Saturday, July 04, 2009

Wrap Up of My Year Living in Ghana

Well, it has been some months now since I last made a post here. I apologize to friends and strangers alike who may be reading. I have been suffering from re-entry into the USA. It has been very difficult.

I have had to depart my beloved Ghana and am now working in an office in California. I miss my bucket showers under the stars. I miss smiling faces and caring people. I miss greetings given by strangers that you pass on the street. Morning porrage for breakfast and no alarm clock.

Basically no clock period. On the equator, the days never change, so it is sunrise at 6AM and sunset at 6PM.....every day. And every day, you are surrounded by friendly, sharing, hospitable people. Even if they do not know you, they are quick to offer assistance and would give you the shirt off their back if you need a shirt - even if is the only shirt they own. Lives are tightly woven together and everyone helps each other to get by.

Sure, it was not always easy living in a compound house with 18 extended family members, no plumbing and only one pit toilet. But my family that I live with was always ready to do anything to keep me comfortable and healthy. I miss them so very much.

During my year living in Ghana I visited more schools than I can count. Through my work with the TransCAP Foundation (Transitional Center for AIDS Prevention), I was able to pass out school supplies, athletic equipment, essay awards, and even a few laptop computers. I have mentioned Pencil Day before, one of my favorite activities at schools. Just passing out pencils at a school would generate such excitement and joy you would think I was passing out $100 bills. I helped some with reading and computer skills too, with many a night interrupted by a young child asking for some computer time on my home machine, which I also used to help teach children.

I also met with health officials in the Ministry of Health and the Ghana AIDS Commission and visited a number of HIV prevention organizations and clinics. The message is broadcast everywhere in Ghana about being safe. Everyone knows their ABC's. Abstinance. Be faithful. Condomize. The message is there, but condoms are not easy to find or afford.

The infighting and political maneuvering and even ignorance among many of these groups was astonishing, and dashed any hopes I had for doing more serious work in this field. When an official at the Ministry of Health glares across his desk at you and boldly proclaims that "there is no AIDS in the north of Ghana", it feels like a hopeless situation. (The northern regions of Ghana are the poorest and the least served by institutions.) When NGO's are worried more about fighting other NGO's than fighting for the clients they serve, it is clear that priorities are not set correctly. I felt pretty much alone in my works on this front, doing what I could while trying to remain under the radar.

This is why I am so pleased with another project I worked on there. It is one of the best ways I personally have found to help. Rather than importing/exporting goods or trying to raise charitable contributions or even doing volunteer work, it seems best to invest in jobs. Jobs that bring money *into* Ghana would be better. Or jobs that bring people who have money. From there it was quick to see that a travel business stressing charitable giving would be a great way to bring relief into the very poor community where I live.....and Easy Track Ghana was born.

We are a community-based tour business in Ghana. Our staff comes from the shanty where I lived and we train raw talent to become certified guides and administrative staff. We offer opportunity in a place where there is very little opportunity. Bringing visitors to this area has a profound impact on them, and we have received many gifts to give to the community from our guests.

Our corporate responsibility is strong and we pay the salary for employees' time on this library project. We are proud to pay SSNIT (social security) and P.A.Y.E. (income tax) for our employees. We file corporate tax returns with the IRS in Ghana, unlike many of our competitors. It is our responsibility to help build a better Ghana.

While at the same time, we are providing memorable and exciting tours to our guests. The emails I get from visitors that have traveled with Easy Track have been outstanding. More than one visitor has told me that Easy Track Ghana has given them the best vacation of their life. I am so proud of each and every one of the Easy Track team.

In addition to being an awesome adventure and learning experience, this year in Ghana was truly one of the most rewarding events of my life. With jobs so scarce, the rule of thumb is that every employed person is helping support 10 family members that are not working. Supporting familes and the community by giving visitors tours of a lifetime - now that is win-win for all involved!


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