07 Aug Reflections from Sandema: What Cross-Cultural Partnerships Looks Like to Us
Written by Michelle Newlands, West Africa Discovery trip leader.
After two and a half weeks in Sandema working with Horizons Children’s Centre (HCC), Independent Travel Time (ITT) has begun! It’s a bittersweet turning point for both trip leaders, participants and our partners. On one hand, participants are able to put to practice all of the travel lessons they’ve learned, explore new places in small groups or return to visit past partners. On the other hand, we’ve had to say goodbye to our home away from home in the Upper East Region of Ghana and a tearful farewell to our family at HCC.
For the past seven years, Operation Groundswell has been returning to Sandema to support initiatives in the community and fostering true cross-cultural partnerships. Together we’ve learned about disabilities in rural villages, organized football tournaments with local schools and laid bricks for the original foundation of the new HCC site.
Now, close to a decade later, we are continuing to run literacy and extra curricular programs with the boys at the centre, we are watching them grow into incredible boys and young men who are flourishing in their education and are often at the top of their class (and this we know because we were there when they received the award!)
We are running girls’ leadership programs with a group of strong, intelligent and compassionate young ladies from the Preporatory Primary School and took part in their vocational ceremony into Junior High School.
We’ve learned about soap production as a means of employment for members of the disability centre and have seen first hand OG’s fundraising money be put to productive use by witnessing the progress of construction for the new HCC centre – each handmade one brick at a time.
In the two and a half weeks we’ve been here, our team has laughed over riceballs with the children, put on powerful puppet shows, spent time with local farmers in remote areas witnessed impacts of small scale mining projects, learned about microfinance and spoke one on one with people receiving small scale loans for start up businesses.
We’ve had power outages and water shortages, early morning bike rides to catch the sunrise and silent midnight walks under the stars. We’ve cuddled together on concrete floors, long tro-tro rides, random fields and the roof of a traditional clay house watching the early stages of a meteor shower.
We’ve sweat through our shirts relaying groceries back from the local market, practiced balancing water on our heads from the borehole at the construction site, and offered tutoring and computer classes to community members.
Equally important, we’ve build a community within our team which has fostered solidarity in our actions and reflection in all we do. We’ve learned about ourselves, thought about our hopes our fears for the future, and discussed how this experience will help guide us on our journey to wherever it is we’re going.
We’ve critically reflected on our culture and society at home and identified nothing as it appears from the other side of the Atlantic. We’ve built confidence in ourselves to ask questions, try new things and be comfortable in our own skin, metaphorically and literally. We’ve learned fear is something we create and sometimes being in a group will help you overcome. And when we are able to do that, to step outside of our comfort zone and just be who we are, friendships are made and magic happens.
The small children who don’t speak English, the goats that follow us around the fields, the smiling faces at the local resource centre, Mr. Joseph Abobtey the incredible executive director of HCC, and the other kind hearted residents of beautiful Sandema have all shown us the true meaning of cross cultural partnerships. If you ask anyone on the OG West Africa Discovery Program, these are friendships that will never fade from our memories or stop lingering in our hearts, no matter the distance.