United Youth Corps Volunteer
August 10th to August 20th, 2007
Arielle Rebecca Falardeau
Posted November 17, 2007
This is about my experience in Ghana
with the United Church of God Youth Corps. It has been a difficult
task because my experience was overwhelming, and I needed time to
reflect. It has been nearly three months now, since my time in
Ghana, and I am still gathering my thoughts and recuperating.
I left from Germany on August 10th,
2007. The rest of the Youth Corps volunteers left from the USA and
met me in Accra, the capital of Ghana. It was a Friday night and I
arrived just in time for the Sabbath Bible study. It was being held
at the Shangri La hotel.
Mr. Melvin Rhodes arranged to have the
Bible study with a group of people who are ex-Worldwide Church of
God members, but have not joined UCG. The Bible study held the
theme, that a countryís relationship with God affects the success of
the country. These were the scriptures used: Deut 28 and Gen 48.
Aug 11th, Saturday, we had services in
Accra. When we arrived at the building, there were few people there
yet so we; me, Corbin, Amber, Josh and Rob, walked to the ocean
which was very close. The color of the earth made an impression on
me. It was a dark-burnt-orange color.
We walked through a small village. The
people living in this village had small shacks as houses. I saw
several women preparing food outside on the ground. All the dirty
water and filth was poured out over the ground. Emaciated dogs ate
at scraps and garbage. Chickens and goats roamed freely. I could
never have imagined the unsanitary conditions that humans and
animals can survive in. None of the people living there spoke to us.
They looked at us and then went back to doing what they were doing.
Mr. Melvin Rhodes gave a split sermon,
which was translated simultaneously into Teui. These are the
scriptures he used: Dan 12; Gen 1; Lev 23; Eph 5; Math 22; Ex 20;
1Thes 5 and Dan 6. The title of the split sermon was Using Time
Wisely; 1.) Relationship with God 2.) Family 3.) Other people.
Mr. Thomas Clark gave the other half. The title of his part was
Marriage is a Spiritual Relationship. The scriptures he used
were: Gen 2; Math 19; Eph 5; 1Kings 1 and 1Cor 7.
The members in the congregation welcomed
all of us and were very friendly. Three of the young adults attend
university. Lydia, from the Accra congregation, was really nice to
me. Though she didnít talk very much, she made me feel comfortable
by just being near me and introducing me to the members that came to
me. She also sang special music and is very beautiful. Sheís
attending University to become a teacher. I liked her very much.
After services, we visited the Botanical
Gardens. These gardens were built during the British colonization of
Ghana. They were used as a place of summer retreat for the wealthy.
There was a wedding taking place at the garden. We saw the bride and
the wedding party. It was all very romantic and similar to any
wedding I would see in the States.
We ate dinner at the hotel that night.
Mr. Rhodes told us that the Shangri La is one of the nicest hotels
in Ghana. It reminded me of a hostel I stayed in once at Venice
Beach, LA. Nothing in my life so far has prepared me for my stay
here. Not even having stayed in Mexico.
Aug 12th, we left Accra and Shangri La.
We stayed next at the Elmina Beach Resort in Kumasi. The journey to
Kumasi was about 2 hours. During these two hours and passed by many
villages. I noticed there were many buildings being developed. When
I first saw all the big buildings that were going up I was very
impressed with the progress that was being made. As I saw more and
more of them it began to occur to me that there was no progress
being made at all. Plans for these structures had begun but then
halted and left for years unattended. Soon people from the villages
nearby moved into the concrete and rebar walls.
Most of the other structures I observed
were made from shipping containers. These containers made their way
to Ghana filled with a variety of different goods, then left there.
To ship empty containers back to its original location doesnít make
sense financially. The people are very resourceful. They had turned
these shipping containers into any number of purposes with any
number of titles. Some of these titles included: Godís Grace Fast
Foods or Moses Enterprises or Sword into Plow inc.
This is what the bigger cities were like.
In the smaller, rural villages, the houses were mud huts with thatched roofs. I was often surprised to see people in fields, where there were no houses around for miles, working in the tall grass. You could always find pineapples and peeled oranges for sale along the roads as we drove past. If traffic was slow, the venders would approach your car and try to sell you any assortment of items: belts, phone chargers, water, snacks, bubble gum, blankets and even ice cream. Toilet paper was a popular purchase. I feared many times that our driver would run over a goat or a human. Once I was so scared I screamed because we had come within within inches of a head-on collision.
Somehow we survived the trip to Kumasi. When we arrived in Kumasi, before going to the hotel, we went straight to the Kuman rainforest. At the Kuman rainforest, there is a canopy walk. This is not an activity for those who are afraid of heights. I imagine we were 100 ft in the air and maybe more. It was very beautiful above the canopy of the rainforest. There was a fog lying on the trees and I saw many colorful butterflies. There are also monkeys and elephants in that rainforest, but I didnít see them.
Mr. Thomas Clark and Rob
Afterwards, we stopped to have a drink
at an alligator farm. The restaurant was situated in the middle of a
lake where the alligators lived. You could have lunch with the
alligators sunbathing right next to your table! Josh, Rob and Corbin
even touched one! Besides alligators, there was a spectacular
assortment of colorful birds flying to and fro and thousands of
nests in the trees. The wildlife was very beautiful.
We stayed at Elmina Beach Resort that
night. During dinner, the power went off. This is dangerous while
having dinner because the food cannot be refrigerated or prepared in
a hygienic way, without power for the kitchen. At this point in the
trip I began to think about my home in the States. I missed so many
of the things I took for granted. The following morning we traveled
to Cape Coast, the location for camp. Because there was not room
enough for us in the dorms, we stayed in a hotel nearby, called VEC
Tuesday, August 15th, camp started. We
traveled from Elmina to Cape Coast. We were served lunch when we
first arrived at camp. We had Red Red and fried plantains, rice and
orange slices. The Red Red can be described at a bean curry with
onions. The food in general seems to be very hot and spicy. I happen
to like hot and spicy foods, but for Amber and especially Corbin it
was a hard time finding something they could eat.
This is the 5th day in Ghana and so far
my stomach had been strong up until then. This I day I felt I was
starting to get sick. Washing hands, drinking only bottled water,
using hand sanitizer obsessively, all these precautions were not
enough. The personal hygiene and sanitation was otherwise
nonexistent. The camp facilities provided a toilet for the
ďWesterners.ď The campers were left to use the bush.
When I heard about this I was shocked.
Did the male directors and leaders at camp forget the female
campers? Certainly if a woman was menstruating she couldnít ďjust
use the bush.ď I spoke to Mr. Thomas Clark about this. He explained
that that was the way it was. He told me about how some years back
some of the women in a UCG congregation from the States tried to
talk to the women about menstrual hygiene. It had been viewed as an
invasion by the Ghanaians. I didnít bring up the topic again.
This is another point of concern I have for the women in Ghana. This did not come to my attention until I had returned to Germany and was meeting with a girlfriend of mine. I was telling her about my trip and she told me that she had come across a startling statistic. 80% of women in Ghana have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). I have an understanding that this is mostly an Islamic tradition. Has it also turned into a regional/cultural tradition? And if so, what is the message that UCG is sending to Ghanaian women and families about FGM? This is a terrible practice that can result in permanent deformities and even death. If we havenít spoken to our congregations in Ghana about FGM, then we have to do so immediately!
After lunch, I had two groups scheduled.
I was working with Josh Lehe. Together we organized the Team
Challenge activities. On the first day we split the groups into
half. I took one and he took the other. That gave us about 10
campers each. I did two trust activities. One, where you fall from
standing on the ground, onto a group with locked arms. The next one
we did built a little more trust. The campers fell onto a group with
locked arms from a moderate elevation. After these activities I
discussed with the group what we learned. This day the campers
learned that trust is important and not an easy thing to do.
Also, they learned that when working
together, a task that may otherwise have been impossible can become
easy to achieve.
The first day went very well and the
campers were very happy and motivated. The official language in
Ghana is English. This is what the children are taught in schools.
However, at home and with their friends they often speak a tribal
language. The most popular tribal language being Teui. Overall, the
campers could understand me. Sometimes the Ghanaian counselors would
translate if someone didnít understand. Communicating worked fine.
All of Thursday and half of Friday I was
very sick. On Thursday, I experienced dehabilitating cramps in my
abdomen. The pain would come in waves and last for about 30 sec to
one minute each time with about 15 minutes in between. It was the
most excruciating pain I have ever felt. By around 7 pm that night
the cramps became fewer and I was able to sleep.
Friday, the next morning, I was so
exhausted I had to stay in bed a bit longer. This was the lowest
point for me in the trip. I was the sickest and most exhausted I had
ever been. I was in a strange country with out my usual comforts,
without my friends and family. I wanted nothing more in the world
than to have my mom take care of me. At this point I got very
homesick and thought about my family very much. It wasnít only for 6
days I hadnít seen them, it had been since May.
At 11 am I went with Mr. Melvin Rhodes
to the camp. It was lunch time and the other volunteers; Amber,
Josh, Rob and Corbin, used this small break to go into town. My
stomach was still not feeling well enough to eat. At this point, it
had been two days since I had eaten. I did drink plenty of bottled
water during this time. At lunch I decided it would be safe to eat
two slices of oranges.
After lunch, because the way the
schedule was setup, Josh and I had one group. We decided to do this
activity together. We called it the Human Ladder everyone
stands across from each other to form two lines. Each pair holds a
wooden dowel rod to form a kind of ladder. Then, one person at a
time climbs across the ladder. It was very much fun to watch and
work with the kids. I was amazed to see how even the smallest
campers supported the larger campers. After the activity, we talked
about how there is strength in numbers and that this should be
considered in our life as a Christian. We should surround ourselves
with other Christians.
The next day, Saturday, was the Sabbath.
It was decided by Mr. Thomas Clark, to travel to Kumasi for church
services. Mr. Melvin Rhodes stayed in Cape Coast and held services
there with the campers. Traveling to Kumasi entailed a wakeup time
at 4 am. Another freezing cold shower, because there is no
electricity, and breakfast at 5 am. Mr. Coffei, a Ghanaian minister,
drove us in the UCG van to Kumasi.
This was a 5 hour drive there, and a 5
hour drive back. All together, the trip to Kumasi, especially since
we were having services at camp, was too much work to be done on the
Sabbath. We arrived back at camp that night totally exhausted.
Sunday, we had a special surprise for
the campers. Mr. Melvin Rhodes and Mr. Thomas Clark organized that
all the campers be taken to Kuman rainforest and to go on the same
canopy walk we did the week before. This was really very nice and
when the campers returned that night, they were all talking about
On the last day of camp everyone was
looking forward to the talent show the campers had prepared to
perform. All the campers, around 120, were separated into dorms.
Each dorm held about 15-20 campers. Each dorm had created and
rehearsed a sketch to be performed at the talent show. The campers
had worked on this all throughout camp. They memorized lines and put
together costumes. Everything was ready, there was just one very
important thing we all were hoping for.. electricity. Without the
electricity being on this night, the campers would perform in total
darkness, making it impossible.
After dinner we met in the meeting hall
on the camp grounds. There were seats and a stage all set up and
some of the campers were working on the sound equipment. Later I
founnd out that the campers didnít really know anything about the
sound equipment and I wondered if I should lose my hearing or cover
As God was watching over us, Iím sure he
also wanted to see the talent show, the electricity for this night
was on! The show could begin. It was a wonderful performance. I
laughed, I listened, I applauded and sometimes I had a tear in my
eye because of how beautiful it was. At the end, the winning group
was announced and was given prizes (bags of candy).
The next day we left Cape Coast to go
back to Elmina Beach Resort. I left Tuesday the 20th. The
other volunteers stayed the night in Elmina and left for the States
the following day. This has been a documentary on my experience in
Ghana. I left much of my personal impressions out and tried simply
to show the events. For several weeks following my return from Ghana
I was still very much overwhelmed and still processing my
experience. Now, after reading through my notes and having written
it down, I feel more settled about my experience as a UCG Youth