Karen Simmons was one of the four CommonBond members chosen to attend our annual Impact in Action Trip in Ghana, and she's agreed to share her thoughts with our readers. Over the next few days, we'll be publishing stories from other CB members and employees who participated in the trip.
Approximately six months ago, I took on $50,000 of my daughters' student loan debt. After seeing a piece about CommonBond on Nightly Business Report, I did my research on the company and made the choice to refinance. I know now that this was the best decision I made—not because CommonBond was rated one of the top 50 most innovative companies in the United States by Fast Company, but because I was able to meet children in Ghana who directly benefitted from my decision.
A few months later, I saw on the CommonBond website that they were doing their yearly trip to Ghana. I did not hesitate to write the application essay and, without even proofreading it, I sent it in. When I received the email that I would be one of the four people picked to go, I made sure I took care of everything I needed to before I left. And though I was questioned by the people around me—co-workers, family members, and friends asked me, "Why are you doing this?"—none of that came from my two daughters. The two people I love most in this world were behind me 100 percent.
When I arrived at the airport I met Denise, another CommonBond member. She was so sweet and easy to get along with. I then met a few other people who were also going to Ghana. One man saw my Ironman backpack and so we began a conversation about triathlons. As we were boarding the plane I asked him what he did for a living. He looked at me, smiled, and said, "I'm the CEO." That was my first interaction with David Klein. I knew at that moment what a kind soul David is.
On my first day, David, CommonBond member Amanda, and I walked into a classroom where some of the youngest children were learning. The teacher was teaching her lessons and the children began to sing a song. One little boy kept turning around and looking at me. This little boy walked away from his desk, came straight to me, and held my hands. He did not say a word—he just stared into my eyes as I rubbed his hands and spoke to him. Moments later a little girl did the same and then other children came over wanting to hold my hand. I truly didn't know if anything was going to top that.
The second day we helped build a school. We carried large pans of dirt on our heads and held on to them tightly with both hands. The women of the village carried heavier loads without using their hands, some with babies on their backs. We hung out with the women, danced a little, drank from coconuts, and shared our water with the schoolchildren.
Day three, we went to the monkey sanctuary (which was so cool) and the Wli waterfalls (which took my breath away). Being a single mom for all of my children's lives I was never a world traveler so believe me when I say it truly took my breath away.
I thought that interacting with those children on day one was the ultimate experience—until day four. On day four came the opening of the new school. We arrived on scene and all the schoolchildren were sitting together on one side of the field. I went directly over to them and before I knew it the children were surrounding me, wanting to shake my hand. It was a true pleasure to meet so many different children and understand just how important the construction of this new school was to them.
I watched the inaugural ceremony of the school with a young girl who had come up to me and immediately connected with me. Everyone was so open and accepting. I noticed that all of the children interacted with each other, despite being from different cultures and religions.
After the ceremony I went around to all the women and children. I touched my heart in appreciation and spoke with as many of them as I could. I will never forget how much these people have touched me. Never!
As a single mom, it's hard to find time to travel and have adventures because I gave so much to my daughters. Going to Ghana was my first "vacation" in 15 years, and I can't imagine a more amazing and powerful way to spend it. When I came back to the U.S., I knew that my life had been changed. I am so grateful for the experience that CommonBond gave me.