I asked the SOAN students conducting AHSS summer research projects to drop us a line and update us about their exciting projects. While most of Sam’s time in Ghana is spent off the grid, he was able to communicate this to me, and he sent along a few pictures as well! Here’s what he had to say:
It was all a dream: Volunteering and researching in southwest Ghana…
Oh man, I swear if I hear one more rooster crow I am going to lose it! It’s not so bad usually, but when you’re trying to sleep in past 5:00 a.m., it’s not conducive to live in a village where everybody owns at least ten chickens. It’s 1:00 p.m. now in Frankadua, a small farming community in the Volta Region of Ghana located about two hours northwest of the country’s capital city, Accra. I’ve just sat down to drink a second cup of instant coffee after having a lunch of peanut soup, chicken, and rice, a dish I know I am going to make when I get back home. Now that the rainy season has come, the temperature has decreased to about 25 degrees Celsius (or 80 degrees Fahrenheit) with only moderate humidity, and people have begun to walk around in brightly colored shirts and long pants. Kids are running around in their school uniforms and playing on the porch of the volunteer house, and the people of the village are out and about selling goods like pepper and corn, or laundry detergents, or out working hard on their farms.
It has been a long four and half weeks so far, but overall my experience here in Ghana has exceeded my initial expectations. Before I left, the piece of advice I was given the most from friends, family members, and professors was to go into this trip with few expectations and to expect my daily experiences to help govern the direction my volunteer work and research would progress. Now that over a month has passed, and with only two weeks left in my journey, I am so glad this was also the piece of advice that I took to heart the most. Since I was going to be a volunteer, student, and tourist all at the same time, I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me when dealing with how to balance all of the things that I wanted, or at least thought I should be doing.
So far, so good though. Each day I wake up at 5:30 to go work on the farm that my volunteer program helps to manage. There we help to harvest corn and cassava (a type of root), plant beans, cabbage, and eggplant, and help to weed with machetes and turn the soil. Work on the farm ends around 8-8:30 because it begins to get too hot to do much more physical labor, and at this point we begin the 25 minute walk through the mud (because it’s the rainy season) back to the house to have a breakfast of either pancakes, toast, or egg sandwiches. After this, I usually work on my research or help with various projects around the village. By four, I am usually done with whatever research I have done for the day, which usually entails doing interviews, having short conversations, or conducting simple observations. By this time most volunteers are also back at the house playing with the children, who are done with school by then.
My experience so far, though amazing and mind blowing, hasn’t been as balanced and smooth as the description above would appear to depict. Every day has been filled with conflicting emotions and decisions, both with the volunteer work and the research that I have been doing. Frankadua is a town stuck in a cycle of poverty, mainly because it is inhabited by 90 percent subsistence farmers. Because of this, it takes a lot of thought and discussion to coordinate volunteer projects that are beneficial to both the volunteers and the locals. IVHQ is a program that generally hosts volunteers for 2-10 weeks, and because of this, there are a lot of projects that go unfinished. Many volunteers also come in with differing opinions, and while we all get along, we have to constantly be discussing how we want to be interacting with the kids that come by the house, or how we teach in the schools, or how we appropriately give money for varying purposes around the village. The conflicting feelings also accompany the work I have been doing for school. I have made a lot of friends and met many engaging and hard working people so far through my interviews, and while they understand that my ability to help them is severely limited, they still consistently ask me for things that I am not able to give them — like heavy machinery, or contact info for non-profits.
While I am not able to help the people that I meet as much as I want to, they have drawn me towards countless realizations and understandings of the realities of the world we live in and how varying systems interacting on a global scale affect the lives of people all over the world. I’m excited to get back to America, but when I leave I know I’m going to miss the experiences I’ve had here so far. Hopefully my volunteer work and research leaves me in a position where I will be able to continue to think about the work I have done in Ghana and what I want to be doing in the future.
So glad to hear from you, Sam, and good luck wrapping up your research. We’ll see you on campus in a few weeks!