by Jill Robinson with Greenheart Travel
There is a genuine enthusiasm when you talk to Maya Brod about her volunteer experience in Ghana. You can hear it in her voice as she searches for words to describe an adventure that she says is almost impossible to articulate.
Volunteering for Greenheart Travel’s program in Ghana a little under a year ago, Maya didn’t know what to expect. What she did know was that it was time for her to take a break from college to do something meaningful and have an experience that would help her learn about herself. Maya accomplished both those goals, creating a library for the Asuoso pre/primary village school and returning with a renewed sense of confidence in herself.
Building that self-assurance required a sense of humor and patience. Her village of Asuoso could be traversed in seven minutes by foot, and a single, paved road bisected the community. Maya explained how important this road was, as it connected them to the surrounding communities, and micro-enterprises of salons, seamstresses and fruit stalls lined the edges. The village’s back drop was lush and green for Maya’s daily hikes from the primary school to the junior high school. Many of the school children had never seen a refrigerator or a toilet that flushed.
“I was nervous at first, but after a month I got really used to everything,” Maya says. “In order to get to the nearby town, you had to ride these very old Volkswagen vans called “tro-tros.” They would pack in eight to twenty people in at a time, and a couple of times they would break down. After awhile you get used to it, and there would always be another tro-tro coming. It always seemed to work out.”
This seemed to be a mantra for the trip in adapting to the Ghanaian way of life, one that Maya said she felt an incredible connection toward. Becoming comfortable was only one challenge; teaching was another set of life lessons.
“Teaching was a big surprise,” Maya says. “The whole culture is different. I was teaching in classrooms with no walls, kids couldn’t read though they had been in school, and chickens would walk through the classrooms.”
Initially assigned to teach English for the junior high levels, Maya’s enthusiasm and hard work led her to create lesson plans in Math and Religious and Moral education as well. She also taught at the primary school during her lunch break, and after a month, implemented an after school reading session.
As her program neared its completion and her involvement grew within the community, Maya wanted to do something that would continue to last even after she returned home. Seeing first hand the school’s need for reading materials, she put into action her idea for a library space.
“I knew the 3 months would come to an end, and I wanted to show my appreciation to the village for welcoming me in their home and that I cared for them,” Maya says. “I wanted to give them something that would last.”
Maya approached her family about her idea to clean a storage area and turn it into a library space. Raising $500, she spoke with the teachers and principle explaining her plan. That same day, a room that hadn’t been utilized in years, started its metamorphosis into a library.
“It is amazing how quickly things went,” Maya says. “All the students and teachers helped and they organized themselves, giving each other jobs. I wanted to involve everyone in the village, and it was a communal effort.”
Students helped paint the walls, choosing a bright green, and a local carpenter was hired to build the shelves. Maya took trips to markets in search of reading materials, and was able to collect enough books to organize the library by class subjects and dedicate a section for villagers to borrow material as well.
The remaining money went to purchasing desperately needed soccer jerseys for the school team. On the last day, the school invited a neighboring team to play in their new uniforms. The gratifying feeling of making a difference in a community still resonates with Maya months after her return home. Not only did she immerse herself in an unfamiliar culture, she embraced it. She says it has changed her idea of travel for the future.
“I feel after that experience, if I ever travel anywhere, that I always want to do a volunteer project,” Maya says. “It’s so rewarding in the end, and so easy to make a positive impact while having a wonderful learning experience at the same time. I came home feeling empowered. I felt such a deep connection to Ghana.”