The other side of Africa

Wake students at the University of Ghana

Some of the students who participated in Wake Forest’s first service-learning program in Ghana last summer found the experience so rewarding that they’re planning on returning — on their own — next year.

“It was the greatest experience I’ve ever had,” said junior Anna Marie Carr, a French major and African Studies minor, and a native of Winston-Salem who was making her first trip abroad.

“Going there not knowing what to expect was both exciting and challenging, as everything was a new and different learning experience,” she said. “My interest in African studies was peaked, I gained an appreciation for an extremely rich and fascinating culture, and I got to participate in rewarding service work.”

The trip is one of the requirements for the new African Studies minor. Yomi Durotoye, coordinator of the African Studies minor, led last year’s five-week program in Ghana and is planning to take a second group of students there this summer.

Durotoye said the experience is an opportunity for students to see a different side of Africa to break the stereotypical image of Africa as a land ravaged by HIV/AIDS, famine, corruption, wars and poverty. Ghana, located in West Africa, was the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence, in 1957.

“We do a disservice to students to not expose them to knowledge of a continent that a significant portion of our population came from,” he said. “It is a chance for students to break their own boundaries and feel confident in the global world.”

Four students went with Durotoye last year — Carr; junior Ashley Forte; and sophomores Jon Coates and Tobi Durotoye — and he hopes to take eight students this year. The students lived at the University of Ghana and took classes everyday on African history, politics, religion and economic development taught by Durotoye, a native of Nigeria. They also traveled throughout the country.

The students spent several hours a week volunteering with the Street Girls Aid Foundation in the capital city of Accra. The foundation operates a day center for children whose mothers came into the city looking for work, but who soon become homeless. Forte, Carr and Tobi Durotoye plan to return to Ghana during spring break next March to volunteer at the day center again.

“Working with the kids definitely stood out for me because they were so loving, caring and happy despite their economic situation,” said Forte, a sociology major. “It certainly made me grateful for the resources that I have in my life.”

When Reynolds Professor of American Studies Maya Angelou found out that the students were going to Ghana, she gave each of them autographed copies of her book, “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes,” which describes her experience living in Ghana in the early 1960s. Angelou also arranged for the students to meet her “Ghanaian family” including Rosetta Bernesko (’80), an alumna who lives in Ghana.

For more information on the Ghana study abroad program, visit the African Studies Minor page at http://cis.wfu.edu/international-minors/african-studies/ or contact Durotoye at durotoyo@nullwfu.edu.

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