Before my participation in the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, I asked my students often to generously give to the world. We fundraised to help send Christmas gifts to an orphanage in Peru. We raised money to help build a water well in a rural village in Nicaragua. We raised money to help build a school in a rural area of Guatemala. As we did these things, we would spend a few days learning about these human rights issues. Some of these giving projects resulted from a previous trip I had taken in which I had participated in some volunteer projects.
My trip to Ghana was a trip to the developing world in which I wasn’t giving (in money or volunteer time). It actually felt odd for me at first, as I often felt I wasn’t doing something to help the situation around me when I should be. One day in Accra for example, I went with a group of teachers to a rural school about an hour and a half outside of the capital. This was a school extremely low on resources and books, and the classroom infrastructure was very poor. I recall feeling very guilty that I was there visiting, and not doing. My visit at first felt wasted, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the staff resented our presence in a small way.
As my time in Ghana continued, I began to see generosity in another way. Daily in the streets children approached me for money for various things. What I quickly learned however, was that despite whether or not they received money from me, they were genuinely interested in conversation. These moments in Ghana turned out to be my most favorite moments. I taught Spanish to children like Isaac and Princess in the streets all the time. I am still so surprised at how much it seemed that kids everywhere wanted to learn Spanish. I asked them about their lives, learned about their schools (or lack of school attendance) and about their families and homes. In my other school visits, I listened to teachers and their struggles and desires for their profession and their students. In non-profit centers such as Baobab House in Cape Coast I learned about how they were supporting street-kids and single mothers in the area. In markets I learned from some men such as Goungoo and women like Naddey as they shared with me their artisanal skills rooted in Ghanaian culture and history. In Cape Coast Castle I learned from a man who made wood carvings about this Ghanaian tradition, how he started doing wood carvings, and what he was doing to achieve his dreams to have his carvings sold worldwide. And most memorably, I will never forget the conversation and connection I made with a six year old boy as we walked hand in hand along a boardwalk returning from a visit to Nzulezo village. We chatted about our favorite colors, our favorite activities, and our families. As he let go of my hand and I stepped off the boardwalk, he said, “I’ll never forget you.” I hadn’t given him any money and I hadn’t even talked to him until we started our walk down the boardwalk. I don’t know what prompted him to say that to me, but it impacted me. Not because I feel he will never forget me (I’m sure he already has), but because in those moments, we connected as humans, not giving or taking from each other, not exchanging money, not negotiating for something in the future, but we simply gave generously with our spirits in time, presence, and connection.
This is the essential meaning of generosity; a commitment to understand one another, to listen without any intention other than to recognize the spirit and humanity of another. If there were any lesson to be taken from Ghana, it is this meaning of generosity. One can’t solve the world’s problems, innovate solutions, or take action without first and foremost recognizing the humanity of others and experiencing the connectedness that comes with simply the generosity of spirit.