By Jude Lane
Humanist Service Corps Volunteer
For most of my life I knew I wanted to help others, and what that has meant to me changed drastically over time. I went to college to become a missionary, then a teacher, then went on to work nonprofit. Along this life path I changed and so did my understanding of what is the best way for me to give to those around me. I’ve seen how giving until I break is not healthy. I’ve seen that having a good heart and wanting the best isn’t usually enough. We must train and discuss and work out our philosophy of service. How we give is as important as how much we give.
During my first week of training I met a few people that challenged how I felt about my service in Ghana. One night, I ended up in a long conversation with an American woman who was working on a post graduated project related to agriculture and a Ghanaian man who had spent a couple decades in England getting an education and growing business before returning to his home country.
I could tell the woman was frustrated with the culture and workers she had experienced. She shared stories of times that she had tried to move the project ahead and realized that nothing she was doing would still be around once she left. She could not connect or communicate well with the people. That’s not what I want to be my experience here.
The man explained his view and it was not better. He expressed that the best thing for Ghana was Ghanaians getting international education and understanding then coming back and raising Ghana up themselves. He warned that there was a culture of dependence on white, rich people charity. That those working with me would think they were doing me a favor. He told me to accept I would not change anything, learn all I could, and when people start to really frustrate me just smile my best smile.
What was the main take away from the dialogue? That I would change nothing. That I would be here for a year, and nothing I did would really matter. Now, this began a long list of questions and concerns. But I am already here. I literally just signed a contract to stay in Ghana and work for the next year. I have to do something.
Though I do not automatically accept everything they said as truth, this interaction discouraged me. I wonder now if what I am doing is the right thing. I am unsure if I should be here at all. I honestly, truly want to be a good person. I honestly want to serve in a way that is the best for Ghana and the future. So I’ve begun to think about the Humanist Service Corp philosophy and, more importantly, my personally philosophy of service. I want what I do to have long term effects. I want to let Ghanaians lead me so that what I am doing is culturally relevant. The behind the scenes aspect of our work is very important, education of this next generation is essential, and I need to be daily aware that these people need to help themselves. This is something that I want to be reflecting on through this trip. HSC seems to have a philosophy very close to this. Half our team are Ghanaian locals and we are teamed with a local, independent nonprofit, but I definitely need to find my place in this process and do the best I can to foster this kind of independence. I don’t think NGOs can just leave, children are starving, these women are threatened. Traveling and studying in the West helped this man to have the world view and understanding to start the business he has (not that the West is better, just that he has seen more and learned from abroad). Ghana has much need for development and Songtaba has so much good and so much potential.
I can try and accept that I won’t see much change most likely and I still need to find fulfillment and purpose here. We are just serving. I will never teach a class, I will not be speaking beyond our group and will let others lead and tell me what to do. I take my personality and expertise and help in the capacity I can. But I am not in the lime light. I am constantly aware of the line between proselytizing and healthy discourse in a different culture and do my best to not force my opinion. But yes, I am also learning. I am learning about myself, about Ghana, about Ghanaians. I am learning that a smile may be the best I have in some situations. That part of his advice I can handle. I do not accept that I will have no impact. I must work hard to find my role. I must be careful to serve in a way that is healthy for myself and others. I must take this opportunity for all it’s worth. I was told this trip would only result in personal reflection and learning to fake it. I choose to use my knowledge and strengths to be a good person and be part of a worthy cause.
Jude Lane was born and raised in Arkansas. He obtained a degree in Spanish and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) from Evangel University, and has been working for the past two years as a youth care specialist at a Springfield, Missouri children’s emergency care facility for children in poverty stricken, drug afflicted, or abusive homes. Jude chose to join HSC because he believes in serving with others to help make as many lives better as possible. He greatly enjoys travel and has visited many countries in Europe and South America. Jude loves a good conversation over just about anything.