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When I first planned to travel to Kenya, I knew what my lodgings looked like, what language was spoken, what weather to expect and what my mission was. I had spent about 8 months doing research on the culture and political climate by reading every blog and book I could find and sitting in on an African Lit class.

Switching gears so quickly after Kenya’s outbreak of post-election violence, I had little lead time to research Ghana well. I didn’t even know the name of the village I would reside in until my invoice came three weeks ago. It’s absolutely my own fault. I had been so distracted by finals, graduation, time sensitive home improvement projects and family responsibilities that I failed to address what this shift in plans meant. It was time to get a serious move on.

The Environmental Development Youth Movement, listed as recipient of my village fee, is a sustainable organic farm in Have, Ghana. Curious, I visited the website to read about the wonderful work they do. The mission statement alone says a great deal:

To mobilize, and train the youth in rural development to conserve natural resources through sustainable agricultural practices and reforestation programs

This sounds fantastic, certainly something I’ve been interested in from the get-go, but it also seemed a bit strange. I had mainly intended to implement my ideas for the Memory Box Project, helping parents and their children to create, save and share special moments and memories before being divided by the terminal stages of HIV/AIDS. Would I be able to continue this project in Ghana?

Asking Shana Greene, the Executive Director of Village Volunteers, whether I was still on task for my original plan, I received this reply:

AIDS does not have the same impact in Ghana. In Kenya, people are identified and in groups so it’s easy to find people to interview. If someone is HIV+ in Ghana there isn’t the same support system because there are many fewer cases. The project is geared to mothers who will most likely die before their child grows up. It’s a small village so I doubt this would be a project there unless perhaps Paul can think of someone. Bring it along and perhaps you can talk to someone at the clinic but I have doubts…

I’m certainly sad that I won’t be doing what I had been planning for months, but I’ll adjust. The question then becomes, whatΒ will I be doing for four weeks in a foreign country with no alternate plan?

I spent some time on the phone with Shana learning about Have’s ongoing village projects. EDYM will likely be harvesting, which I am welcome to help with, and the newly renovated library requires books to be filed according to the Dewey Decimal System. There is also a local school which affords me the opportunity to teach.

How I decided to teach, I will never know. I jumped at an opportunity to do the one thing that scares the beans out of me. I get sick when public speaking, I have never taken a single education class, nor have I ever led any youth groups on my own. Sure, I have often been a student which might lead one to believe I can teach but would it be wise, for example, for a person who has been sued to?practice law? I think not. In fact, was I thinking at all?

Of course, I knew that teaching was the one thing that would have a lasting impact and be most valuable over the long haul. Still, once Shana and I hung up, I freaked out. I felt like I had to know everything. (Trust me. I am fully aware that I do not.) I had more questions than answers and, in an attempt to find concrete ideas, I pored over the Village Volunteers guidlines to leadership training. I then cheated and searched though the Peace Corps documents and teaching aids. Nothing and everything seemed appropriate.

Overwhelmed, I took a break to watch the short online film THEY COME IN THE NAME OF HELPING by Peter S. Brock, a Skidmore College student. Peter’s message stems from a quest for an alternative perspective:

I traveled to Sierra Leone, the world’s second poorest country according to the UN development index, and began to ask young students about the effectiveness of foreign development programs. As I had expected, the opinions I heard differed substantially from the hopeful and often self-glorifying accounts given by NGO reports and UN documentaries. These are their stories.

The majority of interviewees commented on the fact that they can identify the problems within their own culture and don’t need outsiders limiting the ways in which they spend financial support. Amen, Brother. I can’t tell you how much this has reinforced what I already know (until I suffered from amnesia as a result of my anxiety).

What is it about the term “teacher” that places so much weight on having all the answers? I could never have enough answers to fix Have’s problems. Who am I to judge what is and is not a problem anyway? What I can do, and probably do well, is teach my students to analyze their own situations and come up with culturally viable solutions deemed appropriate from within. But of course, this has been the answer all along (and one I often argue pro-actively and with a vengeance). This was why I aligned myself with Village Volunteers and their similar philosophy to begin with.

So, now that I’ve sorted that out for myself, what on Earth am I going to use for lesson plans? I’m going to need some supplies…