Thursday, June 26, 2014

Visiting ABAN -Samantha Batdorff

Our first week in Ghana has been overjoying and overwhelming all at the same time. We have learned so many new things being immersed in a culture that is very different from our own. I am still in awe of the fact that I have been blessed enough to have this opportunity. It has only been one week and I feel as if I have a whole new family! I have to admit, I was a little nervous about going abroad with a group of students that consists of ALL girls…but everyone has been so wonderful and we have grown so close in this short amount of time that we have been together.

One of the most personally influential things that I have experienced this week was travelling to Aburi to visit a non-governmental organization (NGO) called ABAN, which stands for A Ban Against Neglect.

Originally, the mission of ABAN was to rescue girls and young women from working in the streets of Accra and surrounding areas. The streets are a dangerous place for girls and young women to be working; many have suffered from rape, sometimes resulting in pregnancies. Some women are forced to work in the streets, however, some women choose to work in this dangerous situation because they are able to make good money. In some cases, women have chosen to not join ABAN and stay on the streets because they wanted to keep making money. This directed the organization’s decision to utilize a different methodology. Ghana Director/ Co-founder Emmanuel Tetteh Quarmyne informed us that their organization is now trying to take a more preventative approach and recruit girls who come from situations where they are most likely to turn to the streets. Their mission now is to empower young women by teaching them life skills so that they never have to turn to the streets in the first place. Women in this program can choose to be trained as a hairdresser, seamstress, or caterer. The program also consists of a reintegration process that helps the women use their new skills as a means to benefit their own communities.

This is a sewing room that the young women work in, along with some of the beautiful fabric they use!

One thing I thought was so fascinating about this organization was their method of sustainability. In order to create funds for the program the women sell handmade bags, purses, wallets, and other accessories. What makes these accessories so unique though is that they are made out of recycled water sachets with beautiful fabric sewn on them. Check out ABAN's website!

These are the water sachet bags that are collected, cleaned, and used to make accessories.

We were able to speak to many of the young women while we were visiting, their ages ranged from 18 to 22. Many of them had been participating in the program for a couple of years already, and one girl we met had actually already graduated from the program and was a successful seamstress. A few of them had children and we were also able to meet them. The fact that many of these young women were my age and have had COMPLETELY different life experiences compared to my own was very humbling.

I have been inspired to begin an organization on Grand Valley’s campus that supports ABAN. Briana Dean, Allison Knopf, and I will be working on this as our NGO project for one of our classes while we are here. I am so excited to start working on this project and to see how it develops over the next few weeks! I cannot believe that we have only been here for one week, so much has happened and so much has been learned. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I cannot wait to see where it takes me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Even the dirt is colorful! -Alexis Brown

It’s beautiful here. Even the dirt is colorful! We’ve just finished up our one week’s stay in Accra. An average day began with eating homemade food from next door. A lot of us ate either chocolate crepes or ham, egg and cheese sandwiches. Then, the trek to class - 20 minutes in mega heat until we’re all dripping with sweat. It’s the test that showed just how good natured all of my fellow travelers are! We were very lucky to be the avid pupils to Dr. Justice Bawole and Charles Fosu Gyamfi.  Dr. Bawole is the type of man we found ourselves writing down quotes of. His example is one that I can tell will be a reference point for the rest of my life. After class each day we’d hit home and head out to one excursion or another. Once we went to ABAN (, another time the art market.

The art market was quite the experience. From the moment you walk in people follow you. Then in the individual stands, where some combination of masks, carvings, beads, drums etc. are sold, more people implore you to buy. Implore is an understatement. They put any American salesman to shame. It was fun though! When we were finished shopping we joined an impromptu dance circle at the front of the market with 20-30 children. The music was loud, and though we were sweaty we were having too much fun to care!  Many locals took pictures and video of the Obronis (foreigner and/or white person, "oh-brew-knee") dancing.

Though I may be an Obroni, I am very much enjoying the food here! As I mentioned, everything is colorful. The food doesn’t lack personality either! Most everything has a kick… and probably a few bones so watch out. Here, you get to play with your food: banku is a ball of dough you eat with. You tear off a piece and either shape it into a spoon for okra stew - my favorite so far – or dip into various sauces. Red Red is also great, it’s a spicy black eyed pea dish served with fried plantains. The plantains really cool off the kick; it’s good. Fish, rice - with “gravy” a spicy red sauce - and chicken are also staples. 

We’ve met the warmest of welcomes in Accra! I’ve loved trying out our working knowledge of Fanti on the locals. It definitely gets some Julia Roberts smiles out of people! In fact, just a smile and a wave time and time again puts a quizzical person at ease and evokes a smile. The welcome we’ve gotten from our extraordinary partners at the University of Ghana, our “big brothers” - who constantly help and protect us - and the locals in general makes me hope that Americans at home are, in return, extending a warm welcome to other travelers.

Bree and Sam walking home with Samuel (our local guide) from class.

Dr. Justice Bawole pictured here accepting a name plate embossed with the Grand Valley State University - Frederik Meijer Honors College emblem.

A shot of our dance party at the Art Market in Accra.

All the best from all of us in Ghana!! ~Alexis Brown

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Introducing our students


We've had a very full week of learning in and out of the classroom in Accra. Below is a picture of the students at the International Programmes Office at the University of Ghana, where they attended class each day this week:

The students completed five days in their Management of Non-Governmental Organizations class with Justice Bawole, PhD. Dr Justice is a brilliant professor with expertise in Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and has given the students an excellent foundation to understand the organizations they will be working with this summer. Dr. Justice has been greatly influential in the development and success of the GVSU Ghana Honors Program, and we are grateful for his unwavering support of Grand Valley's partnership with the University of Ghana. The students describe Dr. Justice as one of the most exuberant, passionate, humble, and joyful people they've ever met. Thank you for an amazing week of learning Dr. Justice!

Following this post, we will have students posting a couple blogs per week to share their experiences & perspectives.

Here is an introduction of our bright, engaged students:

Allison Knopf- I am an English major with a minor in Elementary certification. I wanted to come on this study abroad program for many reasons. One, I have always dreamed of going to Africa. Two, this dream led me to take a year-long course in African civilizations. Three, this trip provides me with the practical experience to add to what I learned. Four, working with the kids at Challenging Heights will provide invaluable experience for my future career.

My name is Chloe Bielby and I am an Exercise Science major at GVSU. I have never traveled outside the U.S. and I want to experience new things that will change my life. A goal for my life is to be as open minded and informed as I can and this trip is just the start.

My name is Briana Dean. I am an Exercise Science major with a clinical emphasis/ Dance major. I came on this trip in hopes to learn about and gain experience from a different culture's health care system as well as broaden my worldly knowledge.

Hi! My name is Stephany Zahl. I am a Biomedical Science major at Grand Valley. I knew I had to make this trip happen during my time at Grand Valley from the moment I saw the presentation my first week on campus. It provides us with the incredible opportunity to do something bigger than ourselves. It's a once in a lifetime experience, and I am so looking forward to serving and helping the Ghanaian community in all the ways that I can.

Hi, my name is Morgan Olsen and I am a Liberal Studies major attending GVSU, Traverse City campus. I plan to graduate this spring and will continue on to apply to medical schools. I have a lot of interest in psychiatry as I come from a work background in the health service, mental health, and substance abuse. Through this trip, I hope to obtain a deeper understanding of the Ghana health care delivery system, as well as their psychiatric and mental health systems.

Hi,  my name is Paige Redner and I will be a senior at GVSU in the fall. I am an English-Elementary Education major. I was first drawn to the Ghana trip during Honors Transitions and immediately felt called to come. I have always had a heart for service so coming to Ghana and combining that with my future as a teacher was a dream come true. I'm very excited to volunteer at Challenging Heights and observe their school system and teaching methods.

My name is Lily and I am a proud Statistics major. Africa has been a dream of mine since I can remember and it's finally coming true. I love culture shock and even after five days I am in love and could stay here forever. This program has given me an opportunity to learn more about the world and myself, and I can't wait to see what's in store for the next six weeks.

Hi! My name is Erin Craft- Otterbacher and in the fall I am starting my last semester in Nursing school. In Ghana, I hope to further my cultural competency so I can give culturally relevant care to my patients. My passion lies in community health nursing, specifically education and prevention. While in Ghana I hope to learn more about Ghanaian preventative health systems. I will take this knowledge back and apply it to my preventative, community focused care.

My name is Hannah DeGraaf. I am going to be a junior in the fall and am a Biomedical Science major. Through this amazing opportunity in Ghana I hope to learn all about the culture by immersing myself in it and interacting with the people. I also am looking forward to gaining understanding of their health care system and disease control by investigating their views on nutrition and community outreach.

Samantha Batdorff- I am a Special Education and CSAT major with a minor in Elementary Education. My desire to apply for this program began during an African civilizations course that I took my freshman year. After traveling to Zambia the following year, I knew that I had to experience more of what this beautiful continent has to offer. The knowledge and life experiences I will acquire over 7 weeks are invaluable and I will forever appreciate the opportunity that has been given to me.

My name is Katelyn O'Grady. I am a junior Allied Health Sciences Major with a psychology minor. I chose to come on this trip because I'm excited to learn more about Challenging Heights, and to be able to offer my help to others.

My name is Nikki Bush and I am going to be a senior in the fall. My major is Integrated Science for Elementary Education. I was first interested in this trip during Transitions the first week my freshman year. Ever since then I have been planning and researching in order to be able to be accepted into this program. I am passionate about this particular trip because of the service involved and I cannot wait to work with Challenging Heights and its students.

Hi, my name is Mackie Forgacs. I am a Public and Nonprofit Administration major at GVSU. I chose this program because I wanted to experience the culture of Africa while making a difference in the lives of others. When I first heard about Challenging Heights over a year ago, I knew that this was going to be the perfect program. This opportunity will not only give me the chance to impact others but will also allow others to impact me in ways that I never could have imagined.

Hi, my name is Alexis Brown. I am a Biomedical Science student and, newly!, a world traveler. I am excited to continue making new friends, having new experiences, and growing as a person.

My name is Kali Sanford and next fall I will be entering into my third year at Grand Valley to continue my studies in Biomedical Sciences. I chose this program because it will help fulfill my dream of traveling abroad to learn about a new culture while providing so much more. This program is important to me because I will get interact with local people and help those in need. Over the next several weeks I am excited to be working with Ghana Health Services both in the hospital and in their outreach program. 

We are so proud of these bright young women. We finished our classes at the University of Ghana on Friday. After class each evening, the group participated in excursions to different places around Accra. The students will be writing blogs to share these experiences in the next few days. Yesterday we arrived safely in Winneba, Ghana, where we will be starting the service portion of our summer.

Many more posts to come, thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Safely in Accra, at the University of Ghana

We arrived safely and are settling in to the international student hostel at the University of Ghana.
Heres a photo of us right after we landed & got off the plane... Can you tell we're excited?!

Thanks for all the well wishes during our travel. We will be posting now less frequently to update on our activities. We are encouraging the students to be fully present in our activities and less reliant on technology.

Thank you for your support!

Friday, June 13, 2014

We made our flight to Ghana!

After long delays in Atlanta, and a quick scurry in New York, we made our flight to Ghana...whew!
Talk to you all once we're in Ghana!

Delayed in Atlanta

Good Evening family and friends,

We made it safely to Atlanta, but are delayed for our connecting flight to New York due to severe thunderstorms and rain in NY. Our flight now takes off at 8:15pm...we're hoping to make it in time for our flight to Accra, but may not. We'll update as we have more info.

For now, we're indulging in treats we won't have access to this summer... Ice cream!

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Greetings Readers!

This is the official blog of the GVSU Honors College: Ghana Service Learning study abroad group. We will be updating this blog on a regular basis to share our experiences with you; our friends, families, and stakeholders.

Upon arrival to Ghana we will update this blog as soon as possible to inform of our safe arrival.

Thank you all for all your support, this is going to be a life-changing summer!

GVSU Leadership Team
Azizur Molla, PhD, Faculty Director
Chrisitan Fredericks, M.A, Assistant Director
Emily Fredericks, MSW, Program Assistant