Friday, December 9, 2011


My friend Helen, a VSO worker in Ghana from 1999-2001, once told me you need to live in a place for 6 months to finally feel like the place is your home. This December I have reached that mark. This friend of mine sure has some wisdom. Let me tell you what has been going on that now I feel like I know my place in Ghana.

Kimmy Smith (Naama) my neighboring PCV in Kolpong organized a youth development camp focused on service learning and volunteerism. I had the authority to choose three young people to attend this 5 day camp in Wa. The selection process was based on an interview I held with students who wanted to attend. I already had an idea of whom I was going to take, but it was important to make the selection formal and professional to reduce the jealousy of those who did not get chosen. I had 5 boys from the Jeyiri Junior High School show up. I graded the students based on English proficiency, intent, understanding of the camp and potential to be a community leader.  One of the students who I really wanted to take did not show up because it was market day. I went to his house last night and told him I was disappointed he did not come because I see a lot of potential in him. I continued to explain my dilemma: teach him a life lesson, or think of the benefits of Jeyiri this young man could provide if he had an opportunity to attend the camp.  My heart and mind was on the improvement of Jeyiri so I invited him. The teachers and head master at the school approved my selections. Yusif (Jugaba), Haruna and Saliah were going to go to Wa.

The Gender and Youth Development group was in charge of the camp. So all the PCVs who have been in Ghana for a year were leading all the programs and did most of the work. I enjoyed being in the background, seeing how camps run and help out where needed.  There were 45 campers ranging from 12 to 25 years old. They learned how to do a service project, how to be a volunteer and why it’s important.  We talked about problems in our communities and what they wanted to be when they grew up. There was one program where the boys and girls split up to discuss health issues like sex, puberty and menstruation. A motivating guest speaker attended. There was a talent show where the PCVs did the thriller dance. Lastly it would not be a camp without skits and art crafts. The campers were busy from 8am- 9pm everyday. Trust me they learned A LOT.
Making masks 

One afternoon was spent doing a clean up Wa Market service project. Brooms, trash pickers, gloves and masks were all donated for the event.  Each PCV had 5 campers to watch over in the market. I was in the first group to enter. I was talking to a woman and asking her why are we cleaning, what is so vital about picking rubbish up in the community.  Well this conversation took a startling turn when she told me that we should get someone to clean up the dead man 2 meters from where I am standing. WHAT?!? WHERE?!? Ohhh She must be referring to the cloth, sticks and wooden crates that are covering the dead body there.  Apparently this mentally unstable older man died that morning and was still lying in the spot he fell. The police have to do some paperwork before they can come pick it up. Of course we did not know at that point that the police had already been called. One of the campers gathered us all together to say, “Since we are volunteers we need to clean this place, let’s call the police ourselves and make the report.” Awww he has learned so much at this camp, but what is the number to call the police? 911 won’t work here. After standing around a bit the police in a pickup truck came to remove the body. Mind you market is still happening and people are walking around the covered body. However, now a crowd is forming. Two Dutch women walk inches next to the body as the police start removing the crates. I call them over and ask, “Do you realize that you practically just walked over a dead body?” They were quite surprised. They stood next to my students and I was the removed the clothes to reveal the half dressed old man. The mother of the Dutch women said, “Are you sure he’s dead? He doesn’t look dead.” The police took some pictures then lifted the stiff body into a body bag and drove away. All was left was the crowd and a cloth with some bodily fluids on it. Several women began to tell the campers to pick it up. Of course they were frightened and said no.  After some discussion we decided for the health of the community we should pick it up. I then took the bag to throw away when I ran into some PCVs and told them the story and they took the bag from me to dispose of.
Ryan and Ruth cleaning up Wa Market

Ok body gone, shows over, let’s start cleaning again! We were out from about 1pm-4pm. To get the point across on the importance of a clean environment I would tell people, “A dirty environment leads to diseases like malaria, cholera and diarrhea. Did you not just see the dead body here? Did he not die in this dirty place? What happens to you if you live here?” All and all it was a success of a service project. Even after the camp my students organized a clean up Jeyiri day.

When the students came home they were proud to tell the school, chief, landlord and elders EVERYTHING they learned. I am so proud of them for their cooperation, leadership and attentiveness they gave this XPRESS camp. Now I now I can rely on them with anything I want to do. They are taking the responsibility of community volunteer very seriously and I know they will always remember this camp. Small change has occurred in them. Now I know I’m in the right place. My purpose in Jeyiri has become more evident.   

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