Janelle Odionu

Janelle OdionuBSILR'18

ILR International Travel Grant

Ghana

Janelle Odionu

This past summer of 2016, I was granted the opportunity to intern as a volunteer instructor at John William Montessori School for the Voices of African Mothers within Kumasi, Ghana. The Voices of African Mothers is an NGO affiliated with the United Nations and founded by Nana Fosu Randall, who served as CFO for the United Nations for three decades, receiving many accolades and recognition for her humanitarian work.

My experience as a volunteer instructor at John William Montessori School (one of VAM’s primary projects) was interesting to say the least. I had the privilege of teaching class 5 which comprised of mostly students ages 11 to 13. I was heartfelt and inspired by how eager all of the students were to learn and how appreciative they were for the smallest things they received. It was informative and interesting to listen to the children tell us about their lives, hopes, and dreams as well as their perceptions of us and America, and how they thought Americans perceived them, thus allowing us to foster relationships with the students.

John William Montessori is also a boarding school- about 25% of its students are boarders, whom of which many are orphaned. We lived with the boarders at the school, and partook in many of the same activities as they did, such as night dances to celebrate the end of their exams before a break. We got an eye witness account of what their lives were like. Simple conversations with them about school, family, and Ghana sparked a nearly infinite amount of insight that was interestingly linked to history, and government. The students were lovely and seeing their smiles, waking up to their songs of worship at 5:00 am in the morning, or seeing them excitedly play football with their bare feet on the concrete really put life and what is important in this world in perspective for me.

My group members and I had a plethora of really interesting experiences every single day. We were able to see many different sites of Ghana and meet so many interesting people. We traveled to Cape Coast and took a tour through the notorious El Mina slave castle, the same slave castle that Michelle Obama toured after tracing her ancestry to Cape Coast, Ghana. When we traveled to Busuwa, we also did many interesting things like drinking water from a coconut while comparing stars in the sky and talking to a Rastafarian guy around a bonfire on the beach. We also went to quite a few markets in Ghana, which offered a completely different world in contrast to the markets or shops in America.

Some days after we were finished teaching in the morning, my group members and I would travel to the hospital (Tanoso Hospital) and engage in some of the work that the head doctor had for us. Two of my group members, who were pre-med students, engaged in work of the medical nature, while myself and my other group member with an interest in business were able to overlook the finances of the hospital a few times. The head doctor of the hospital took us around town one day and showed us his school; it was interesting being able to contrast and compare the differences and similarities in his school with that of John William Montessori. It was also interesting hearing all of his stories and philosophies on life. There are some people who always have a story worth hearing, and I concluded that he was definitely one of those people, when he told us that his passion for his school, which was originally his father’s, stemmed from his father recently passing away, and the great amount of respect he had for his father. When he was a young man he nearly lost his left eye to nerve loss. He is one of forty-seven children, but his father assured him that he would be okay, and gave him money to go through with an operation to save his left eye. Till this day he is so grateful to his past father and has a vision to carry on what his father started.

While in Ghana, I sometimes complained of little things in my head; I was so privileged that there were some minuscule culture shocks that I had a little trouble adjusting to, but the morning I awoke after getting back to the states, I began to cry. I wanted to go back to Ghana to be with the kids and my group members. I had become so close to my group members and so familiar with living the simple life in Ghana that I felt as if home was no longer home. My experience in Ghana was transformative and amazing-an experience that I will recount thirty years to come, an experience that allowed me to foster deep friendships with other Cornelians, while learning a different way of life, and connecting me closer to my roots and culture as a Nigerian-American. If I could, I would do it all over again, and I wouldn’t change anything. I am ever so grateful to ILR and the Tang Award for making this trip a possibility for me.