This article by Alex Black depicts his experience of Ghana on Netina 2019. It's clear that the group had a challenging, yet impactful time along their journey. It's now the responsibility of those who participated in this year's programme to improve the wider movement's understanding of, and particaption in, tzedakah.
This Summer I visited Ghana on Netina, which is a cultural exchange programme run by Tzedek and FZY. I hoped that the programme would enable me to use my key Jewish values and leadership skills in a totally new and exciting environment. I also wanted to gain a broader understanding of the developing world, Ghanaian culture and our role as Jewish people in the wider global community.
I knew visiting a third world country like Ghana would be hard, but no amount of ‘sensitivity training’ or any ‘educational training seminars’ could prepare me for the reality of this trip and the huge culture shock I experienced.
I headed off to Ghana with 17 other youth participants from FZY’s Netina programme, primarily Londoners, but some were also from Manchester, Scotland and Leeds. We were armed with our yellow fever vaccination certificates, our Ghanaian visas and a stock pile of malaria pills.
We landed in the capital city of Accra at the beginning of August. It was hot. Actually, it was very very hot – a heat I have never experienced before, despite many holidays in Israel in the height of summer. On arrival at the airport, Accra seemed a relatively well developed holiday destination, but as our coach journey progressed towards the main city and to our hostel, I began to see some of the daily struggles from the safety of our bus. There were hundreds of people carrying heavy buckets of water on their heads and loads of extremely run-down buildings, there were roads in desperate need of repairs full with crowds of desperate homeless people living hand to mouth on the streets.
Accra is the most developed city in Ghana, so seeing this had a huge impact on us all. Especially, as we knew in a few days we would be travelling to Tamale and the rural surrounding villages.
On our 3rd day we flew to Tamale and instantly I noticed the huge differences with Accra. The intensity of the heat, was grave, the dust and the dirt was a part of life, ‘mud huts’ were everywhere as this was where people lived, any buildings I did see, were run down, and there were animals, such as chickens, cows and goats roaming freely, creating a sense of chaos. Our hostel was located on a busy ‘high street’, with street food vendors selling all types of general goods, from cooking pans to spices. The street was extremely noisy but there was also a vibrancy to the environment. I began to realise that Ghanaians were extremely friendly and happy people, and the culture shock I initially experienced began to dissipate. We visited many villages during our time in Tamale, where we ran fun and educational activities for the children living there. When we approached the villages, which were an hour or so drive from our hostel, we could feel the intense blaring heat and see the deserted surroundings of the villages.
Most of the villages we visited suffered from drought and famine, so it made their warm hospitality and playful energy so much more overwhelming.
At each village we visited, slowly, one by one, the villagers would approach our bus, carrying water on their heads, in large bowls, offering us something to drink. We had to decline their hospitality as we had fresh water on the bus due to the risk of contracting cholera from their water; these experiences of disparity made the group feel very odd and conflicted. The villagers were all extremely warm and made a big effort to welcome us into their villages, even though they were suffering from huge amounts of poverty. Whenever they arrived, the Chief would greet us, followed by a parade from the villagers, dancing us into their villages. The children were so excited to meet us, dancing around us and laughing at our ‘white’ faces! Most of the villages we visited suffered from drought and famine and so it made their warm hospitality and playful energy so much more overwhelming and emotional, knowing how difficult life was for them. We also recognized how fortunate we were, returning to our bus every afternoon, with our clean treated water and packed lunches, knowing that in a few weeks we would return to our privileged lives in the UK.
Ghana was an incredible experience. It was hard core and certainly not for the faint of heart.
It was an educational programme where I learnt so much about myself and the role that the Jewish community plays in tikkun olam. But did I feel like I changed anyone’s life by spending an hour here and there, once a day in the villages, playing sports and running fun activities for the kids?
No, of course I did not. How could I, a teenager from North London, make any change to their lives?
But it totally opened my eyes to everything that is wrong in our world. I learnt what real poverty is.
I saw what ‘starving for food’ really means. I saw kids, who were plagued by hunger and yet despite having absolutely nothing at all, not even shoes on their feet, they were happy and content. I realised how lucky I was; how lucky I am. I hope that by talking about my experiences, I can engage my friends and the wider community in recognising what world poverty is and how we should be doing as much as we can to try to combat poverty wherever it's present. Ghana gave me a much broader understanding of the developing world, of the Ghanaian culture and of our role as Jewish people in the wider global community, and for that I thank Tzedek and FZY.