My Third Trip to Ghana: The Meaning of Community

The first time I traveled to Ghana to see how CommonBond’s Social Promise helps fund educational opportunities around the world, I was humbled by the commitment and passion that the teachers, students, and volunteers showed me in the name of education. When I returned to Ghana one year later, I was grateful that the “1-for-1” mission I’d helped implement with Pencils of Promise had afforded new resources and opportunities to so many people.

With my third trip to Ghana now complete, I’m once again finding myself moved – this time, by the sense of community that I felt at every step of the trip. From New York to Accra to Ho and back again, I was reminded how tightly the Social Promise connects the CommonBond family, Pencils of Promise, and the people I was lucky enough to meet.

Even before we boarded our flight, I had a feeling that “community” might be the theme of this trip. Upon meeting CommonBond members Karen, Christine, Denice, and Paul, I was struck by the perspective we all shared – each of them, of course, had their own stories and had come to CommonBond for their own reasons, but like me (and CommonBond team members Jessie, Sara, and Adam, who also came on the trip), they were proud to be part of the CB community and were so thrilled to be heading to Ghana.

Once we got into Accra, the capital of Ghana, that sense of community only deepened. First, we visited a nearby village, where we got to see firsthand the differences that our Social Promise had made – from constructing a new safer school building to supplying students with e-readers that allowed everyone simultaneous access to books. This boost in resources could only foster a more collaborative learning environment. Then, we capped off the night eating “red red,” rice, and plantains, for hours with Pencils of Promise members from both Ghana and the U.S.

On our second day in Ghana, we traveled to a small town outside the city of Ho to help build a school which would itself be a testimony of community – students from many different smaller villages would be attending class there, bringing all of them together. As rewarding as the job was, it was also difficult – though that didn’t mean we didn’t get to have some fun. When we weren’t carrying cement, building bricks, or filling the school building’s foundation, we celebrated with the villagers, dancing and drinking from coconuts. Few of us spoke the same language, but that didn’t stop us from meaningfully communicating with each other.

After a day trip to the Wli waterfalls – the highest in West Africa – we closed out our trip with a school inauguration ceremony, and to call it a big deal would be an understatement. Joining us were members of parliament, the county executive, a representative from the national school board, and the village chief. After a traditional ceremony – including dancing, speeches, and performances – the official ribbon cutting commenced, and the kids of the village rushed into the classrooms, boisterous with joy, officially signaling that it was open. Seeing everyone’s work pay off in such a concrete way was the perfect ending to the trip. The next day, we drove back to Accra and flew back to the U.S.

The trip was touching, gratifying, and unforgettable. As in years past, we met wonderful people, observed students learning, helped build a school, and participated in a school inauguration ceremony. What made this trip special was the palpable sense of community from start to finish – in terms of the new friends everyone made and the way that this third trip allowed me to see how our network of members (and their impact) has broadened and deepened. The first time I came to Ghana, CommonBond and Pencils of Promise had built about 50 schools. Now, there are nearly 125.

The CommonBond Social Promise fills us with both great pride and humility. And I was struck by something a parliament member told us in one community: “There’s only one reason you’re here and that’s compassion. You’re not doing this to make money. You have means and you want to make the world better for those who don’t – not because you have to, but because you want to.”

Everyone who came to Ghana from CommonBond was so touched by those words, and even if they made us feel like superheroes for a minute, the truth is even more inspiring. Our community is full of regular people who do extraordinary things and act out of goodwill and compassion. When building a community with a strong mission – and for the right reasons – it can only thrive with continued work and intention. Keep doing what you do well, and you’re bound to have more and more impact over time.

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