Understanding US foreign aid in an unlikely place

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Please allow me to introduce myself: I’m Kara Ford. I’m a rising first year law student at Ohio State. I graduated last June from Ohio State. During my time as an undergraduate student, I was a campus leader for ONE. Like every ONE campus leader I’ve met, I have spent countless hours organizing volunteers, attending political events and meetings, tabling on campus, and otherwise using my voice to defend the less than 1 percent of the US budget that goes to foreign aid programs like PEPFAR and the Global Fund. This is the life of an activist. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about my first-hand experience volunteering in West Africa.

I recently spent one month volunteering at an orphanage near Odumase Krobo, Ghana through International Volunteer Headquarters. I traveled with 16 others, 14 of whom are fellow Buckeyes. When I was asked to write this blog post for ONE, I thought it would be easy. But it turns out condensing a month-long experience in Ghana into a few words is harder than it seems. My trip was sometimes filled with homesickness, sadness about what our kids had endured, and plenty of difficulties, but it was also filled with love, friendship, hope and lots of great stories. One of these stories occurred in Cape Coast, which was about six hours away from our placement.

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Cape Coast has cultural markets, some restaurants that serve American food, and gorgeous ocean views, making it one of Ghana’s more popular cities among obrunis (foreigners). One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Cape Coast was to tour the well-preserved slave castle: Cape Coast Castle. It is an elegant building with a harrowing past. We walked through the eerie male and female dungeons, each about the size of a dormitory room. These rooms housed up to 200 slaves and there were certainly no bathrooms. For me, the most haunting room was the condemned dungeon, which was reserved for those who challenged their overseers. It was a hot, small, dark cell where prisoners would die of starvation, dehydration or suffocation.

As our tour group was about to walk upstairs to see the governor’s rooms, a funny thing happened. I noticed a man wearing a black T-shirt with the ONE logo I have come to know so well. I happened to be wearing a ONE T-shirt as well. It instantly made me smile. As we passed on the large, white staircase we had a brief bonding moment over our T-shirts and ultimately, over our commitment to fighting poverty. A lot of evil happened in that deceptively beautiful building. But on that day, it was the place where I ran into a fellow ONE member.

After the tour, I thought a lot about legacies. The western legacy of the past was certainly not something to be proud of. But what will our legacy be in the future? Progress is being made. I saw plenty of evidence of development, from a highway named after George W. Bush and financed by the United States, to the presence of charities such as World Vision and Camfed. I witnessed a lot of love for America, Americans and for President Obama. Although there is work to be done, it’s evident that our foreign aid budget and the generosity of obrunis were very much appreciated. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Ghana and our legacy.

-Kara Ford, ONE member, Ohio