Making A Difference in One Small Place – by Ari, age 17
Our oldest son, Ari, had the good fortune to volunteer overseas this summer. While we are most jealous that he got to have international adventures without his parents and brother, it only seems reasonable that young adults get to grow into their own lives. Here is his report:
This summer I spent 7 wonderful weeks in Sovie, a small community in rural Ghana, serving with the American Jewish World Service, an organization dedicated to international social justice issues. As one of fifteen high school volunteers selected from across the United States and Canada, I gave my summer to build a latrine alongside the people of Sovie. This jungle community of about 2000 people had, at the beginning of the summer, no usable facility for the safe disposal of human waste. Our team was charged with providing labor, alongside some local workers, for building a facility that would meet the long term needs of the community.
When we arrived local workers had already dug and cemented the three by five by fourteen-foot holes for the “10-seater” latrine. Although the project had commenced, there was still a lot of work to be done. We spent the first three days learning how to make bricks like the locals do – by hand – and creating the base that spanned the trench. Although we celebrated like it was quite an accomplishment at the time, looking back I realize that we had barely started.
With the base constructed, it was time to create our building blocks: bricks… lots and lots of bricks. I am very proud to proclaim that we made 186 bricks in one day. Not only did this number exceed the local expectation of 150, but it was also a vast improvement over the fifty bricks that we created on our first day on the worksite. Then we had to move all of the bricks – again, local style on one’s head – an eighth of a mile, to the construction site (which doesn’t sound like much until you have to haul a 50 lb. block 186 times). Next we had to mix cement and concrete – yep, local style with shovels – which we used as a mortar to hold the bricks together and, later, as a plaster for the walls. After weeks of running through the cycle of making, moving, and building, we finally completed the structure of the latrine. Then came the roofing… and the priming… and the painting. Needless to say, by the time that we had finished the latrine everybody, local and volunteer, was exhausted, but proud. In celebration, every worker returned to our house and had “minerals” – the local options being Pepsi, Coca Cola, or Mirinda. Even today I feel good knowing I had a hand in the enduring health of this friendly community.
I also spent an hour each day teaching English to the fourth grade class. The kids were awfully squirmy and, although I really enjoyed their smiles and energy, getting good lessons taught was tough. It sure made me appreciate my regular teachers’ abilities!
The biggest thing I learned is that one person really can make a difference, and a lot of small differences do add up to a significant effect. Sovie is cleaner and healthier today thanks to the efforts of our whole team of volunteers and locals. It also confirmed that good people exist everywhere, and that the differences we see between individuals, ethnic groups, and nations really are minor compared to the ways in which we are all alike.