By Karla Kelly
FOR THE DIGBY COURIER
It was a once in a lifetime experience where a group of teenagers would be the change as they built a new school half way around the world, but in the process they were changed as well.
As part of the Me to We volunteer program, Morgan Dunn, Mikya Francis, Chelsee Andrews, Serenity Mollins, Faith Titus from Digby Regional High School, and Page Ivens and Jessica Balser of Islands Consolidated School travelled with 13 other students from the Tri-County region to the rural village of Nyameyiekrom, Ghana, on the west coast of Africa.
Me to We partners with the international charity, Free The Children, to gain access to rural communities for the purpose of volunteering on a project. The Digby County girls said the main purpose of their trip was to begin construction of a new school in the village.
Students were divided into teams and everyone was assigned a task to get work underway.
“The building site had to be cleared before construction started and everyone had a job to do like clearing the area of tree stumps, shovelling sand for bricks, digging trenches, making the bricks and mixing the mortar,” said Page Ivens. “The hardest part was pushing the heavy wheelbarrows full of sand.”
Serenity Mollins said she was motivated to work hard because she saw in the villagers who worked alongside them determination to have a better education for their children.
The girls agreed that having the parents continually thank them for helping build the school and seeing the children’s happiness was overwhelming.
Jessica Balser said the children knew the Nova Scotians were there to help build a new school and were happy for it.
Mikya Francis said she did not know what to expect when the group arrived in the village, but felt humbled by the villagers’ appreciation for the group.
“I was blown away by our reception,” said Francis. “I was humbled and honored by their welcome. They made us feel at home.”
“What left a lasting impression on me was seeing how happy and excited the kids were to go to school,” said Dunn. “They had aspirations to become doctors or teachers just like us and you could see their appreciation for us being there on their faces.”
Andrews said that helping with this project was a good part of being the change in this village but they were being changed as well.
“I came back home and was never so excited to go to school. I think we all see our schooling so differently now, not something to be taken for granted but appreciated and used to help others,” she said.
While working on the school, the group went on a ‘water walk’ to a small river over a kilometer away from the build site for water to mix the cement and mortar for the school.
“The water walk made me realize just how valuable clean water actually is,” said Titus, who was experiencing her second Me to We trip.
“We walked over a kilometer back up a hill with 20-litre jerry cans full of dirty murky river water on our heads,” said Titus. “Even though the cans were heavy to carry, the hard part was knowing that the women and girls made the trek several times a day to get what they needed for cleaning and cooking.”
Their lack of clean drinking water has made the girls rethink their own personal water consumption and they are now more conscious of what they use on a daily basis.
“We came back home more aware of what we need to do like less time in the shower, turning off the tap while brushing your teeth or washing up and not changing your clothes so often,” they said.
Andrea Huskilson, the Tri-County organizer for Me to We, said as a group they have decided to focus on the global water crisis and are now working on a project to spread the word about water conservation.
Titus said they have made a water conservation video to start the promotion.
Ivens said her own personal goal was to work towards getting bottled water out of her school, and believes it is an attainable one.
All seven girls agreed that it was the children’s expression of genuine happiness in the face of poverty and their deep desire to go to school and receive an education that made the most impact on them.
“It was a different kind of happy than what we are used to here at home, a genuine happiness in spite of having nothing materially,” Balser said.
“We believe our group made a difference being in Ghana and like planting a seed, good things would grow out of it.”
Looking over the building site before they left to come home, Andrews said to herself, “This is what we came for.”
DRHS principal Ben Elms said the trip to Ghana was a life changing experience for the girls.
“The trip gave them a whole new perspective of the world and the challenges that are out there,” Elms said. “I’m sure these girls will tackle these challenges.”