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Student Spotlight: Providing Community Support in Ghana

by Krista Nickerson | January 30th, 2012

Krista Nickerson participated in a program with the Ghana Health and Education Initiative (GHEI). During her time in Africa, she focused on the health and education needs of a community in Ghana; traveled around the southern half of the country; and visited spots like Cape Coast “slave castle,” Kakum National Park, a major African bead market, and the Volta hydroelectric dam that powers the whole country. Farther off the beaten path, she hiked to several waterfalls and visited butterfly and monkey sanctuaries. She also had the opportunity for cultural immersion, visiting villages where they weaved traditional kente cloth and sampling pineapple, mango, boiled eggs, bread, and the local dish called fufu occasionally. This is her story.

GHEI organizes four short-term volunteer projects every summer that are directly related to community’s health and education goals and needs. I participated in two of projects: community outreach for childhood literacy and a girls’ empowerment camp for local junior high school girls.

For the child literacy outreach, our team of three volunteers worked with local staff to present a skit and song to local school kids about how to take care of books. We also helped organize an awards ceremony for the library read-a-thon. For Girls’ Empowerment, we planned and led a week-long camp for the girls with activities focusing on self-esteem, leadership, money management, family planning, and STD awareness.

By the end of the outreach, every kid in town would sing the song at us wherever we went – that was a good thing because they remembered the rules when they went to the library too! The read-a-thon was extremely successful. The kids definitely got used to the idea of using the library as a learning resource, and their commitment to spending time there earned them school supplies. The community elders came to the ceremony and expressed their support for our work too.

For the girls’ empowerment camp, the girls told us that they had never felt so free to express themselves and to think about their options for their lives. They left the camp with strengthened emotional and practical tools to help them make the choices that are right for them regarding education, family, and finances.

I was skeptical at first, but I definitely think that GHEI’s model of community-led development is no joke. These programs are part of a much larger, sustained commitment, and the ultimate goal is for local community members to take over. Everything GHEI does in the village is designed to avoid dependence and develop the community’s capacity to continue GHEI’s work on its own.

For me, working with the volunteer groups was a great exercise in teamwork, cross-cultural communication, and compromise. Also, I deeply admire the structure and strategy of GHEI – the minimal bureaucracy, functional hierarchy, and maximized consensus decision-making really made sure that each of us felt empowered in our roles while allowing us to make decisions and accomplish tasks efficiently.

Krista Nickerson is a communications professional and an avid writer, reader, researcher, and traveler. She is a persistent advocate for cultural exchange through local and international projects that promote mutual knowledge, understanding, and respect. She received her B.A. in English and Spanish from Vassar College, and two years later she was awarded a Fulbright grant to teach English in Argentina. Krista is currently earning her M.S. in Women’s and Gender Studies at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland.


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