Finding Family in West Africa

At OG, we’re always talking about taking youth out of the classroom and into the world for some hands on learning…about off-the-beaten-path adventure…about delving into local cultures that exist outside of the tour bus. What does this all mean? It means serving the communities that graciously host us with open arms. It means living life as a temporary local regardless of what continent or city you find yourself in. It means making deep and real connections with strangers who become family.

On this summer’s West Africa Discovery program, one thing I’m excited to do is introduce you to my family. We’re not family genetically, but in every other way we are. I first met them in 2010, and since then, we’ve kept in touch constantly. Here’s a bit about a couple of them and why they are such amazing people…

Auntie Charlotte:

Auntie Charlotte takes care of over 10 children, a husband, a niece, a nephew, and a large assortment of friends and acquaintances constantly traipsing their way through her house. Doesn’t matter who you are, she’s automatically your mother. Hungry? Talk to Auntie. Too many bug bites? Talk to Auntie. Tired? Auntie Charlotte is your go-to. She is the greatest cook in West Africa (go ahead, find a better one. I dare you), and also fun to hang out with and swap riddles in the rare moments she’s not working.

Auntie Charlotte


The Ewe always have colorful names that describe their personality. Hila is short for Hilarious, and he is quite a jokester. He is the gong-gong beater for the village. Every morning and evening, he runs around the village with a bell (gong-gong) and spreads important news around the village by yelling loud enough that everyone can hear. His infectious smile and willingness to attempt communication (his English is…definitely better than your Ewe) always makes him an instant hit.



One of Sarah’s most engaging personality traits besides her easy-going personality and keen common sense is her ability to speak English. As a native English speaker, this has been huge for our relationship. When she’s not keeping everyone laughing, she helps Auntie Charlotte manage the house and takes care of her 2-year old Juanita. She’s often a favorite for young women who visit as she can give them the low down on what life in Ghana is like for a young lady.

So what do we mean when we say that our programs are “down and dirty,” “authentic,” or “so grassroots we’re practically a new health food”?  (Alright, I made that last one up, but people should say that about us anyway.) What we mean is that you’re really going to connect with people. You’ll get a chance to meet people in their own homes and not in any superficial environment. This is where real, culturally conscious, sustainable development begins – with conversations between equals.

So join Operation Groundswell in West Africa this summer and meet my beautiful family. I have no doubt that you’ll come to love them as I do.

– Jeremy Kirshbaum
Jeremy is one of the two trip leaders for this summer’s West Africa Discovery Program. He is a great lover of economics, politics, poetry, and coffee. If you ever want to talk about Ghana, Operation Groundswell’s West Africa Discovery [rogram, or any of the aforementioned topics, give him a shout at [email protected].

Learn more about our West Africa Discovery program here.