CHICAGO, Illinois — The Peace Corps is an independent, U.S. government-run agency. Across the world, Peace Corps volunteers impact communities with projects catered specifically to the country’s needs. Around 19% of volunteers serve in areas like Central and South America; however, 45% of volunteers serve in Africa. Of those volunteers, almost 4,800 have worked in Ghana. Peace Corps members work on projects involving community economic development, agriculture and AIDs relief. Through an interview with a former Peace Corps volunteer, this article will articulate the issues Ghana is facing along with the admirable successes of the country.
Ghana: Fast Facts
Ghana is seen as “one of the leading countries of Africa.” The country is famous for being the first sub-Saharan African country to claim its independence from British rule in 1957. It is abundant in forestry and agriculture. Accra, the country’s capital and port hub, has a population of 2.5 million. Ghana itself has a population of nearly 30 million. Being so close to the equator calls for beautiful tropical views across the country. Many across the globe are familiar with Kente cloth, which, in fact, originates in Ghana and is commonly worn among citizens.
The Peace Corps
The Peace Corps has served in more than 140 countries since its start over 50 years ago. Its mission is to immerse volunteers in host countries, like Ghana. Peace Corps volunteers work with local leaders and communities themselves on current events and issues. The organization states three goals: to help with the need for trained men and women, to promote a better understanding of Americans in countries across the world and to promote a better understanding of the world around us for Americans to know. The Peace Corps hopes to promote peace, unity and understanding across the world.
Peace Corps members focus on specific issues the given country is currently facing. For example, the three areas of interest in Ghana are agriculture, education and health. Some projects include maternal and child health as well as improving farm productivity and income. In regards to education, former Peace Corps volunteer Molly Matteson was involved in remarkable projects. Matteson spoke with The Borgen Project about her time in Ghana.
Community and Youth Development
While volunteering in a small, Western village of Ghana, Matteson (also known as Adwoa Serwaa, the name given to her during her welcome ceremony) had the title of Community and Youth Development Advisor. Through community-focused projects, Matteson mainly worked on bettering education. For example, she was involved in a “school building project, developing a school health curriculum and engaging students in empowerment and academic capacity building activities.”
Peace Corps volunteers also have the opportunity to collaborate with one another, and Matteson did so by exposing high school students to university pathway programs. She did this via two youth camps that span across all of Ghana, which also offered self-development practices for the kids. In just two years, Matteson significantly helped the community’s education system and, in turn, positively impacted the children across the entire country.
Throughout her time with the Peace Corps, Matteson recognized the incredible successes of the country. One of those successes being just how peaceful Ghanaians and their culture are. In fact, Ghana ranks in the top 45 most peaceful countries, according to the Global Peace Index by Visions of Humanity. In an online-interview, Matteson stated, “There is respect for differences in religion and tribal affiliation in the villages, towns, cities and even up to the government level.
Before any event in Ghana, a religious leader, whether a pastor, preacher or Imam, will recite a prayer and everyone will bow their heads to pray, regardless of religious affiliation.” In a country with more than 100 tribes and ethnic groups, Ghana indefinitely keeps the peace even in situations of conflict. Matteson mentioned, “cultural histories and practices are taken into account when the government or police force steps in to reconcile.” This has resulted in a more compassionate community among the entirety of the country.
After living in Ghana for two years, it is difficult not to see the struggles of the country and the issues apart from volunteers’ given projects. While Ghana is a beautiful, peaceful country, Matteson mentioned one particular issue she noticed that citizens face. “While I cannot speak with great authority, one of the largest issues I saw in my day to day life in Ghana was the lack of infrastructure. Major cities like Accra, Kumasi and Tamale have consistent power, paved roads and government buildings. But, these facilities dwindle outside of city limits.” With inconsistent electricity and dirt roads, Matteson noticed a wide gap between “between urban and rural living.” She believes that policy decisions need to start focusing on infrastructure development.
Issues like infrastructure are precisely the reason for organizations like the Peace Corps. Without a thorough understanding of what communities, both rural and urban, endure every day, it is difficult for policymakers to know what decisions to make. In fact, Peace Corps volunteers like Molly Matteson help greatly as their experiences describe the policy changes that are underfunded or not yet passed, like the International Affairs Budget. Considering Matteson’s experience in a small Ghanian community, perhaps there will soon be a push for infrastructure-related funding that organizations like The Borgen Project can support.
Matteson’s experience with the Peace Corps was nothing short of influential not only for herself and her career goals but also for the community members across the village. Organizations like The Peace Corps and its volunteers are highlighting the beauty of countries like Ghana as well as speaking up about the issues that the countries like the U.S. can help fix. Through efforts like Matteson’s and other Peace Corps volunteers, the world is moving closer and closer to ending global poverty.
– Anna Hoban