Ed. Note: Ghana has the distinction of being the first country in the world to welcome the Peace Corps. The first group of 51 Volunteers left for service after a departure ceremony in the Rose Garden with President John F. Kennedy on August 28th, 1961. Since that time, more than 3,700 Americans have served in Ghana. Today, there are over 160 Americans working on Peace Corps community development initiatives through programs in education, small enterprise development, environment, and health. Volunteer Sam Frankel is expanding the program to address rural agricultural issues.
Since 2008, I have served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small farming community in Ghana, West Africa. I came to the Peace Corps from a laboratory science background, researching the effects of toxic substances on human health. After years of reading about environmental and health issues in the developing world, I was looking for a chance to work directly on the problems that people grapple with in their daily lives.
My town in Ghana is a place where nearly everyone’s livelihood depends on agriculture. Farmers grow food crops to feed their families and sell cash crops for money to build houses, send their children to school, and pay medical bills. I joined in the agricultural life of the community with help from my friend and colleague, Mr. Mfodwo, an experienced farmer and community leader. He is the local organizer of a Habitat for Humanity low-cost housing program and a tireless advocate for housing, education, and agricultural projects. Mr. Mfodwo and I come from very different backgrounds, but share a desire to improve the welfare of our town.
I learned in Ghana that although the aspiration to serve is important, actual service requires both strong relationships and perseverance. Mr. Mfodwo and I work with other interested farmers, seek new agricultural opportunities, and develop relationships with knowledgeable people in other communities. Ultimately, we were able to establish a center for small-scale food processing projects. But in order to succeed, we had to experiment, learn from our failures, and deal with many setbacks along the way. Some of these challenges were very clear, like the cost of a piece of machinery. Others involved learning how to work across barriers of culture and experience toward a common goal. At times the challenges seemed overwhelming, and it was only in retrospect that I could appreciate what we’d gained from overcoming these obstacles.
My Peace Corps service has given me a sense of how difficult it is to foster real change, but also the rewards of being personally involved. It taught me that service is never abstract or remote, but that it is built on your relationships with other people. In many ways, the rewards are the relationships you build with other people. I could only have learned these things by practice, and Peace Corps service has given me that chance.
Sam Frankel is a biologist from central Maine. He served as an Environment Volunteer in Ghana from 2008 to 2010, and has recently rejoined Peace Corps Ghana as a volunteer to help expand its agriculture program.