Weddington teen becomes teacher, student volunteering in Ghana
Graduating high school when she was 17, Weddington resident Alexandra Ruark felt a year of growth before starting college would expand her world.
She didn’t know she’d end up traveling halfway around the globe to Ghana. There, she participated in human rights work and the internationally recognized “Make a Difference Day” through Projects Abroad, a leading volunteer-abroad organization offering a range of international service projects. The lessons learned during her two-month trip – her first to a non-Western country – are sure to last a lifetime.
“I chose Projects Abroad because they help with details like food and flights,” Ruark said, “but also give you a lot of independence.”
The organization offers programs throughout Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Pacific Island Rim. Volunteers from 16 to 75 can participate in projects that last from two weeks to 12 months and range from teaching and conservation to animal care to information technology.
When Ruark first went to Projects Abroad’s website, her eye was drawn to the topic “The Law & Human Rights.”
While Ghana is one of the most stable nations in Africa, life in its capital city, Accra, is vastly different from that of any European or North American city.
As part of the Projects Abroad office in Accra, Ruark was able to get involved at a grassroots program to raise human-rights awareness in marginalized communities and vulnerable groups.
“We went to different communities and schools,” Ruark explained, “and gave presentations about basic human rights.” The Ghanans seemed thoroughly interested and talked about abuse and a wide range of social issues.
Ruark’s internship in Ghana coincided with “Make a Difference Day,” the U.S.’s largest day of volunteerism celebrated each year on the fourth Saturday in October. In Ghana, the Projects Abroad staff helped renovate the soccer field at Cantonments Football Academy in Accra. Ruark and fellow volunteers spent the day raking and weeding fields, picking up litter, painting goal posts and sweeping.
The hardest work that day? “Cleaning the gutters,” she said. “This is a big deal for the Academy because there is no sewage system in Ghana,” Ruark notes.
While Ruark toiled in Ghana, other Projects Abroad volunteers volunteered at an orphanage in India and took medical care to Mongolian children living in temporary housing.
Ruark is grateful for the experience. She is amazed at the differences in culture between Ghana and America, and she learned a lot about cultural sensitivity, returning with admiration and respect for Ghana’s people.
“While I didn’t expect people to be mean,” she recalls, “they completely surpassed my expectations in terms of friendliness and offering me help.”
Already, Ruark is considering her next trip abroad. “Nothing is set in stone,” she said, “but I would love to go to Peru!”