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By Wendy Gabrek
Recently The Times received the following letter from a reader:
My name is Symonne Gordon and I'm an Alliston girl who is currently living in Ghana. I am in my third year of undergrad, studying International Development Studies at Trent University. This year my program takes place in Ghana, West Africa. As part of the program, we take on an internship with a selected NGO, mine being the Center for Active Learning and Integrated Development (CALID).
What inspired me to do this? Well, I would have to say my community played a large role. I went to St. Thomas Aquinas high school in Tottenham and in Grade 12, I participated in the mission trip to Ecuador. That mission trip laid down the foundation for my aspirations in development.
The reason I'm writing to you is to purpose a follow-up story on what happens after the mission trip. Where do these students go who participate in these life-changing trips? A story along these lines would not only help support the mission trips, like the one at your daughter's school but also help me bring awareness to my NGO that I'm helping raise funds for.
CALID, Ghana: grassroots Ghanaian started and based NGO. Human rights based, focusing on educating people on their rights and holding the government accountable.
Funds would be going to the CALID Girl's Clubs: Girls in Northern Ghana are faced with countless barriers that prevent them from reaching junior high, let alone graduating high school. A huge barrier is a lack of sexual and reproductive education. This results in girls missing school because of their periods and falling way behind in school.
Also, teen pregnancy is an issue that is easily avoided but due to lack of education girls are dropping out because of early pregnancy. By supporting Girls Clubs you are helping build their confidence to stay in school. The clubs educate girls on child rights, early marriage, sex education, HIV/AIDs and STDs, reproductive health, sanitation, personal hygiene, career guidance, and more!
The schools that have girls in these clubs have seen as much as a 100% decrease in girls dropping out and as much as an 85% increase in their grades!
The Times followed-up with Symonne with a series of 13 questions based on her letter. Here is our exchange.
Ever since I was very young I've been involved with different social justice movements but it wasn't until I was 17 that I found out I could study development and possibly turn it into a career.
There are lots of differences, but there are also just as many similarities. There's also a misconception that all of Ghana is all the same. But Ghanaian people are still attached to their traditional tribes and each tribe has different customs, history, and traditions. I think that may be one of the biggest and most interesting cultural differences.
To be honest, I might get a little sad if I dive into everything I'll miss when I go home but for now I'll just say I'll miss the hot weather. And back home, I miss my family and friends the most, but we'll see each other soon!
I am coming back to Canada mid-April, after eight months abroad studying international development with Trent University. I think when I come home I'll be a lot more critical about where I buy things from, who I support, etc., because I've seen firsthand (instead of just reading about) how a lot of what we do in the west, even when we have a good attention, can negatively affect the global south.
We should never take for granted out education and freedom.
That's the difference with my program is that I'm not coming here with the mindset that I'm going to create a direct impact. My goal here is just to learn from the culture and learn about international development while being abroad. But I am working with an NGO that makes a direct impact on young girls' lives. The NGO, Center for Active Learning and Integrated Development (CALID, Ghana), creates and maintains Girls Clubs that give at-risk girls the knowledge and skills to succeed in a world that is against them. And honestly, my proudest achievement is that I've made it this far in the trip without any issues. I'm safe, happy and healthy!
If you would like to help support CALID's Girl's Clubs, you can donate on our funds' page at www.gofundme.com/CALIDGirlsGroups
It only cost 5$ to cover a girl's exam fees for a year and $10 covers any other school expenses for a year! We are also looking to expand the program but as of now, there are 640 girls enrolled into 33 Girls Clubs across Northern Ghana!
To take part in a mission trip, you have to have a love for travel and have an open mind. A mistake I made at 17 when I went on a mission trip to Ecuador is that I thought I would change the entire community we were working with, in a week. You have to realize that you aren't going to change anyone's lives in such a short amount of time (or you will be very disappointed) but accept the trip as inspiration and a great learning experience to further your ambitions. And maybe one day you can help lots of people. Also, it will change you but you probably won't notice any change for a long time so don't stress out about that.
From Ghana, I think I have a lifetime full of shocking discoveries and moments; not so much a particular moment, but the amount of reliance that these young girls have built within themselves at such a young age is remarkable.
I have met girls who face terrible things on a daily basis like; sexual assault, violence, poverty and high amounts of sexism in the household but still make it school every day to go to class. I have also been able to see the power the girls have first hand. Our one group who call themselves “The Success Girls” uses the money we give them to expand business (selling chips, fruit etc) to support the neediest girls in the group.
The Girl's Clubs have created an atmosphere where they share their struggles and in return, they have a group of friends who support and encourage their education. The girls all want to see each other succeed, something that I think is missing from society but isn't missing in the Girl's Clubs.
All the women in my family are my role models, but my mother and my grandma June are two very remarkable women, I'm pretty sure when you open the dictionary their names appear by the words resilience and perseverance.
I think I might return to Ghana at one point. There's a lot of opportunities for me here. I've also met a lot of expats, even ones from Canada, who've lived here very happy for many years.
Literally everywhere but I really want to go to India next. I think my top five dream destinations are India, Morocco, Turkey, Argentina and Spain.
My worldview of the world has changed because I've learned so much about an entire continent that is usually left out or misrepresented by the media.
We are never taught about Africa in school (okay, minus ancient Egypt) but by living and learning here I've realized how significant Africa is to the rest of the world. I look at racism in North America, and I now know it started here hundreds of years ago with the slave trade but we still feel the effects every day. Everything that has happened to the world, has also affected Africa and I think that is something people don't realize.
I think coming here has given me a solid foundation to who I am at this point in my life. It's made me very open-minded to things I don't understand but I've learned to take the time to educate myself on things I'm unfamiliar with instead of judging something for being different from my own culture.
At Cape Coast University there is a statue of a young man holding books and wearing a traditional chief's outfit. The statue's meaning translates to Education is Power. I agree, but the statue is also of a man. Education can liberate women to great success, and eventually, they will build statues twice the size, for women who once called themselves the members of Girls Clubs.
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