Please welcome Kelsey Finnegan to the ONE Blog. She is the winner of our ONE Act a Week blog post contest on advocacy and the holidays. In this piece, she writes about her perception of Africa before and after her time in Ghana.
Sometimes I wonder what life would’ve been like if I’d never gone to Africa. I would have probably existed in a world that was simpler, where my thoughts didn’t reach beyond the boundaries of my university, where things were the way they were just because that was the way things were. We have all seen the sad ads with fly-bitten children’s faces flickering across the television screen. In those portrayals of Africa, it made the continent seem like a dark and curiously lost place, hopeless and wild.
I began my work in Africa at 19, as a volunteer teacher for two months in Ghana. I came across Happy Kids Orphanage, a beautiful but struggling place where the children slept on urine-covered cement floors and never experienced the luxury of a full meal. I saw it as a place that could be receptive to change, and in the years since, we’ve been able to build a dormitory, two classrooms and start a nutritional food program. In my favorite project, I partnered with a fair-trade company, Della, to start the Happy Kids Sewing Program.
On the first day, an eight-year-old named Moda bent down and sewed the hole in her dress. On the third day, the children folded scraps of fabric into bags on their own. I watched their eyes light up when they learned how to push the hand crank on a sewing machine. I watched their trajectories changing. All they needed was a needle and thread.
Though I know I don’t know much, I can learn. Even as I stumble, my efforts are better than nothing. I don’t know why, but I am one of the lucky ones; I get to witness change spark and multiply. This change comes not because I’m there, but rather because of the unyielding optimism and tenacity sewn into the very fabric of who they are. I know I’m fortunate to be taught at my college, but that the lessons afforded to me by those I know in Africa are worth more. I’ve been told before that there is “less value for human life” in Africa. I’ve never heard anything more wrong. They strive to succeed, but their lives do not revolve around the accumulation of material goods. They do not understand Western depression; they find it legitimately insane that you would be unhappy with any life other than the one you’ve been granted. I think if anything, Africans retain more value for human life, which many of us have lost amid our wealth and time pressed lives. It becomes obvious that happiness is a choice based on disposition, not circumstance. And however happy or hopeful, many still need help, and we are not as powerless as once assumed.
Kelsey Finnegan is the director of Happy Kids NGO, a small organization that implements sustainable projects in Hohoe, Ghana. She is also a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.