Humanist Service Corps in Ghana: Volunteer Chronicles (part 1)
by Elroy Leday, HSC Volunteer
This article is part of a series written by FBB volunteers detailing their experiences in the Humanist Service Corps. The opinions expressed in this article may not necessarily express those of Foundation Beyond Belief as a whole, its staff, or donors.
How do I sum up my last three weeks? Well, for starters, I will say that this has been an experience unlike any I’ve been a part of before! My time in Ghana has been a weird mix of invigorating, yet sobering; stressful, yet laid back. It’s given me new perspectives on a country far from home, and at the same time has helped me to better understand my own corner of the globe.
I was initially attracted to joining the Humanist Service Corps because they understand that we shouldn’t take the forefront in someone else’s story. We support local organizations on the ground that are already making a difference, and we try to do it in the most ethical way of which we can think.
One such partner organization is SAPID, or Services and Advocacy for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities. Our mission is to help them become self-sustaining so they can continue their mission. Personally rewarding is the random assortment of skills I have collected while being of use to SAPID, such as computer repair, grant writing, and website design. Part of helping them continue to be self-sustaining is showing them how we do whatever we do. Some of the teachers have asked me to give them classes in computer repair after watching me fix a few of their computers. It was unexpected, but I’m thrilled.
I have always believed in giving back, but after work for the day is done, frequent trips to the beach remind me that service need not be a sacrifice. Since Ghana is close to the equator, at different times of the year we can see both the constellations in the northern hemisphere and the southern, and the beach is the perfect location to do so. At the beach and at the school during P.E., I have played soccer against the kids in a friendly match. It's mind-blowing how talented the youth are at soccer here.
Part of the orientation process was to get us familiar with Ghanian culture, but that didn’t mean we wouldn’t continue learning or wouldn’t experience culture shock. Ghana, in recent history, was once the most religious countries in the world. Even though we were told this, discovering just how religious Ghana is was shocking. It is not something as simple as how many people believe in a religion or how many churches there are. Religion is invoked in the names of many, if not most of the stores, and on almost all of the taxis’ stickers inside the cars or on their rears. Almost every few feet in town there is a poster of a religious leader. Living in the Bible Belt and Utah didn’t prepare me for just how visible religion is here. However, I thoroughly enjoy learning about the traditional religion and the lesser gods that are part of it. I just found out there is a lesser god supposedly near where I live. It is supposed to be a dog god, which is why dogs aren’t allowed in my area.
Driving is another culture shock. I used to live in South Korea where I thought I saw the most extreme version of driving, but the drivers in Ghana easily take the cake. Spurning traditional rules of the road and local laws to instead form a driving culture, I am quite impressed with how skilled the drivers are here. I honestly consider them the best in the world.
Another aspect of learning the culture here is learning the language. There are more than a dozen languages spoken in Ghana, but the most prominent one where I am—outside of English— is Twi. I try to speak the language every chance I get, even when the conversation would flow better in English, just so I’ll remember what I learned and can grow in pronunciation. Twi is harder than languages that are more familiar to me like Spanish, but easier than Korean and Japanese. The locals seem to enjoy hearing me speak it. It has helped me haggle prices down on many occasions, as well as give direction to drivers.
As an African-American, coming to Ghana at this time also has additional significance. The year 2019 is dedicated as The Year of Return, a call to the African diaspora to return to Ghana. It was 400 years ago that the first enslaved African was taken to Jamestown, Virginia. Years ago, I did an ancestry test by 23andme, which confirmed I had ancestors in Ghana. In the last two weeks, I have been to Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle. Both of the castles were used as holding places for slaves prior to their leaving the shores of Africa forever. Outside of that, this week I have been watching the Pan African Historical Theatre Festival also known as Panafest. Speaking of which, I’ll end this blog here, so I don’t miss anything.