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Volunteer Service in Ghana

For the first time, I was in the racial minority. I could not hide or blend. I lost all sense of anonymity. This was part of the reason that I chose to travel on a student exchange program with AFS,, to Ghana. I wanted to test myself, to see what would be left when familiar surroundings were stripped away.

While AFS has programs that concentrate on language study and other areas, it was community service that interested me. There were many countries from which to choose-like Paraguay, Russia, Bolivia, and Beligum. And while AFS has programs for high schoolers, it also offers programs for graduates, which are a great way to pursue special interests or learn what it's like to pursue a career such as education, marketing, or veterinary medicine. You can research the weather, but you cannot form expectations about what your experiences may be.

When I arrived with 27 American students and two leaders, we were encircled by Ghanaians shouting "obroni," (white person) in voices that were welcoming and friendly. As my relationships with my AFS hosts family and friends grew, I realized that they understood me more than I expected they would; their interest in me ran deeper than my identity as a white American girl.

Each day was an adventure. I pushed my limits, whether it was navigating the Ghanaian tro-tros (the old mini-van transportation system) or learning to communicate. But the greatest challenge was the children in the orphanage where I volunteered. No matter what I did, I always felt like I wasn't doing enough. Still, our presence clearly made a great difference to these children who had little excitement and few opportunities to leave the orphanage. Though I grew tired of the conditions, I was constantly aware that I could leave, but they could not. We taught English and read to them. We also did construction work, when supplies were available.

I hope to return. Until then, I listen to my Ghanaian music. And of course, I smile.

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