Sept. 23, 2004 • Volume 13 Number 2

Cherise Lathan '04 shows a class of Ghanaian schoolchildren how to use a laptop computer, one of 12 donated by Boston College. (Photo courtesy of Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah)

Students Give, and Get, a Summer Education in Ghana

Participants laud BC's first service trip to African nation

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

The kids couldn't get enough of them.

For three weeks this past summer, nine Boston College students were the object of attention and affection for hundreds of Ghanaian schoolchildren. The young villagers took every opportunity to socialize with, and learn from, the BC undergrads who came as part of the University's first-ever service trip to Ghana.

When it was time for the students to return home, they had formed bonds that, even months later and thousands of miles distant, feel strong as ever.

"They all became so attached to us," said Tricia Gordon, a Connell School of Nursing junior, in a recent interview. "I don't think I have ever experienced such a thing before."

Gordon and her eight fellow BC students visited Ghana from July 25-Aug. 17, under the direction of O'Neill Library Instructional Services Manager Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah. The group, which also included Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences William Petri and his wife and daughter, and part-time faculty member Arlene Wyman (Biology), went to the village of Ejisu to establish a computer camp for children drawn from the region's five public schools.

The BC contingent took with them 12 laptop computers donated by the University and an assortment of school supplies and sports equipments, as well as funds to pay for meals for the youngsters. Children attending the camp also were given Boston College t-shirts and other apparel, which they proudly wore every day, according to the service trip participants.

In addition to tutoring the children on basic computer use and leading arts and crafts activities, BC students and faculty held sessions for the Ghanaian teachers.

A highlight of the camp, for the BC tutors and their charges, was the series of PowerPoint presentations produced by the children. "The kids went outside and took pictures of themselves, then they were able to put together a visual presentation on the laptops," said Sarkodie-Mensah. "They loved it. It felt like such an accomplishment."

At the end of the camp, the children all received certificates from the BC students during a ceremony, which was followed by a village celebration. The BC representatives watched, and sometimes took part in, dance and music performances.

While the experience held special significance for Sarkodie-Mensah, a native of Ejisu whose brother works as a schoolteacher in the village, he sees the service trip's significance in much broader terms.

"It might seem like a relatively small project, but to be able to help these children see the possibilities in technology, and to give them even the most basic tools - notebooks, pens and pencils - means so much," said Sarkodie-Mensah. "And for the BC students, it was important for them to be immersed in the everyday life and culture of the village, to see for themselves what kind of an impact service can have on a community."

The lesson was not lost on Gordon, a Trinidad native now living in Canton, Mass., who had sought an opportunity to work abroad. "I had expected to see poverty, and when we first got to Ghana it looked at first like my native country," she said. "But once we were in the countryside, and in the village, I could not believe the extent of the poverty I saw.

"Because of that, I value my life, and everything I have, in a way I never did before."

Nonetheless, Gordon acknowledges that as she has reflected on her experience in Ghana, it has sometimes been difficult for her to reconcile the accomplishments of a service trip with the larger dimensions of need she witnessed.

"To see the problems, and not to have the answer, can be frustrating," she said. "But Dr. Sarkodie-Mensah told us, 'You can only change one person at a time,' so I try to keep his words in my heart. Because I know we at least did that."

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