After traveling over 15 hours and 5,200 miles, 22 students, administrators and alumni arrived in early January to the vibrant and bustling city of Accra, Ghana. Equipped with enthusiasm and malaria pills, the students were ready and excited to embark on a two-week service and leadership adventure in Ghana’s capital city.
Video from Tuesday, departing a cold and rainy JFK, then arriving in 93 degree (34 Celsius!) Accra, Ghana! pic.twitter.com/Sy6duehQkj
— Wagner College (@WagnerCollege) January 6, 2017
The students, who range in age and major, abandoned their well-deserved winter break to partner with The Aya Centre For Intercultural Awareness and Development, a service learning organization that encourages students to step outside their comfort zone and learn while doing. Trading in their Starbucks and Snapchats for shovels and paintbrushes, the students are learning how to work together to transform both the community and themselves.
Day One: Accra, Ghana
“Today is the day! Ghana!! The day has finally come to embark on this journey. I am beyond excited…I couldn’t ask for a better team to travel with.” – Sanjita Dham M’18, Microbiology
The first day began as soon as the airplane landed at Kotoka International Airport at 9 a.m. local time. Students were jetlagged and under-caffeinated, but the anticipation of finally arriving was enough to boost adrenaline. After dropping off suitcases and a brief orientation meeting, the entire group enjoyed their first Ghanaian meal, devouring lamb, vegetables and Jollof rice. Cheers!
Following lunch, the group was led on a two-hour bus tour of Accra and the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum, a national park erected in memory of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president and one of its founding fathers. There, students learned the rich history of Ghana and how it became the first sub-Saharan African nation to declare independence from the British. Former President Nkrumah was vital in this process, and students were fascinated to learn about his impact. While inquiring about the current political climate in Ghana, the group was told that a new president was just elected, and they would be in Accra during the inauguration. What an honor!
The tour concluded at the University of Ghana, just a short ride from the hotel, where students were reminded that the spring semester at Wagner was fast approaching. And, finally, after a long and sleepless 30 hours, the group was able to head back to the hotel for an evening of rest, relaxation and rock-paper-scissoring over who got to take the first shower.
“This experience today lends itself to an expanding world view and a greater understanding of and respect for this culture.” – Isabel Barbosa ’17, Philosophy
Day Two: Accra, Ghana
The next day, the group was up bright and early, ready for a day of work. But first, coffee!
A short bus ride later, the group arrived at the New Horizon Special School, a day school geared to serving children with special needs. For eight hours, the students were tasked with scraping off eighteen years’ worth of old, rotting paint from the schoolyard walls and re-painting with fresh, cheerful colors. The day was long and the sun was hot, but the Wagner students were all smiles (and a little bit of turpentine).
“I believe the new paint job will provide the students with a more welcoming environment where they will be able to better focus on their class work.” – Adrian Ramos ’18, Spanish
Day Three: Accra, Ghana
The next day, the group was, once again, up bright and early. This time, they were headed to Pentecost Hospital, Madina for more painting. Students had the opportunity to speak with the director of the hospital for a few minutes before beginning work. They inquired about the number of doctors at the hospital, the number of patients seen in one day and how the Ghanaian healthcare system works. The director was interested in learning more about the American healthcare system, and students explained co-pays and the Affordable Care Act.
The experience at the hospital was enlightening, especially for someone like myself who works in the U.S. medical field. Servicing the Pentecost hospital revealed true, selfless medical professionals.” – Alexis Dispensa M’17, Microbiology
While painting, a group of students wandered to the postnatal care area and began to meet families and play with children. They even posed for some pictures!
The day ended with a trip to the Accra arts market where the group was able to test their bartering skills and even some of the native language of Twi.
Day Four: Anomabu, Ghana
The next day, the group loaded up their suitcases and drove three hours up the coast to Anomabu, where they resided for the next two days. It was refreshing to get out of the city and experience rural Ghana. After they dropped their bags, they went to an ocean-side restaurant for some fresh seafood and gorgeous views of the water.
After lunch, the group took a tour of Cape Coast Castle, one of only three remaining slave fortresses built on the old Gold Coast of West Africa by European traders. Marking the beginning of the slaves’ perilous journey, these fortresses were the last memory they had of their homeland before being shipped off across the Atlantic, never to return again. Here, the group was led through tight, dark spaces and narrow alleyways, imagining generations of those who suffered there. The tour guide, Justice, explained how the men and women lived crammed together without food, water or access to bathrooms, watched closely by various British governors.
The mood that evening was somber, and during reflection, many members of the group shared what resonated the most with them while wandering the grounds.
“I don’t know my ancestors or my history, but I have an idea that they were most likely traded as slaves. And, after knowing what I learned today, when I find out about my history, I will embrace it more, appreciate it more and know that my purpose is to embody my ancestors and represent them.” – Denzel Knight ’18, Finance
Day Five: Kakum and Elmina, Ghana
After a reflective evening, the group woke up the next morning refreshed and ready for a new day. Taking full advantage of the morning sunrise, a few members gathered on the beach at dawn to take in the beauty. To their surprise, they were able to watch local fishermen bring in the day’s catch. Singing traditional African work songs and pulling the rope and net together as a team, it took the men and young boys an hour and a half of hard manual labor to reap the benefits of a small bucket of tilapia. They seemed pleased with their return, and it was an incredible moment to have witnessed.
One of the activities the group was most looking forward to was walking the canopy ropes high above the rainforest of Kakum National Park. One of the better-known attractions in Kakum, which was established in 1931, covers an area of 375 square kilometers complete with antelope, elephants and monkeys. The canopy connects seven treetops over 350 meters above solid ground. To get there, the group climbed a steep and slightly treacherous incline, but it was worth it! The students all felt gratitude that they were able to have such an incredible experience (and grateful that they carb-loaded at dinner the previous evening—Jollof rice is everything!)
After many a high-five, the group got back on the bus to head to Elmina Castle, a slave fortress similar to Cape Coast. At Elmina, they learned that the castle was the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea and the oldest European building in existence below the Sahara. It felt surreal to be in a place of such beauty while fully aware of the horror and dark history of the fortress. At reflections that evening, the group compared the two castles and the feelings they had while at each.
“I noticed the rooms were darker and seemed closer and more crowded at Elmina. I also felt the continuous evil through the walls. The horror was thicker at Elmina.” – Anthony Turner, Adjunct Faculty, Music
As the evening came to a close, students strolled along the beach one final time. Tomorrow, they are returning to Accra, ready and excited for five more days of service and leadership!