A red sun stares down the horizon. The natural haze provided by the Saharan-originating Harmattan Winds protect our gaze from the sun`s brightness, but its intensity remains. Fred, YCI`s Ghana program manager, puts down his Alvaro Pear, washing down the local red-red dish at The Rising Phoenix, a relaxed atmosphere perched on the cliff of a busy beach cove. The seemingly carefree High-Life Ghanaian music of the distance carries well and provides some background to our free flowing conversation. Erica, in Accra for only the past four hours, is in the middle of a story about her experiences in Guyana and how those experiences will translate across continents. We are all sharing each other`s company for the first time, but there`s harmony to the vision we all share for the project and for the goals that we will see through and reach. The confidence is especially reassuring to me, as only 48 hours prior, I was angling the last of my meticulous notes into an already full backpack and carry-on, worried about the impact of the project, the meaning underlying one’s journey from the comforts of home, and most assuredly, on the minds of most volunteers heading towards a previously unknown part of the world to them, what we will discover – both personally and professionally – in new friends, in a new culture, and within.
A few short days of adjustment were not to be had on a personal level. We are unable to unpack and belong yet, despite meeting and making friends with many other volunteers from other projects surrounding our original homestay. The unique sights and sounds of the city stirred a restless excitement among us all, but the reassuring and ever-present smiles truly settle us in, whether they were from our most-welcoming Ghanaian hosts and even curious passer-by’s, who stop us with a smile and undoubtedly friendly, but curious greetings. Accra’s chaotic pace slowed down, if only in our minds. The spicy, red-hue of the food here forewarns the wary volunteer of another bead of sweat to fall from the forehead. There’s too much to take in. But a constant amidst our journey’s start are the ideas and plans that begin to populate our notes and schedules for the month. Our orientation is two fast days at YCI’s office, in a nice area that escapes description, if only for my own confusing lack of directional orientation. These two days allow for tangible goals to appear and the pervasive feeling that we will be standing at the end of the month, wondering in amazement of all that we will accomplish with a bewildering sense of a month passing in the tick of a clock’s second hand.
Our introduction to Takoradi is just as fast, arriving in the middle of the week, with much to do and accomplish, and even less time to settle in. We are fortunate to be able to share the company of two host families, our sleeping space in the company of the Adufo family, with our musically-gifted friend Kobina, and our meals are taken next door with the Antwi family and Nana, YMCA’s ever-smiling program manager in Takoradi, who we are also working hand in hand with. The contrasts in style, language, and pace are quite different than in Accra. Immediately, we begin running from meeting to meeting, sitting with everyone from the head of the youth authority in the region to school visits to brainstorming sessions to visiting with partner organizations, among which include IT4Teens, a program to introduce youth to programming and web development. Collaboration and community are center to making things work and it is so for good reason. We are all working for the same objectives and that makes introductions blend seamlessly into conversations that transcend our backgrounds. Good ideas are thrown around and as quickly, agreed and implemented into the plan.
It`s only been a short moment that`s flashed by in the form of a week, but like the Harmattan Winds blowing a hazy cover over the African sun, we can see the definable form of our project through a thin, quickly-disappearing layer of self-doubt. The view is bright.
–Evan Alexander, Youth Ambassador, Ghana, 2014