Letter to the Editor | Monday, September 16, 2019
When people ask me how my summer was, I still cannot physically describe many of the moments and experiences that I had. Yes, it was an amazing opportunity where I was pushed beyond my comfort zone to learn more about the world that I live in, but I can’t really explain more than that — much of what I experienced needs more than just words.
It’s difficult. It’s difficult because I saw injustices that I couldn’t even have imagined existing, it’s difficult because I battled cultural differences and made assumptions that were wrong and it’s difficult because in no way did I have the skill set or the appropriate amount of time to truly make a lasting impact on the community that I was helping. How do I put into words my teaching experience? How do I put into words the embarrassing cultural differences that I failed to adjust to at first? How do I put into words the heartbreak of leaving a community I felt acclimated to? How do I put into words hearing about other students’ experiences and not knowing what to say to help them and comfort them through their reentry periods? How do I put into words how much I miss my site partner who helped me through some of the more challenging times of my life?
I am an ISSLP returnee. I have so much I want to talk about and so much I want to change about what I saw in my eight weeks in a rural Ghanaian village this summer, but it would not do the people in Ghana justice to make this article about my struggles and how I have been battling with how much luckier I am than many of the other young adults of the world. So, with that being said, I want to share the life story of one of the young boys I met, in hopes of giving him a little bit of justice and sharing with you what his life is like, as it is way more interesting than mine. I do not have his permission to be sharing this with you, so I am going to use a surname and hope that he does not mind. Furthermore, I could not confirm much of the information about his life, but I am telling a typical story of a child of the village.
Oliver is a little boy of the Ghanaian village where I spent my summer, born into a family where the father is a farmer and the mother is not around (for reasons not disclosed to me). He is the youngest of five children, an adorable child who was very quiet when my site partner and I met him the second day of our stay, but loud and boisterous when he warmed up to us by the end of our stay. He wears broken sandals and tattered clothes, and often would just sit and watch us from afar. When he plays, he has bones of steel — he could fall or run into an object without ever getting hurt.
He is a smart child and goes to school every day at the nearest village school. Yet, he most likely will not go to college nor leave the village for a significant period of time. Because he has older siblings and the entire family is only supported by a farmer’s salary, he does not get enough nutrition because money for food is scarce. He will most likely follow in the footsteps of his father and have a hard life. Yet, when I met him, he was a happy and innocent child who did not know the world beyond the village areas he sees on a daily basis. He does not yet know about how there are people all over the world who are better off than him and few who are worse off.
Although this is an oversimplified version of the lives of Oliver and the other children of the village, it highlights that much of what we are blessed with is due to our circumstances at birth. Because I was born in a hospital, my life already had a different trajectory than Oliver’s; because I was born with a normal birth weight, my life already had a different trajectory than Oliver’s; and because I was born in the U.S., my life already had a different trajectory than Oliver’s. This is the reality of the world, and through spelling it out for you, I hope to show you that it’s important to consciously realize that we all are lucky to be here at Notre Dame — there are people out there who don’t even know enough about their world to wish that they were us. Yes, I may be struggling with my words in explaining my outside of the classroom experience of this past summer, but I can say that I am beyond blessed to get to share it with others and hope for change. I cannot wait to continue my life’s journey of trying to explain the events of my life and make life a little better for all those I meet.
Beyond the cheesiness of what my life may look like now, I ask you to consider applying to do an ISSLP. I promise that you’ll love your experience outside of the classroom! Applications are due Nov. 3 at 11:59 p.m.
If you would like to donate to the cause that we supported while there in Ghana, please visit https://de.gofundme.com/f/send-adaklu-youth-to-university.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.