Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Learning to Lead

When I asked my husband in August of 2007 if he'd go to Ghana with me if we arranged a group of us to go, I had no idea what I was getting into.

I had been to Ghana. I had sent three other volunteers to Ghana. I had been working on the advisory board of a non-profit organization for two years. I had minored in African studies and read voraciously anything on Africa, development, and non-profits I could get my hands on. I knew what I was doing, right?

Yeah, right.

Ready to leave Accra for Cape Coast.

For nearly a year after that, I found out exactly how much I didn't know. From recruiting the volunteers to holding monthly meetings to fundraising to flights to arranging for us to volunteer in a brand new orphanage I'd never been to...it was insane. There was so much stress involved in arranging for 14 people to travel to and volunteer in a foreign country, much that I hadn't anticipated. Luckily, I had a lot of help from my dear hubby, as well as Jessica, a girl I'd previously sent to Ghana who agreed to be the coordinator for one of the groups.
Hanging with the monkeys at Boabeng Fiema Monkey Forest.

It wasn't til we left that I really started to feel the weight of what I was doing.

I had been to Ghana, yes. But I had been alone. I was all I had to worry about until I got over myself and started worrying for and loving the New Life kids more. This time, it was different. I was mama duck to five little ducklings who were in a whole new world. Yes, they'd had training, but nothing prepares you for the real thing. The weight of responsibility was incredible, especially considering we were hosted in three separate locations. We were in a third world country, and I had taken responsibility for their well-being, health, and to see that we accomplished our volunteering goals. Were they getting enough water? Did they know the way to the bank? Did they know how to catch a taxi and then go back home? Were they getting overwhelmed with culture shock and homesickness? Were they getting overwhelmed with the responsibilities of teaching? Did they feel like they were doing enough work, or had too much? I was constantly focused on making sure they were taken care of, and it was so much more taxing than I ever would have thought.

Saying goodbye to Green Turtle Lodge.

And yet, they were wonderful. They were responsible. They all quickly rose to the occasion, worked with the slight chaos and unstability that is a third world country, and came out on top. They learned to take taxis on their own. They learned their way around town. I eventually felt comfortable enough to take every other day to go to New Life, trusting that they knew what they were doing. Even then, though, I was constantly focused on making sure they were doing okay. I had carefully planned how I wanted things to go in Ghana before I left-- the things I wanted to get done while there. Almost none of it happened. Yet, in the end, that was okay.

Teaching them how to read.

Because we still got great work done. A few kids learned their ABC's. Some learned that letters have sounds. Still others learned that sounds could be pieced together to make words. And six people who left the USA as practically strangers returned as friends, teachers, and people changed for the better. In some ways, it was so much harder than my first trip, yet I am so grateful I had the chance to lead those people out there, and to learn a bit more myself.

Last day at Sankofa with David and a few of the teachers and kids.


Nancy said...

Shallee! You are so amazing! I admire your passion and hardwork; I can't imagine coordinating something like this!

Kenzie K. said...

Shallee -
Thanks for your work. You did so much so that our experience would be great. I will always be greatful for all your hard work, experience, and support on the trip. You are an amazing person!