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Ghana ACT popular among UMass students

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Workers collect pineapples at Georgefields Farms, a private plantation in southern Ghana. (Shashank Bengali/MCT)

Workers collect pineapples at Georgefields Farms, a private plantation in southern Ghana. (Shashank Bengali/MCT)

Ghana ACT is a program founded by John Barber in 2010 that takes volunteers on a trip to Ghana, where they provide services to the communities in the area.

Barber started this program after he went to Ghana for the first time in 2009. The following summer, in 2010, he brought over his first volunteers, including Liam Lynch, who went on to become a co-founder and is now in charge of the volunteering aspect of the program.

The application process for the program is simple. Nearly every applicant is all but guaranteed a spot in the program, unless there is an issue with accommodation. The majority of participants are college students, but the program is open to anyone who wishes to volunteer.

“That’s one thing we try and focus on, we don’t want to look for a particular type of person who will fit our program, we want people from all walks of life to take part,” said Lynch.

Most of the volunteers are from the University of Massachusetts, which is where the Ghana ACT is advertised most heavily. There have also been volunteers from all over the United States and Canada who have gotten involved by applying through the website.

Participants are involved in several projects during their stay in Africa. Barber explained that partners of the Ghana ACT pick the projects, and Ghana ACT raises money and recruits volunteers. Their most recent project was building a $20,000 junior high school for the community.

“While we didn’t actually build the school, we provided the funds to build it,” Barber said. “We worked with the community to form the community development plan, which broke people up into different work teams who were then assigned one day a week to work.”

Education is another project that the Ghana ACT continuously works on. “Education is one thing that’s sustainable,” Barber said. “We don’t try and go in to create our projects that fall apart in a few years.”

Volunteers don’t need a degree in education or need to be working towards one in order to teach. As Lynch described it, “If a volunteer wants to teach, we figure out the ideal situation for them.” Volunteers who don’t feel comfortable teaching a certain subject can work at the kindergarten level alongside Ghanaian teachers.

The language barrier hasn’t proven to be much of an issue. About half of the population understands English well enough to have a limited conversation, and several handfuls of people speak very good English. Although the rest of the community speaks very little, if any, English, there are people in the community who are willing to translate for those who cannot understand.

Barber explained that learning the language is part of the experience. “We push volunteers to try and learn the language,” he said. “Engaging with them is crucial to understanding the country.”

Volunteers are allowed to stay for however long they want, but staying for at least three weeks is highly encouraged. Lynch explained, “It takes a person a few days to acclimate to their new surrounding, and a week or so to begin to create relationships with the people and students we work with.”

“Every volunteer that comes, recognizes what they are getting out of the experience,” added Barber. “We focus on immersion in the program. We want to try and get volunteers to understand and live with the Ghanaian people.”

The typical day of a volunteer begins at six or seven in the morning. They work in the school, doing what they can to contribute to the school day. Once school is out, volunteers are allowed to do whatever they wish.

“There is so much to do on any given day, whether it be walking through the market, playing soccer with a local team, or helping make dinner with your host family,” Lynch said. On weekends, volunteers go on excursions throughout the country, visiting prominent landmarks and national parks.

The Ghanaian community has reacted well to the volunteers. Barber believes this is because his team has never gone anywhere and declared what the Ghanaians need or don’t need. “We ask, ‘What do you need and we’ll see if we can help you.’ We are always geared towards their needs.”

“Ghana has come a long way in the last 40-50 years,” said Barber.  Interested volunteers can look for more information on the Ghana ACT website, GhanaAct.org.

Katherine Gilligan can be reached at [email protected].

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