The most enlightening experience of my life began with a slideshow from a teacher at St. Francis High School. Having returned from a trip to Ghana, Africa, where our sister school was located, Ms. Davis returned to with many stories and even more pictures to share her experience. While watching her presentation, a friend and I were inspired to travel to this country and to meet the students with whom our school had already started a pen-pal relationship. To make this dream a reality, we advocated during our sophomore year. After much research, paperwork, and late nights, our trip was approved. At the beginning of our junior year, we presented the trip to the student body- a two-week expedition for twelve juniors and three chaperones to meet the students at St. Francis Jirapa, to immerse ourselves completely into a different culture, and to serve along with our brothers and sisters. After a thorough application process, the lucky twelve were chosen.
The trip was organized and executed with the help of Catholic Relief Services, which provided the accommodations and schedules, all the while taking great care of us. We arrived in Accra, the capital of Ghana, on June 7th. We immediately had to get used to the change in climate, but were too tired to really notice. We met with our CRS representative, Thomas, who would later prove a very irreplaceable asset on the trip, and soon after were shown to our hotel.
The next day our group packed up yet again and headed for Tamale. The view from the sky was breathtaking. Though Africa is known for being desert-like continent, it is actually home to much beautiful vegetation. This was one of the first things to have shocked me about traveling to Africa- the amount of vegetation we encountered.
After arriving in Tamale, we spent a couple of days exploring the small towns and villages. We learned about CRS and the services it offers within Ghana. We were amazed. Their goal is not to merely throw money at the problems afflicting the Africa economy, but to instill within the locals the knowledge and skill to sustain life. CRS programs include raising awareness about common diseases and how to prevent them as well as sustenance farming. We met local farmers who benefited from these programs, and saw firsthand the good work that CRS was doing.
Following our time in Tamale, our group traveled to Jirapa, where our sister school is located. The girls had been preparing for a year for our arrival, and it showed with their enthusiasm and the welcoming ceremony. There were passionate dances, colorful skits, and passionate songs. The ceremonies ended with a welcoming ritual in which our group was offered water- a precious resource- and then it was off to bed.
Our group primarily served while at the school. We volunteered at a local orphanage where we entertained children between the ages of one and ten. We also visited local homes and learned about the lives of the natives, and their perspective on things like family and responsibilities.
My experiences in Africa changed my view of many things I had considered unchangeable. Seeing the large but tight-knit families made me more grateful for the small one I have at home. Seeing the many people who managed to smile despite their poverty showed me that happiness is possible without the luxuries we often take for granted. And meeting and forming relationships with the beautiful natives made me realize just how important it is that we in America not drift as individuals, but unite as a community.
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