With, Not For: Community Service in Ghana

By Zorica Radanovic 09/19/2014

Schuler Scholar Program International Program - Zorica in Ghana

It’s surreal to think that this past summer, I would wake up to a rooster crowing, step out of the bunks at “the Yard” and look past the tall plantain trees to see the waves of the Gulf of Guinea crashing so gracefully on the shore five minutes down a hill from where I was standing. Ghana is an extremely beautifully place, from the intricate kente weaving to the constant dancing and celebration for no particular reason to the amazing Ghanaian cuisine consisting of fufu, banku and ampesi with palava sauce. The yard, or Trinity Yard School, is a vocational school located in Cape Three Points, Western Region, Ghana that provides under-resourced teenagers with more opportunities after junior high school. The school focuses on advancing English, math, and technological skills, among others, and sponsors its students to go to high school and apprenticeships using donations that it raises. 

During my time in Ghana with Putney Student Travel, I realized what community service means: it means getting out as much as you put in, and I’m not talking just physical work. Although volunteers do put in physical work to help others, more often than not, the volunteers are the ones who leave the experience gaining different perspectives and attitudes in ways they never could have imagined. The gain for volunteers is not in physical form (unless you want to consider the muscles gained); instead, volunteers grow and expand mentally and emotionally. I’ll be the first to tell you that hard work really can pay off, and not just in the form of fresh coconuts. One of the most amazing and rewarding feelings was to be called a hard worker by the head mason at the Yard, Emmanuel, as I was digging a trench in 90 degree weather for three hours.

Now that I’m back home, I am continuing to have new revelations every day. I realize that I didn’t go to Ghana to help the Ghanaians as if they couldn’t do the work without us, but instead I went to work with them. I learned more about Ghana through simple conversations after work at the bike shop with Francis and the other yard boys than I could ever get from a textbook. The yard boys and girls were teenagers my age who were from the village, Cape Three Points, and had either graduated or were going to graduate from Trinity Yard School. There were about 25 of them in total. I learned firsthand what the juju religion really is and even was surprised to hear about their own skeptical opinions of it. I learned about the gangsters and street life of Ghana, the popstars and musicians, the school system, the importance of soccer, their food, and the corruption in the government all through conversations. I was also able to witness all but the “gangster” aspect firsthand, and the conversations helped me see the Ghanaian perspective.

I am forever grateful for the opportunities Schuler has given and continues to give me, including this trip to Ghana: the Schuler Scholar Program is my Trinity Yard School. Because of my experience in Ghana, I’ve learned to constantly ask questions, to listen to directions in a creative way, to fix things without the right tools, to take effective bucket showers and to find reasons to smile even when our car got stuck in a couple feet of water. The friends I’ve made were the same people I was volunteering with. They taught me about their daily lives and helped me see how valuable conversation and human interaction is. I’ve made lifelong friends who don’t mind spending a couple of Ghanaian Cedis to call me now and then to ask me how I am doing. They remind me that although it is extremely important to do well and study, it is also important to call my parents and friends and ask them a simple question, “How are you doing?” 

Zorica Radanovic is a Schuler Scholar and member of the class of 2015 at Maine East High School. She spent four weeks in Ghana during summer 2014 through Putney Student Travel, one of the Schuler Scholar Program's international program partners. Zorica is pictured (far right) with volunteers and friends at Trinity Yard School.

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