In October 2016, five CommonBond members and three employees visited Ghana for our Second Annual CommonBond Impact in Action trip. Read on to learn more about each of the participants' experience seeing the impact of CommonBond's Social Promise firsthand.
"Ghana, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways."
And so began my Facebook post that I shared with my friends and family back home as I sat in my hotel room in the city of Ho in the Volta Region of Ghana. In my post, I explained how CommonBond had sent me the book A Promise of a Pencil in my welcome packet when I took out a loan with them, and just months later, thanks to CommonBond, I was in Ghana with Pencils of Promise.
Just hours after our flight landed, we were standing outside the Kpohega primary school, speaking with teachers, students, and the headmaster. We engaged in meaningful conversations about the successes and challenges of their students as well as how the school was built. The Pencils of Promise team in Ghana, whose staff is made up of more than 90% Ghanaians, goes to communities around the country to determine where it is appropriate to assist in building schools. What I like about Pencils of Promise is that they are very methodical in their work. They have an extensive rubric to determine which communities are the best suited for a school build and they only choose the communities that are vested in school construction, contributing 20% of the cost of the school, by donating building supplies and helping with construction.
But the school structure itself is just that: a structure. I learned from our next school visits over the following days that Pencils of Promise goes far beyond building school structures. We spoke with teachers who had participated in the teacher training program, who shared how the workshops on social and emotional learning had helped them in the classroom. We saw the impact of that teacher training on the students: on our visit to Akpokope Basic School, where the children are part of the WASH education program (water, sanitation, and hygiene), we watched as the children put on a play for their parents about the importance of washing hands. It was a funny play that made everyone laugh while also emphasizing the importance of good hygiene. I was beyond impressed at the quality of education, the eagerness of the children to learn, and the fact that they are learning in a bilingual environment. I realized that I had so much to learn from the way things are done in Ghana.
The day I arrived back home, I went to have lunch with my son, who is in the third grade. Right outside the bathroom door I saw a little poster about the importance of washing hands, a strikingly similar message that the schoolchildren in Ghana were discussing in their play. This is just one example of how I realized that while we may be on different continents, speak different languages, and have different cultures, we have more in common than we think. We all want the best for our children, for our communities.
When I told people that I would be going to Ghana, most assumed that it was for a church-related trip or charity. I found it upsetting that people would only equate trips to Africa with these things and I wanted them to know there is so much more to Ghana, to all of Africa, than Americans realize. I felt at home in Ghana, so much so that now I am planning a trip to return with my family, I am going to visit my son's third grade class to speak to them about my experience, and I am going to begin reaching out to my community to raise money to help build a classroom in Ghana.
As an immigration attorney I have the honor and privilege of helping people from around the world to fulfill their dreams and goals that come with living in the U.S. Unfortunately, I also see the atrocities that many people face throughout the world – from severe and crippling poverty to heinous crimes and persecution. After years of working with vulnerable populations I realize I had come to see the world through a lens of sadness. Thanks to my trip to Ghana, my worldview has changed and I now see the world through a lens of hope. To put it simply, my trip to Ghana restored my faith in humanity.