Lessons we can learn from Ghana…

Americans are rich, selfish, greedy and unhappy. That’s the impression I get from my generation. It seems that if we think about other people we might lose everything we have, and we can’t let that happen. After all, status is determined from the money we have, the excess junk we can waste our money on, the selfish hoarding of our material possessions.

Ouch. That hurts. As an American, I’m lumping myself into this category. Although there are millions of people in the U.S. who care deeply for others and sacrifice on a daily basis for the greater good, overall the general feeling in society is to “look out for number one.” We live in a competitive world, so there’s really no time/room for charity.

I hate living this way. I’d rather give enough of my time and money a week to be uncomfortable than to spend that money and time partying it up before, during and after a hockey game. But, I’m not perfect, so I’m not quite to this point yet. I learned this coming back from Ghana, seeing all of the stuff that I have here and how I can forget to appreciate life sometimes. As this blog entry is titled, we can learn something from Ghana; I definitely have since my return.

  • Be nice to everyone you meet, even if they are complete strangers. As Ian Utley says in his book Culture Smart! Ghana, “Ghanaians recognize the dignity of their fellow human beings and have a deep and abiding concern for human welfare and happiness.”  He says that “Human relationships are considered the most valuable of possessions” (41).  I definitely saw this in Ghana as people would inquire about how you were doing (e mefoa?)  and sincerely mean it.  I saw this in the people I worked with at the NGO Rural Action for the Poor (RAP).  We were tagging along as volunteers to do the grunt work, but they went out of their way to give us the best seats and the best jobs to do.  They truly respected us within five minutes of meeting us.Also, when you would meet people on the street, they’d invite you to their home or to church with them. When you did business with someone, you got to know them and know what they were doing.This isn’t completely unheard of in the U.S.; I saw it down in Arkansas in the small towns. But, in Ghana it’s different because of how simply everyone lives and how grateful they are for what they have. That brings us to the next point
  • Be happy with what you have, even if it’s not a lot. I’ve made this point before, but in the U.S. people upgrade their phones every time a new one comes out. I can list off more than 15 people that I directly come in contact with on a daily basis who have gone through two or three phones a year. I know of many people who have enough clothes in their wardrobes to last them three months without having to do laundry. I’m guilty of it. I have more shoes than is probably necessary, but my stockpile is meager in comparison to other girls I know.We are so used to buying the latest trend – the newest gaming console, computer, phone, car, clothes, shoes, hair products, etc. – it doesn’t seem odd that we should hold on to what we have until it falls apart and then buy something new. Plus, things are really made to last that long anymore. Cell phone batteries hardly last two years. I had my phone for nearly three years but I had to finally get rid of it because I’d charge it two or three times a day. We’re a disposable nation with an insatiable appetite for consumption whether it be the aisles upon aisles of food in the grocery stores or the level upon level of department stores at the mall.In Ghana, you buy things because you need them. I noticed that because it is a poorer nation in some aspects, people still using pumps for their water, they go to the bathroom in the gutters along the road, they use a fire to cook their meals. Plenty of the people we drove by or met in the villages had to get up at 4 -5 a.m. to go into the fields to make money to buy food from the market for that day. Disposable is a word that hardly has any use in Ghana, at least in the more rural parts of the country. Everything can be re-used, and should be in order to budget properly.

    Although this comparison isn’t exactly parallel, what is good to take from this is that we have tons of STUFF that we’re not using all the time. Let’s cut down our consumption and just be happy with what we have. Let’s not pine after the latest iPad or iPhone that comes out. Let’s consciously try to think for ourselves and not just give into the groupthink which is consumerism at its best/worst.

  • Stop stressing and start appreciating. Ghanaians operate on something called Ghanaian time. This means that whatever you get done in a workday is what you’ve done for the day. Tomorrow’s another day, and we’ll do what we can do as much as possible and then be done for the day. What this simplifies down to is being content with the work that you’ve done for the day and not stressing yourself out because you didn’t get everything done. Critics may say, well Americans didn’t become the biggest, richest country in the world with that mentality, but studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Harvard have shown that Americans are the most depressed people in the world. So tell me – is it worth be super rich and unhappy, or is it worth being poor and joyful? Ghanaians go to church often; they have community events; they invite each other over a lot; they’re cordial, friendly, and conditioned to be selfless. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but from my experience, a majority of the people I met acted this way – whether or not they knew that I was studying them. As Americans, then, let’s emulate some of what the Ghanaians have going for themselves. Let’s minimize consumption and maximize appreciation for the non-material things that we have – like friends, family, community.
  • Taking care of our environment is important.While Ghana has leaps and bounds to go before they’re optimizing the use of the environment and its sustenance, they do have one thing right: living closely with the land is best for the environment. Ghanaians live off of the land, especially the villagers in the Volta Region. They utilize bamboo for everything, which is great because bamboo is plentiful, can grow nearly anywhere, replenishes rapidly and is very sturdy and versatile. Huts, gates, baskets, carts – you name it – everything’s made out of bamboo. They use everything of anything – meaning that they don’t just kill an animal for its fur and leave the rest of it, instead they utilize everything for something.Although they live closely with the land, the more their markets open up to the rest of the world and the more demand there is for the cocoa, bananas, mangoes, pineapples, coconut and coffee beans – the worse they treat their environment. I noticed that because of the demand for these products in other parts of the world, Ghana has begun what every other developing country seems to be doing, and that’s clear cutting forests and overharvesting lands. It’s because of OUR consumption patterns in the West that Ghana and other similar countries are killing their environment at a rapid pace.

    We as Americans need to take a proactive stance in our consumption to make sure that the products we get are coming from sustainable resources. Fair trade and organic products are much more sustainable for the earth. We as first-world consumers should realize that it’s our obligation to make sure that these countries are protecting their land, which we need to do for our own as well. We need to live more like the villagers in the towns – living with the seasons. We should be more aware of how our consumption patterns directly affect the lifestyles of people in the developing world. I think a majority of Americans have yet to realize that, making it harder for developing countries to develop sustainably. Let’s try to buy organic and fair trade. Let’s try to recycle more or use bamboo for everything. Let’s optimize use of products rather than just minimize them.

I’d like to think that what I’m writing in this blog is going to impact someone to change their habits. To live more sustainably. To care for their neighbors. To take a chill pill and enjoy life around us. I’d like to challenge anyone who reads this blog to take this to heart. I’ve personally have started buying mostly organic or fair trade food. I’m dabbling into cutting my spending (which wasn’t that hard, seeing as how I don’t have money), and I’ve started to focus my mind around being less selfish and more selfless. It does wonders for you.

If you take anything from this blog, take this: stop, examine your life, see how you’re living and figure out what you can change to be happier.

About the Author

Jr. SUNY Oswego Journalism major Global Studies Minor Environmental activist, cultural advocate, uninhibited dancer, singer, writer, traveler.
Email: kraymond@oswego.edu
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