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FAI's 2012 Summer Immersion Trip to Ghana
From June 17th through June 28th, Erika French-Arnold, Assistant Director of FAI, and Mike Harwood, FAI Alumnus and Lecturer, led Santa Clara University's immersion experience in Ghana. Erika and Mike accompanied 11 students and one student leader to Ghana where the students interacted with the local community to learn and develop their passion for solidarity and social justice.
Odame (Fred) Phillips, a Ghanaian MBA student, accompanied the team throughout their journey. His love for Ghana and words of wisdom greatly influenced the student's perspectives.
In the previous immersion trip to Ghana in 2009, the students raised $3,000 to build two houses for the Habitat for Humanity community they visited. With this past success, the students this year were warmly greeted upon their arrival into the community. After a brief introduction, the students accompanied their host to his or her home. During this time, the students talked with each of their host families about their lives and what they do for a living. Having the students in such an intimate setting with these families allowed for deep discussion and understanding of what a Ghanaian lifestyle is like.
"In the Habitat for Humanity village we stayed in, Max and I were lodging with a man named James who was employed as a taxi driver. James was another person that left a profound impact on me because of his hospitality and kindness. I was worried that we might be intrusions into his home but he was very quick to discourage these thoughts. Max and I both had some great talks with James that left me with a lot of faith left in the world, at one point telling both of us that, 'we are all one people'". – Will Finn, '13
While in Ghana, the students engaged in a multitude of activities. Some of the students' most memorable experiences include the slave castles of Cape Coast, interacting with Ghanaians at an HIV/AIDS clinic and spending an hour teaching at local elementary schools. In addition to the more emotional activities, the students let off some steam while taking fun hikes to waterfalls and getting an adrenaline rush while walking across a canopy bridge 130 ft. high!
"The trip to Ghana was incredible, from getting to know the rest of the group, learning about the culture, and seeing the natural beauty of a different continent; it was unreal!" – Max Walter, '13
One of the ways in which the students were able to immerse themselves in the culture of Ghana was through the expansive markets. Strolling through Kumasi market, the largest in West Africa, trying to avoid collision with people as well as ducking under the vast bowls used for carrying supplies on the Ghanaian's heads was quite the experience. The items sold in these markets ranged from soccer jerseys, which many of the students purchased, to dried fish and toothpaste to the delicious fruits and vegetables grown in local farms. Basically, anything desired by the average household could be found within this market.
"Having been to Kenya, I thought I was familiar with African style markets. However, the Kumasi market went far beyond my preconceived thoughts. I have never seen so many people in one place. It was so large and filled with people that I got lost. I was lucky to have found Fred searching for my buddy, Brenda, and me, 15 minutes after we were supposed to have met up with the group". – Courtney Robinson, '12
Not only were the markets of Ghana memorable, but the environment was just as astounding. Taking scenic hikes to waterfalls and an "umbrella" shaped rock really opened the students' eyes to the beauty of Ghana. These hikes, along with the Kukum National Park canopy trail, helped the students understand the Ghanaian sense of pride in their country. There is an abundance of natural resources and an infinite amount of environmental beauty that captivates all who travel to Ghana.
Fortunately for the students, Fred works in agricultural cocoa production and gave them a presentation in a small village cocoa tree grove on harvest and production methods. Fred commented how a large percentage of chocolate companies purchase their cocoa from Ghana. During the presentation, the Ghanaian village came to greet the students. It was interesting to see children roaming away from their parents to flock to us at markets and in other areas, considering that Americans are used to parents making sure their children are always within sight. The explanation Fred gave is that Ghanaian communities are very trusting of one another, and think of their neighbors as extended family to their children.
"It was mentioned that many Ghanaian communities look after one another like family members, which is the reason why parents abstain from the typical American parenting style of 'hovering', and are able to feel comfortable with their kids roaming about with strangers. Meeting and playing with the kids of the village proved just that". – Ashley Acosta, '14
The return to America was bittersweet for many students, as they thoroughly enjoyed their Ghanaian cultural experience. The next step of the immersion program is to raise money for a specific cause or organization within Ghana. While on the trip, the students displayed interest in funding the local elementary schools, because they do not receive sufficient funding to provide for the educational needs of the students.
In addition, the students would also like to help the individuals they met at an HIV/AIDS clinic. Deciding how they will focus their efforts for fundraising will be a challenge, but they are determined to contribute to the bettering of one of these causes.
"I am not looking to have a passing experience that I bring up when people ask me what I did over the summer; I want to really incorporate it into my life". – Brenda Alba, '13
The main goal of the trip was to gain exposure to the economic, social, and cultural dimensions of everyday rural life. Ultimately, the students gained this and more from the immersion. The trip to Ghana is without a doubt an experience that will continue to extend learning outside the classroom at Santa Clara University. FAI is committed to establishing an immersion trip each year to different countries that fills the gap between the classroom and outside experiences.
"I realize that I was not in Ghana to build houses, paint buildings, or cure AIDS. Rather, I was in Ghana to immerse myself in a wildly unique culture, experience global needs, and witness social problems that must be solved. I was there to determine which issues I am truly passionate about fixing. I was there to develop an enthusiastic drive that will guide my life in the future. I was there to discover that I have the power to make a difference in the world. Everyone has that power". – Natalie Ceciliani, '15