Each week we bring you personal stories and testimonials from our amazing volunteers. This week, meet Kelly Mill, a volunteer from the University of Virginia who recently participated on a Water Brigade to Ghana.
As I sat in my seat, preparing for take-off, it finally hit me: I am going to Ghana. So much time, so much fundraising, and so many generous people helped me get here, and I was only several hours and a couple of flights away from walking on Ghanaian soil and feeling that Ghanaian sun.
I tried to keep expectations out of my mind. I figure that if I kept expecting certain outcomes, then I would overlook and be unable to appreciate those happenings that may fall outside of my expectations.
Based on first impressions, I must admit that it did match my mental images of what African lifestyles looked like. However, a key difference exists in what I saw in Ghana and how Africa is depicted. I had seen Africa previously depicted in movies and through charitable organizations. Those depictions aim to elicit feelings of sympathy and sorrow. I never thought about it too much prior to actually being here, but those depictions are absolutely absurd. You see it so often: half-naked kids, baskets decorating the heads of those passing by, and close-ups of bare feet. Their lifestyle may be different from ours, but that is no reason to turn it into a cry for help. It is a bit comical to think of what a campaign for help for the US would show. Perhaps people sitting around the dinner table, with close-ups of iPhone screens (that trend may actually warrant a change though).
In fact, being in Ghana felt normal, and I cannot say I have ever heard that before. “Come to Ghana, they’re normal, but still could use some help.” This holds so much truth. I just felt like I was helping a neighbor that needed a hand. Granted that neighbor may be across the Atlantic Ocean and may not speak the same language as me, but those are just minor details. The idea of solidarity, not charity, perfectly represents how we must view these interactions.
The people of Ghana made this experience absolutely amazing. Even when we casually encountered people during door-to-doors, they were always so interested by what we said. That feeling of genuine curiosity and care is absolutely refreshing. Meeting people in the US tends to follow the same pattern: exchange names, ask about a major or employment, where they are from, and forget name almost immediately. Unfortunately, I feel we are often preoccupied with seeking out what is and who will be useful to us, which is a big shame. However, they take the time to learn what they can about and from you, and they like to share their stories as well. This, combined with their incredibly hospitable nature, qualifies them as the most welcoming people I have ever met. Furthermore, the people are so happy. I rarely saw them upset, frustrated, or complaining, and if they were, it was fleeting. They have the most beautiful perspective on life and living.
That being said, the goodbye, to our family in particular, was extremely difficult. I involuntarily started crying and could not stop. I suppose my body geared up to cope with the situation and waited for my mind to catch up (and I still do not think I am mentally ready to face the reality of the goodbye). I would have told them how they are beautiful people and they live in a beautiful place, but the fear of sobbing if I tried to speak prevented me from doing so. I am glad that they let me into their lives and so grateful for the ways in which they have influenced my thinking.
Great vibes, Ghana. ‘Til next time.