Lessons Learned from Sandema and Beyond

It feels like just yesterday that our group landed in Accra, wide-eyed, excited, and ready to get moving. Over a month later, our group is now on the move around Ghana as experienced adventurers and navigating the country on our own, armed with their same open curiosity, but with a firmer footing.

Daily fun in Sandema
Daily fun in Sandema

Living in the community of Sandema was unforgettable. We had the luxury of not only exploring and developing new potential projects and ideas, but also friendships and memories that are etched into our minds forever. Through the magical, and often hilarious moments, we also had our share of difficulties. Initiatives like starting a recycling and sanitation awareness project and setting up a girls football tournament take time, planning, and dedication. Visiting schools and waving at excited children is one thing, but sitting down and really asking the right questions and understanding what students want and need is a complex process. Our group struggled early on in our stay to grapple with our prior expectations: what did we think we came to do, and how can we turn a three week visit into something lasting, something beneficial, and something we can be proud of? Sometimes that “something” is different from what we originally planned for. What we really learned was that it’s not about what we want, but ultimately what they need, since this is their lives and their homes. This is, after all, a discovery trip and this community is giving us more than enough to learn from.
So instead of just sitting in the giant baobab tree all day or meandering in the fields, we decided to pick up our now calloused feet and get moving. While two of us woke up dark and early every morning leaving on motos to head into the backfields to survey and compile the feedback from the farmers involved in G-Roots‘ dry season farming project, others went to the District Assembly to ask permission to start their own recycling project. While “African Time” can be frustrating, we learned that moments spent waiting for transport, or a decision, or one’s laundry to dry are the perfect opportunities to play football, visit a neighbour’s farm, or bargain for a goat.

Asking questions at the girl leadership workshop

For the first time ever, the Girls Leadership Program branched away from Sandema and instead focused on a junior high school in the town of Kadema, where the opportunity for children, especially girls, to continue on to secondary education, are limited. Working with the Kadema teachers helped us get a clearer picture of the challenges northern Ghanaian girls face. We are excited for the possibilities of continuing our work in Kadema.

The Horizon’s boys taught us to cook jollof rice and fry chicken and to dance like true Ghanaians. The after-school science program was a hit and three boys, clad in lap coats, facilitated all the OG participants in interesting and fun environmental lectures. Gilbert, head of the Disabilities Center, always provided us with tasks to do and welcomed us into his family.

Visiting the Builsa District radio station and watching Prosper (from HCC) and his group Voice of the Youth speak on air about teen drugs use
Visiting the Builsa District radio station and watching Prosper (from HCC) and
his group Voice of the Youth speak on air about teen drugs use

The girls football tournament was a huge success. Though the highlight was when we challenged the champions, Anunkum Junior High, to play us. The giant crowd, the fierce team of girls, and we were all smiling as we were clobbered 8-1. Not even the fierce heat or the fact that none of us really new how to play football could dampen our spirits! I don’t know what was more painful: our legs from running or our stomachs from laughing and laughing. We sang and marched with the town all the way home.

We will meet again in Princess Town, on the western coast. A few more days in the sun together is not enough. The only way to soften the blow of saying goodbye is to to quietly reassure each other that this just the beginning of the next step of our journey…