My trip to Ghana was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I have always dreamed of going to Africa as a volunteer, but never thought I would have the opportunity too. When I saw this study abroad I thought it was the perfect one for me, and it turns out it really was! I have experienced and learned so much on this trip that I never thought I could have just from six weeks. I learned so much about others, especially different cultures, and have learned so much about myself and my personal testimony. The trip was harder than I thought it would be, but at the same time very fulfilling and enjoyable. I had the opportunity to work with Crystal, Friends, and Saint Thomas Eye Clinics all for two weeks each. All of the eye clinics were different in their own ways but I learned valuable things from each.
At Crystal Eye Clinic, I learned a lot about hard work. We helped by far the most people whenever we worked with Crystal. The days were long, hot, and very tiring but after every day I felt so fulfilled. I learned that working hard and dedicating myself to helping others will truly fulfill me and make me happy. I have never been so dedicated to just serving others than I have been on this trip, but I can honestly say this has been one of the happiest and carefree times of my life! At Friends Eye Centre, I was able to learn a lot about adapting to the situation around me. Personally, I enjoy planning and filling every second of my time, but when we were in Kumasi we had no control. I learned a lot about just going with the flow and doing what I was told to do. Even from the beginning when we were sent off to Kumasi we had no idea what we were getting into or the plans, we just went. This was difficult for me because I like to know what’s happening. But as time went by I just learned to be easy going about the situation. Things such as never knowing where we are going, when the powers going to turn back on, or if we were going to be able to contact our friends and families with Wi-Fi was a common occurrence. At first it bothered me because I wanted to know if I was going to have running water or AC that evening, but we never did, so I just learned to accept it. I had to learn to adapt to the relaxed Ghanaian culture and make best of my surroundings even if I was uncomfortable or bored. I had to do this a lot on the trip because that is how Ghana is. At Saint Thomas Eye Clinic, I learned a lot about patience. Saint Thomas is sometimes a lot slower paced than the rest of the practices so we would spend all day waiting, while patients trickled in. It was really difficult at first because I wished they would have everyone there registered and ready to go, but it would never happen. We would even wait a few hours for patients to come back and pick up medicine in the blazing heat. Sometimes I wondered how the doctors did it, but then I realized they were just patient people and there was no rush. I wasn't in a rush to exactly do anything after, so I learned to enjoy where I was at and make the most of it. I especially learned that Ghana's culture is very relaxed and waiting around is normal so embracing it was truly the only way to survive.
Getting immersed in society and the environment was not as hard as I expected. Most of the people on the trip were returned missionaries so they had experienced something like this before, but I never really have to this extent. The heat was one of the hardest things to get used too. I remember the first week my feet were so swollen from the heat it hurt to walk. I soon was able to adapt to the environment around me and towards the end it was normal. I was impressed with how normal it felt to be just dripping in sweat and covered in dirt by the end of the trip. At home, I would not have been able to stand that all day and the thought of taking a shower would have consumed me, but here I was soon able to handle it. On our trip to Cape Coast there was no AC and the window was just filling the car with dust. I was so dirty you could actually see the dirt that had accumulated and stuck to me. Usually I would have been disgusted and super unhappy, but since I was five weeks in it felt pretty normal so I was able to just accept it. Another weird experience I had to get used to was all the staring we were receiving. Everyone no matter where we went would just stare at us, and it was little intimidating at first. I soon got used to it and it became pretty normal. I was able to stand in front of groups of patients, up to 500 in size, and introduce myself in Twee. I did not realize how much we would stand out as Americans here, but we really did. We were getting constant attention, but as time went on we got less and less because we fit more into society. We knew how to buy food out the window of the car from the women selling stuff from the platters on their heads, and communicate properly with the locals. We learned their phrases and different slangs they used in English. One of my proudest moments on the trip was when I was walking home from buying fruit a man in the car pulled over and started talking to me In Twee. I didn't understand, and he soon asked, “oh you’re not from here, you don't speak twee?”. He thought I actually could have been living there for a while! I was in an African dress and had my hair cornrowed, so that definitely helped. The awesome part was I looked so comfortable he did not think I was a tourist!
Devoting all my time for six weeks to being a volunteer changed my perspective on life more than I expected. For the first time in a while I was able to forget what I needed to get done and just help others. The trip was not a vacation by any means, but mentally it was a vacation from the stress of life. Everything is so relaxed here in Ghana, it made me wonder why we get so stressed about things at home. Spending everyday focusing on others made me realize that my life problems were actually pretty small. I was able to help restore people's vision for six weeks, and that was the greatest feeling ever! Dedicating my time to such a worthy cause, helped me realize what is really important in life.
On this trip, I was really able to grow spiritually as well always making time to remember to do the small things in life that make me happy. Being able to set aside a lot of time in the day to ready my scriptures was one of my favorite things on this trip. Pausing my life and being able to take time to help others and not be so busy everyday was dramatically impacting.
Overall, I learned so much in Ghana. I learned that all the things I think are important at home are really not that necessary. We are so blessed at home, and sometimes I take that for granted. For example, before this trip I would wonder how you could not live without things such as AC in 90-degree weather, and running water every day, but people do. It’s normal here not to be one-hundred percent comfortable all the time. At home, I found myself and others around me complaining when it is just a little uncomfortable. I realized that we are so blessed at home it just feels normal. Being here I missed things I never thought of as blessings at home. For example, I missed nice roads, traffic laws, grocery stores, American food, milk, and mostly looking out and not seeing poverty. It has never really bothered me to be in impoverished areas, but after six weeks and that's all you see it begins to sadden you. It was upsetting to think this is all these people know or will maybe know their whole life’s, when I am in America enjoying very nice things. I wondered why I was born in America with so many opportunities, and was so blessed, and so happy in life. I might not ever know why I was given the life I am, but the only thing that brings peace to my mind is not forgetting that I was given so much. I will never forget how lucky I am, and because of that I will dedicate my time to serving others. It doesn't have to be as huge as this trip, but by simple things and helping others lives become a little bit better, hopefully I will be able to show my gratitude for what I have.
I have loved my time in Ghana! The people of Ghana are truly amazing and so kind. I have made such great friends and have learned to love another culture so much! I will never forget this opportunity I was able to experience.
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