A group of HWS students recently returned from a three-week study abroad program in Ghana, where they took a deep dive into asset-based community development and experienced life in the vibrant village of NKontomire. Led by Professor of Sociology Jack Harris, students lived and ate with host families as they engaged in fieldwork with local community members and visited a few of the rich cultural landmarks in the region.
“It was truly an unforgettable experience,” says Yalemwork Teferra ’21, an economics and international relations double major and member of the Model African Union club. “Not only was my host family extremely hospitable and kind, but the entire community extended their arms in welcoming us. Through the trip, I really saw the strength in the collective and the power in mobilizing a community, which is the bedrock for social entrepreneurship. ”
Throughout the fall semester and in preparation for their January-term abroad, students completed a Reader’s College with Harris, where they studied the theory and practice behind social enterprise development. The preparation gave students relevant insight into the fields of human-centered design and cross-cultural innovation – which they applied during their trip by interacting with and interviewing community members, identifying opportunities for social innovation and working together to develop products and services in concert with the people in NKontomire.
Through the HWS Center for Global Education’s partnership with Think Impact, students arrived in Accra, then participated in an orientation and workshop in Kumasi. The group spent seventeen days in NKontomire, an agrarian village that revolves primarily around cocoa, as well as plantains, cassava, cocoyam and corn. By the end of their stay, students had developed proposals for products and services including: soap making, hand washing stations, recordkeeping for seamstresses, the creation of a cocoa farmer coalition and methods to reuse cocoa waste. Additional projects involved restarting the village’s community action plan and implementing project planning, books and shelving for the school library.
“The program required full immersion in the community and shared austerity,” says Harris. “Students truly lived in the community. They created friendships and collaborations with community members and catalyzed local enterprise activities. They also demonstrated extraordinary resilience in and appreciation for a culture quite different than their own, and were well accepted into the community.”
The program also included a trip to the Manhyia Palace Museum, the Kumasi Cultural Centre – the first and largest cultural center in West Africa, Bonwire – where kente cloth originated, and Lake Bosomtwe – a crater lake considered sacred by the Ashanti.