Culture of Heart

 Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21

About five days after arriving in Accra, I visited the Echoing Hills Orphanage and Center for the Disabled with my Service Learning class. The issue of abandonment of children is highly prominent in this area, as many people can’t afford to care for their children and sometimes children will wander away from their families and get lost, never finding their way back. In cases like these, policemen often pick up lone children on the street and bring them to shelters such as Echoing Hills. The supervisor of this institution told us about the devastating reality of orphanages in the area: that most children who enter are never adopted and end up living their whole lives there. This is such a reality that they even have a cemetery on site to bury those that die there.

But the children are some of the happiest that I’ve ever met. It was  humbling to see that even though these kids are so young and will likely never get adopted, they go about life with a level of gratitude that I had never seen before. We met one girl who was brought to the orphanage when she was two years old, is now five, and is one of the happiest little girls I’ve ever met…and all I can hope is that she’ll stay that way. When she came up to me and gave me a hug, I couldn’t help but start to cry because I knew that she had been through so much at such a young age and would likely not leave the institution. I left wishing that I could bring all the kids home with me. I’ll have their memories to cherish forever, and I guess that will have to be enough.

Since the trip to the orphanage, I’ve toured with University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) and seen a  few historical sites as well an indigenous village located in the southern region of Ghana. Probably the most eye-opening site that I’ve seen thus far was Nzuelezo, a remote village on stilts.  In order to get to this village, my group took a bus for seven hours to the general area and then had to row in wooden canoes for an additional forty minutes to get to the village itself, as the only way to get there is by boat.
Once we arrived in this village of about 200 people, I was amazed at how different their way of life was compared to the lifestyle that I had grown accustomed to living in the city of Accra.  But that’s probably the most meaningful lesson I’ve learned while here, is that culture is all around, yet each is different in its own way.

And so as I finish out the rest of my stay, I plan to keep experiencing the many cultures here and update you along the way.

Until next time,

Danielle

Danielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She will be in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and will be posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.

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