Superstar volunteer Stephanie Wiley shares her story with us, and we are so grateful for her hard work! There is always room for you at B.A.S.I.C.S Steph.
I had become involved at B.A.S.I.C.S. International as a volunteer by participating in a study abroad program through Michigan State University during June 21st-August 2nd 2013. The month and a half that I had spent in Ghana was much more impactful on me than I expected; and I know this sounds cheesy and cliché, but it truly was a life changing experience. Prior to going on this trip, I was somewhat nervous by working with children because I haven’t been around kids too much and I was studying social work, not education. But I can say without a doubt that after spending time with these amazing students they made me realize how much I really do enjoy children. They are the part in the world that is pure innocence and joy; and this entire experience made me see the greater things in life.
I was placed with the second grade classroom, and it was interesting because even though most of the kids were around the same age, there was a little bit of variation in ages. The class was close to evenly split with five boys and six girls (who were all in the same class at school). All of them were able to communicate in English quite well for being as young as they were; even though sometimes they would forget that they would not be able to talk to me in their local language, Ga. I do regret not learning basic words in their language, so hopefully if I do get a chance to go back I can learn a little bit!
The way our routine would start at B.A.S.I.C.S. was by having the all of the volunteers stand at the front of the facility inside the gates so they would be able to greet the children as they walk in. Slowly but surely the students would make their way in and would go to each individual volunteer to say hello to them. That was one thing that I really appreciated and respect about B.A.S.I.C.S.; not only are they helping improve the child’s education, but they are also teaching them great everyday life lessons. Some of the kids are too young to realize what an impact a basic greeting is to someone, but I bet once they get a little older they will soon realize that it is something greatly appreciated among adults.
Once all of the children had made it to the facility and went to their grade assigned table, they would work with the volunteers for just a brief time or socialize for a time as well. Afterwards, they would take about 10-20 minutes for ‘meditation’, which actually would turn to nap time for some which I thought was hilarious since sometimes I’d catch people drooling. And plus, I wish I was able to fall asleep in under 10 minutes! Once everyone woke up, they would then say their daily prayer before receiving a freshly cooked meal.
I personally really enjoyed the Ghanaian food and was very proud that I was finally able to enjoy spicy food and a little bit of fish. I would say that the two meals I liked the most at B.A.S.I.C.S. was banku with okra stew and jollof rice with beans I think as a side (I can’t remember exactly). My favorite meal that I ate a few times while in Ghana was Groundnut Soup with either a rice ball, banku or fufu-so if you get a chance you should try it! Sometimes the food was quite spicy and the children would laugh at us because we just could not handle the heat. The children would have to clean up all of their dishes afterwards, and once again this teaches them daily life routines that they aren’t even realizing are being reinforced.
Once the meal was finished, we would start working on the homework they had been assigned for the day. Because I was in the second grade class, all of their work was quite basic which I was happy with because like I said, I was nervous about having to be a tutor for them. I especially enjoyed reading with the children. I will always remember working with one student who wasn’t very confident in his reading and writing skills. I encouraged him that it was okay to make mistakes as long as he kept trying; and soon enough he actually wanted to read to me instead of me pushing for him to. All of the grades would also do weekly spelling tests which I found fun to observe. All the kids did quite well, and they would receive stars or points depending on how well they did, which was then displayed on the board for their specific class. The children would become competitive which was encouraging to see, but then when some would feel defeated a volunteer would be there them to comfort and explain to them that everything will be okay.
Another cool part about B.A.S.I.C.S. was that they would do different clubs and activities on Fridays which I really enjoyed being a part of. I chose to help with the music club since I had been involved in the drumline in high school. There was quite a variety of instruments that were provided and it was so great to see the children really interested in how to play an instrument. Whether it was the drums, keyboard or guitar, all of the kids who were part of the music club truly enjoyed learning about this different type of art. Various other clubs were also available such as: games, choir, reading, computers and I think dance.
As far as living arrangements went while volunteering at B.A.S.I.C.S., we were not staying at the boarding house that most, if not all of volunteers usually stay at. Because my program was arranged by MSU and we had additional travel plans, we had stayed at a house about an hour drive away. (Do keep in mind it probably should not have taken an hour to get there, the traffic was just quite demanding). If I do get the chance to return to B.A.S.I.C.S., I would have no problem staying right in the heart of Charkor and actually wish that was where we had to stay for the program. Yes, the lifestyle is completely different than my life here in the U.S.; but if you are able to get right into the culture and truly see how another one lives in the world, why would you want to pass up that opportunity? I feel like I would definitely have had a more in depth experience with the children and the families within the community if we stayed there and that would provide me a greater understanding for what their lives are really like.
My time in Ghana had showed me a completely different way of life; and all of the experiences I had encountered evolved me into the person I currently am today (which let me tell you is drastically different than before). I cannot express enough in words how grateful I am to have received such an extreme paradigm shift after being in Ghana. Not only did it show me the bigger picture to the world, but it also helped me understand what it means to be truly happy. I cannot say for all developed countries, but at least in the United States, happiness is often correlated with more money or materials; and let me just state that that idea is completely inaccurate.
Happiness has nothing to do with the stuff you have, it has to do with your positive mindset, gratitude and finding joy in the smallest things. The Ghanaian culture taught me to be free to express myself and enjoy who you were made to be. To just dance to the fullest, smile always and enjoy life; because for all we know, we only have one life to live. Just because everyone is alive, does not mean you are actually living; many simply just exist, following a routine they think life is supposed to consist of. Life is meant to be exciting and filled with adventure, so if you are lucky enough to take the chance to make your way over to Africa and explore, I suggest you have B.A.S.I.C.S International as a brief stop throughout your journey!