of their experience with YCC. Some explained that they were headed back for a second, third, or seventh time, and one declared: “John is the real deal. He has put so much passion and work into YCC, and it is a wonderful organization.”
Of these contacts, the deciding factor was a certain Connecticut woman dubbed “Backpacking Granny,” also called “Mighty Marla.” Marla met John five years ago, right when he was first starting YCC to fulfill his dream of helping his community, Sogakope.
Marla fell in love with Sogakope and with John’s mission. Since that first meeting, “Backpacking Granny” has been back to Ghana five times, and is headed back for a sixth visit (and to hang out with me!) at the end of March.
Over the past bunch of years, John, Marla, a German fellow named Alexander, and a bunch of other Ghanaian and international helpers have been literally building up the YCC guesthouse for volunteers, and figuratively building up the impact and reach of YCC.
John picked me up at the airport in Accra with a sign and a smile. I was so glad to meet him at last! After a brief rest, we headed the one hour to try to find an ATM to take my Mastercard bank card, and then the two hours to Sogakope.
The land was flat and rural after the bustle of Accra, and the air blessedly warm after the frigid frost of Germany. I pelted John with questions about the history of YCC and what I should know about Ghana.
“Well you can probably get away with this because you are not from here,” John said, laughing, “But the main thing you need to know is you must not use your left hand to give or take things from people. It is an insult.”
Good to know! It was clear from John’s details about YCC that the organization is doing wonderful things for Sogakope: advocating to prevent child abuse and trafficking, planning Grand Quizzes and Fun Fairs, building water purification systems and schools, conducting educational tours… and all of this in addition to the daily Computer, Math, and English classes.
At last, John and I arrived at the almost-finished guesthouse in Sogakope! Backpacking Granny’s son, Dan (pictured to the left in the first photo of this article) had arrived a week before me, and I greeted him with a huge bear-hug.
Dan, bless his soul, has been reading my blog from the very beginning without missing an article, and we have emailed back and forth almost as much as me and Marla and John. We felt like family already!
At seven that night, John arranged an orientation at the guesthouse with ten of the Ghanaian YCC staff members. After John laid out the twelve-something different programs YCC is implementing, each staff member introduced him or herself, bid me welcome, and explained some things that I should know about YCC and Ghana.
Many said: “We look forward to learning from you as much as you can learn from us.” I felt appreciated, welcome, and thrilled about our partnership. When it came time for me to introduce myself, I began:
“Thank you so much for your welcome. I have been traveling for five months so far, and I didn’t realize how lonely I have been until now. I am truly happy to be part of this caring community, and I hope I can contribute and learn much over the next three months. Thank you again.”
That was yesterday, and today I had my first introductory class with YCC students (pictured here)! Awesome.
Various YCC members have also led us on walking excursions all over Sogakope, from the clay bread ovens, to an open-air school, to the bridge spanning the Volta River, meeting many folks and passing many goats on the way. It’s been a joy to chat as we all walk.
Now it is the second evening in Sogakope, and a metaphor moment just occurred. A minute ago, as we were all sitting on the guesthouse porch in the soft, hot air, Dan plopped down on a chair across from Seth, Oliver and Alfred. Suddenly, the back legs of Dan’s seat slipped over the edge of the porch and my fellow American began plunging towards the rocks below.
In a split second, three pairs of arms shot out to grab him. Seth pulled Dan to safety, Oliver righted the chair, and Alfred saved Dan’s camera. Everyone laughed and embraced and dear Dan hyperventilated.
A metaphor, people!
Ghana is known as one of the friendliest, kindest, most hospitable countries in the world, and as Backpacking Granny reassured me: “Everyone will take care of you and make you feel at home. Like the Ghanaians say: “Don’t worry”. They will make sure everything is all right!”
It is a joy to be here in Sogakope with these wonderful people, and there will be much to write over the next three months.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!
Tuesday 17th of November 2015
I think the YCC is a great group to have in Ghana! I'm glad to know that there are many people in the world that like to help others because of their generosity and knowing that it's the right thing to do.
Monday 16th of November 2015
I liked how you defeated those sterotypes people make about Africa by saying there all dangerous. Instead, you told the positives.
Wednesday 23rd of January 2013
Thanks so much for supporting my folks in many ways at Sogatorkor as we affectionately call it. Sogakofe has always been a very peaceful place. Unfortunately, I don't live there now but have periodically dashed in and out the past 3 years. One of the nicest spots in town I believe is "Somewhere" close to the SPA. This little town has always been such a nice place since my childhood and I know how much I long see it develop nicely. I sincerely hope and wish that environmental issues and other issues springing up so fast because of the speed of growth would not damge the natural environment and pollute the river downstream, for, this river has been the source of livelihood for the people for quiet some ages.
I appreciate your hard work and support for the town. Thank you
Wednesday 23rd of January 2013
Thanks for your comment. I didn't think about the environmental repercussions of the rapid development in the area until now, but you make such an important point!
Tuesday 31st of May 2011
I am very sorry for all those incident that happened but the Dutchman brutally murdered body was not found in Sogakope but in Ho so why should these fellow bring in that argument which is total invalid in this case.Why do he need to assume that. State the fact to the public so that they can make a good judgement. Infact, sogakope is beautiful place with it landscape and I believe by 2020 that city will be Dubai in Africa and I invite all people who share this dream help in many ways they can. Thank you those who are developing that part of the Volta region, locals and foreigners.
Imported Blogger Comments
Friday 28th of May 2010
Franny said... Love it! Enjoy!
January 7, 2010 7:48 PM
Thapelo said... Wow this is wonderful, but its typical Africa welcoming. I ma sure you gonna have a great time in Ghana. Welcome to African soil again.
January 7, 2010 7:51 PM
nodebtworldtravel.com said... Glad to you made it to Ghana alright. Mom can stop worrying now... No she won't! =)
Lovely country and people. You seem like you're in good hands.
January 8, 2010 1:33 AM
Kmo said... Glad to hear you got to Ghana! Everybody there sounds awesome and the YCC sounds like a fantastic organization. Can't wait to read about your adventures the next few months!
January 8, 2010 2:56 AM
Travelin'Fool said... cool blog. i have heard great things about ghana. Had to laugh at the pic of the obama sign. I just got back from tanzania and he was pretty much everywhere and everyone wanted to talk about him!
January 9, 2010 6:16 AM
Luddy Sr. said... Did all this really happen? It feels like a dream I had. Wish I didn't have to leave, but at least I can follow along here : )
January 21, 2010 5:47 AM
Warning to foreigners said... Sogakope is a very nice town but foreigners should be very, very careful at this time (Mar 2010). A Dutchman, resident in Sogakope for many years and helping the local community was recently brutally murdered and his body dumped in the forests near Ho. A Japanese friend and another foreigner were robbed of all their money, cameras and cell phones on 28th Feb 2010 in Happovers Lodge, Sogakope, while they slept ! The local police in Sogakope have warned foreigners not to walk alone at night in the town as they have no idea of who these criminals are ....so please, if you are a visitor to Sogakope beware. Most people are very friendly but some, a small minority, I think, are definitely NOT !!
March 1, 2010 10:13 PM
Lillie M. said... Thanks for all your comments!
With regards to the most recent reply, indeed, those Sogakope incidents have come to our attention in the past few weeks. They are extremely troubling and the police are currently investigating.
I really hope, however, that such events will not scare people away from wanting to volunteer with YCC. YCC has had hundreds of volunteers over the course of its six-year existence and it takes the safety of its members VERY seriously. During our orientation, we are told a number of guidelines to keep us safe (ex: always make sure to inform YCC staff of where we are going), and these guidelines have been shown to be wise and effective during my two months here so far.
It is also worthwhile to note that, sadly, nearly every town has its share of violence and robberies. (Southeast Asia, while considered very safe for travelers, was full of stories of hotel-room robberies.) Wherever we go, home or abroad, we have to be alert and take care of ourselves and each other.
Thanks again for commenting!
March 3, 2010 11:00 PM