Ghana Honors Service Learning Program
Ghana Honors Service Learning Program
By Joseph Verschaeve
Read stories from GVSU Ghana Honors Service Learning student participants: Ghana Student Blogs
It is a priority for Grand Valley State University’s Frederik Meijer Honors College to increase the number of students studying abroad, preferably in service-learning opportunities in non-Western countries. After nearly four years of development, the Honors College offers a seven-week program each summer where students engage in service learning and cultural immersion in Ghana, West Africa. The program offers students the opportunity to learn about nongovernment (NGO) organizations and the Ghanaian culture while at the well-regarded University of Ghana. They begin their first week getting acclimated to and studying about NGO’s before traveling to the coastal village of Winneba, where they begin their work with the NGO Challenging Heights. This esteemed non-profit organization rescues children trafficked into slavery as innocent victims of the brutal, illegal fishing industry that exists in Ghana. Challenging Heights also provides shelter and rehabilitation to vulnerable children displaced by war in neighboring West African countries such as Liberia. Facilitating much of the service learning for GVSU students is Challenging Heights founder and recipient of the Frederick Douglass Freedom Award, James Kofi Annan. At the age of six, James Kofi Annan was sold into slavery. He worked in Ghana’s fishing villages for seventeen hours a day without adequate and reliable nutrition or shelter. Abuse was constant. Seven years later, James escaped from his tormentors and learned how to read and speak English. Years of struggle later James graduated from college becoming a financial manager at Barclay’s Bank in Accra. Born from his success, James created Challenging Heights in an effort to rescue the vast numbers of enslaved children living with the prospect of unrelenting abuse or even death. James Kofi Annan has much to teach our students and the world, for he refuses to allow slavery to define him. He has traveled vast social distances characterized by love and immense courage. James’ story inspires those whom he rescues and those who are drawn to understand his tremendous success. His friendship and fondness for GVSU learning community is evidenced by his annual visits to Allendale. The GVSU students are fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with James on his mission. A detailed biography can be found at https://www.freetheslaves.net/SSLPage.aspx?pid=449.
The Ghana Honors Service Learning Program began in 2009 under the impetus and vision of Frederik Meijer Honors College Student Services Coordinator, Janaan Decker and Director, Jeff "Dr. J." Chamberlain. Decker has operated in Ghana for the past four years establishing relationships and allocating resources for our students. The development of this unique faculty led program is organized in order to ensure the consistency of service, education, and ambassadorship. Each year, new faculty are brought into the program to ensure continuity, train successors, complete ongoing projects, and develop new connections and initiatives. The faculty director for the 2010-11 Ghana Service Learning Program, Annis Water Resource Institute Senior Scientist, Rick Rediske, remains closely involved in the program. Professor Rediske continues to provide leadership with the ongoing GVSU clean water project as well as leadership across disciplines in the fight against human trafficking. The 2012-13 faculty director is GVSU social psychologist, Joe Verschaeve. Professor Verschaeve continues to work closely with Professor Rediske in continuing the work in water quality as well as to serve the program interests of Challenging Heights. Professor Mike Roskamp of GVSU’s Movement Science Department is slated to assume the faculty leadership role for the 2014 program. Upon successful completion of the program students earn six credits three of which are taken at the University of Ghana, Legon.
UNIVERSITY OF GHANA, LEGON
The intensive five-week service learning component to the program is sandwiched between one week of class at Legon. (Legon is synonymous with the University of Ghana, Legon means - hill of knowledge)and one week of debriefing and completion of coursework Students take ADMN 337 Management of NGO’s through the University of Ghana’s School of Business as an examination of how humanitarian aid is structured and delivered in West Africa. Subsequently, each student, no matter their major area of study, comes away with the tools needed to start and run their own nongovernmental organization. The course is taught by a professor of great renown, Justice Bawole. His course has been responsible for creating numerous successful aid organizations. Professor Bawole remains a highly reliable partner in GVSU’s efforts in Ghana.
GVSU IN WINNEBA-OUR FRIENDS AND PARTNERS
A Partnership—GVSU and Ghanaians: The work performed for the initiatives and projects listed in this report have garnered the attention of highly successful Ghanaians eager to develop partnerships. Students and faculty alike model engaged citizenship in the process of serving others in the Winneba community. Over the years of the program, GVSU students and faculty alike have built and maintained relationships through the Ghana Honors Service Learning Program (GHSLP) that have inspired deep learning and innovation for our students centered around the problem of human trafficking and child slavery. Supporters of GVSU’s efforts hold the privilege of bearing witness to the personal growth of our students as they confront real-world problems up close while providing carefully designed, judicious, and culturally appropriate service via intervention, prevention, and education. The overwhelming sense of friendship with our Ghanaian partners makes our service learning better and more meaningful. Because they are involved in deep learning, students are able to better see the world through the eyes of our partners and better able to assemble hope in challenging situations.
Cultural Experience: Living among Ghanaians for 7 weeks has been exhilarating for our students. The linguistic and cultural learning has been rich and wonderful. They have been able to see American culture through the fresh eyes of others while reciprocally examining West African material and non-material culture. Helping GVSU to accomplish this important aspect of the program is Emmanual Mishiwo. As owner of Manuels’ Hostel in Winneba he provides students with an up close window in traditional and contemporary Ghanaian culture. Mishowo’s expertise in Ghanaian cuisine is now legendary among GVSU faculty and students.
The Ghana Honors Service-Learning Program is a unique, seven-week study abroad experience that offers a genuine cultural exchange between GVSU students and Ghanaians. It also creates a strong partnership by working with Ghanaians towards a greater good: mitigating the extent and trauma of children who have been trafficked and enslaved in West Africa, particularly in the fishing industry. GVSU students take a course from a Ghanaian faculty member to acquaint them with Ghanaian life and culture and give them an overview of the importance of well-developed and run NGOs, and then they engage in service learning in a number of different institutions and organizations. The program is holistic and aims to improve life in Ghana in many ways: students from a wide variety of majors participate in activities such as teaching former child slaves, outreach to educate families, clean water and environmental initiatives, micro-economic sustainability, as well as health and medicine through the Ghana National Health Service. It is hard to imagine a program that has a deeper impact: students experience dramatic personal growth, develop extraordinary cultural sensitivity and competency, and become global citizens and ambassadors. This intensive program yields powerful results for both GVSU and its Ghanaian partners.
Page last modified March 7, 2014