In its first ever trip to Africa, the Yale Alumni Service Corps led a group of 155 volunteers to Ghana this summer to perform a variety of community service activities.
The participants, which included alumni and their families, worked from July 27 to Aug. 7 in the village of Yamoransa, a community of about 5,000 people where the volunteers collaborated with natives to teach in local schools, give medical care, help with construction projects and provide business consulting. Kathy Edersheim ’87, the Association of Yale Alumni’s senior director of Yale educational travel, said the trip was so successful that another trip to Ghana is already in the works for next year.
Four alumni participants interviewed said they found the trip “inspiring” and would “definitely” consider future service programs through YASC, but they all added that AYA should bolster its publicity efforts to attract more young Yale alumni to its programs. A majority of alumni participants graduated in the 1970s or ’80s, Edersheim said. Though the trip cost $2,000, participants could apply for need-based financial aid.
“I want AYA to be a little more vocal to young people about what they’re doing and really mobilize the community to pitch in,” Metty Markwei ’15, a Ghanaian international student who helped organize the program, said. “There’s so much more that can be done [in Ghana], but the AYA is definitely on the right path.”
The Yale Alumni Service Corps was founded in 2008 and has conducted seven other service trips so far in Mexico, China, Brazil, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Though Edersheim acknowledged that the AYA “could certainly do a better job” of preparing for trips like these, she said the AYA is ultimately a volunteer organization that relies on the support of its volunteers and needs to “pace” itself.
In preparing for the trip, the YASC coordinated with three other institutions: the University of Cape Coast, AFS-Ghana, a volunteer exchange program, and ONE, the international nonprofit cofounded by U2 lead singer Bono. Though volunteers occasionally ran into problems communicating with locals, Edersheim said a team of translators from AFS-Ghana and ONE helped facilitate interactions with the participants.
“There were some logistical issues in terms of preparation and a bit of a culture shock at first, but the volunteers did a fabulous job and really put their hearts and soul into the trip.” Edersheim said. “The community understands that there are people out there who care, who are willing to spend their time and their money to help them.”
Markwei said the trip “meant a lot to her and the community” of Yamoransa. Though she said the trip was a “life-changing experience” for many of the Yalies and locals with whom she interacted, she hopes next year’s volunteers will focus more on training Ghanaian teachers and doctors to adopt better methods in the long term.
Edersheim said finding ways to leave a lasting impact on the local community is a main objective of YASC’s service trips.
“One of the most meaningful things on this trip was when we sat down with the chief [of Yamoransa] and some of his supporters on the last day, and he told us his people had regained a sense of community and were inspired to be productive themselves,” Edersheim said. “For us, it’s important that we understand the culture and do sustainable things to make sure the alumni and the locals aren’t just showing up and leaving.”
Lesley Kiger ’10, who taught history and athletics classes to the Ghanaian schoolchildren, said the number of Yale families participating and the range of ages on the trip impressed her.
“The diversity of the group allowed everyone to develop their own unique way of contributing to the service work, whether it was explaining a concept one-on-one to a student, visiting a hair salon to see the business first-hand, or helping to lay the foundation of the community center,” Kiger said.
The community of Yamoransa is known for its kenkey, a type of cornmeal and a staple throughout Ghana.