Students share experiences during service learning trip to Ghana

By: SPHIS doctoral students, Adrienne Smith, MPH, and Kendria Kelly-Taylor, MSPH

This summer, a group of 14 people from SPHIS (ten students, one alumnus, two community members and one faculty member) traveled to Ghana, located in West Africa, for 21 days for a service learning trip with Dr. Muriel Harris, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences. Adrienne and Kendria recount their experience below. 

We immersed ourselves in Ghanaian culture through various excursions and took part in a public health service project in a small community located in Obuasi, Ghana. In addition to our project, we spent 10 days sightseeing and traveled to various cities including Accra, Cape Coast, and Kumasi. We stayed in hotels and guest houses and visited museums, castles, and other historical sites. We went to a monkey sanctuary, explored the beautiful Aburi Botanical Gardens, did a canopy walk in the rain forest, participated in a naming ceremony, and enjoyed many more adventures.

One of the most memorable places the group visited was the Cape Coast Castle, an area where enslaved persons were imprisoned before enduring the brutal passage ahead. The trip to the castle was an awaking, humbling, and chilling experience. It is one thing to hear of the atrocities of slavery, but to visibly see where millions of people were held against their will was life changing.

Another notable encounter was our visit to the Cape Coast School for Deaf and Blind Children. We witnessed blind children playing instruments and deaf children dancing to the music. At one point the children invited us to dance with them and that was when the real fun started! Even though communication was limited, spending time with these sweet children was very rewarding.

The main purpose of our trip was to provide water filtration systems (provided by Water with Blessings) to women in the village in the city of Obuasi, Ghana. Together, we were able to provide clean and safe drinking water for the community by incorporating community-based participatory techniques and methodology. The project allowed for proximal and distal change for the community as the members were able to enjoy safe and clean drinking water, in addition to reducing the economic burden of buying bag and other bottled water to consume. Due to the self-funded nature of the project, we were only able to provide 15 filters; however, a few weeks after returning home we were notified that 60+ people had used the filters.

This trip changed not only our personal lives but our professional lives as well. As public health practitioners it is important to understand and learn from different cultures to better initiate and foster change. We’ve also grown as a public health researchers by conducting a real public health project in the field which allowed us to develop skills that you just don’t get in the classroom. Our plan and execution of the project differed due to a variety of factors. We had to think critically and effectively on how to finish the task at hand. By participating in this project, it allowed us to create the change that is often discussed, yet hard to achieve, especially in a servant field like public health.

Our advice to those who are debating whether or not to study abroad is to just do it! You never know what funding opportunities are out there, so start asking early and you will be surprised at how many people are willing to help. While there, take a journal and document your daily experiences so you can look back and remember everything you learned. Keep an open mind and heart and allow the experience to make an impression on your life. We had to let go of what we thought made us “comfortable” and immerse ourselves into the culture. It was only then that we began to see the true beauty of Ghana.

This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that provided hands-on experience for us. Dr. Harris ensured our group experienced Ghana in a way that was life changing. We recommend anyone who is looking to travel to Africa to consider Ghana because it is a beautiful place full of history. If given the chance, we would absolutely go back

If you would like to help financially support future Ghana trips, please visit the SPHIS website. Under the tab “Designations” click “Fund” and select “SPHIS Student Travel - Ghana (G2757)”.

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