By Ophelia Bediako (YES 2015-2016, Ghana, placed by Greenheart in Lowville, New York)
Before participating on the YES program, I was a shy girl with low self-esteem, who did not know much about places outside her local community in Kumasi, Ghana. My first visit to the capital of Ghana, Accra, was to get vaccinated for the YES program. I was so nervous on the flight to the U.S., where I was going to live with people I knew only by photo. I had no idea how I was going to be treated or manage without my parents. Before leaving Ghana, I was told, "You are going to eat ‘mortuary food’ in America," meaning that the food in America is unhealthy. To my surprise, my host family valued organic food and used many of the same spices used in Ghana.
I began to emerge from my shyness because my host family was there to support me. They encouraged me to get involved in extracurricular activities at school. I had great opportunities to volunteer, and it boosted my self-esteem to be of use and put smiles on the faces of others. My favorite experience was volunteering at Beaver Camp with my host family. It was always a privilege to meet new people from different places, learn from them, and enlighten them about Ghana.
My exchange experience inspired me to apply for a 2020 YES Alumni Grant to conduct the Owuo Atwedie Aid project. The project began in July 2020, when our volunteer team began to plant soybeans on two acres of farmland in Jang Yili, Tamale, provided by our partner Helping Hand Foundation. The crop yield from this component of the project benefited 115 persons with disabilities in Bilpela and Nyanpala. In Accra, our ambassadors donated food to the Accra Rehabilitation Centre, thanks to partners ShashaNap Organics and Ilario Savi. Another component of the project was organizing training sessions with the project’s beneficiaries with disabilities. We trained them on topics such as mental health, personal hygiene, and career guidance.
In addition, a month of online sign language sessions was organized in collaboration with N'Ting and facilitated by Supreme Sign Institute for 15 project volunteers, ambassadors, YES alumni, and partners. N'Ting is an inclusivity initiative by Zeenat Ameena (YES 2009-2010, Ghana, placed by CIEE in Marysville, WA). Approximately 98% of the project’s sign language participants did not know sign language at the start of the program, but now they can produce basic sentences. They now have a better relationship with members of the deaf community.
We look forward to offering continued support to our beneficiaries in this period of crisis. Our online sign language beneficiaries will have the opportunity to teach others and be ambassadors of deaf culture. Our farm project at Jan Yili made us understand the stress that persons with disabilities go through with the uncertainty of having enough food.
I offer my sincere thanks and gratitude to all the project volunteers, participants, beneficiaries, and partner organizations. And a special thanks goes out to the YES program and its funder, the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. My exchange experience inspired this YES Alumni Grant project as well as my current social enterprise, which aims to provide durable and affordable African clothing and beauty supplies to spread my beautiful culture. My host community also inspired me to start Duafekuo Ventures. I continue doing what I do because of all the inspiration from my YES experience.