Linda Ludwig has worked for Grinnell College for 18 years in various capacities. Her past positions include being a Residence Life Coordinator, an Academic Support Assistant, and a Software Applications Specialist. She is currently the Technology Services Desk Front Office Team Lead where she serves on the front line for dealing with computer issues campus wide.
Linda was awarded a staff fellowship to work with 2011 Grinnell Prize winner James Kofi Annan and his organization Challenging Heights. Linda traveled to Ghana in June, 2013 and volunteered with Challenging Heights for three weeks.
Stepping out of my comfort zone: My Ghana Experience
It was 8:30 am and already sweat soaked my shirt and my hair as I walked the 20 minutes from Lagoon Lodge where I was staying, to the south gate of Winneba University South Campus to catch a shared taxi. I carried 50 pounds of camera gear, computer equipment and water each day for the trip. I'll admit I wasn't in shape for the heat or the walking.
What brought me to this sweat soaked condition? Two months earlier, I was informed that I was selected for the Grinnell Prize Staff Fellow for 2013. As the staff fellow, I would be volunteering at Challenging Heights in Ghana for three and a half weeks during the month of June working with 2011 Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize winner, James Kofi Annan. His accomplishments are truly impressive: he endured slavery from age six to 13; escaped; taught himself to read and write; and despite the challenges, disadvantages and poverty he graduated from college and later obtained a Master's degree.
Carolyn Saxton and Tilly Woodward, the 2012 Staff Fellow prize winners who also volunteered at Challenging Heights in Ghana, tried to prepare me for what I would encounter in Ghana before the trip but no matter how much I was told or read, the only way to understand the conditions is to experience them.
That first week I had lots of fears; How would I get around? Where could I safely eat? What would the bathroom situation be like? Would I be able to contribute to Challenging Heights' mission? Would I be able to keep my insulin cool and my diabetes well controlled? Would I stay healthy? Would I be able to understand the residents of Winneba? They speak English but I had trouble understanding the accent.
Slowly but surely I took it one day at a time and overcame my fears. I learned that the Challenging Heights office was conveniently located on one of the circular shared taxi routes which made going to and from work easy and cheap. The taxi ride cost 60 pesewas which is about 30 cents U.S. for the 15 minute ride.
Challenging Heights staff members and other volunteers introduced me to Chop Bars and recommended local dishes. I quickly learned where I could eat and what I liked. Some of my favorite dishes were Waakye, Red Red and stir fried rice with shito.
I overcame my other fears as well and before I knew it, the three and a half weeks were over and I was home.
I truly believe that this international volunteer experience for staff adds to Grinnell College's rich tapestry and commitment to social justice. Right before I left for the trip, I happened to meet Larry Asante Boateng through email. He was an incoming first-year student from Ghana. After exchanging a few emails, my husband and I checked with Larry to see if we could ask the Office of International Student Affairs to pair us with him in the host family program.
Suddenly I was viewing Ghana and home with a new point of view. As I walked the streets of Winneba, making friends, eating the food, melting in the heat, and seeing the sites, I thought of Larry. This was his home; this is where he comes from. I thought how different the streets of Grinnell are to the streets of Winneba and I was suddenly thinking how Grinnell must appear to Larry and other international students. Our streets must look like a ghost town at times compared to how alive the streets in Winneba were.
As I experimented with eating unusual dishes, I thought about how though I liked the food; I was missing the food I was familiar with; I was missing my husband and his cooking; I was missing home. Suddenly I was appreciating what Larry would go through when he arrived at Grinnell and what all our international students go through every year.
Now that I am home, it has been wonderful introducing Larry to Iowa but at I have also been more aware of how he might be missing home and what is familiar to him. It has been Robert's and my pleasure to try making Ghanaian dishes with Larry in order to bring a little of home to him.
My time in Ghana was a wonderful experience: not only was I able to volunteer at Challenging Heights I gained wonderful friends, I learned about myself and I gained a greater appreciation of what our students go through when they come to Grinnell, leaving all that is familiar behind.
If you are interested in reading more about my adventures while in Ghana, my blog can be found here