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 to the left.
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 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 3.7 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!