Saturday, July 18, 2009

What's Next?

I have become a follower of Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist blog. I don't take the information on there too seriously, but I find it entertaining and there are little pearls of wisdom that I can't help but reflect on and take to heart. One such blog talks about people who live in New York; that the people who live in NYC are optimizers, people who strive to make the best of themselves and who just don't settle for good enough. I have been called a perfectionist before, but I don't think that I am: I am fine with spelling mistakes on my blog for instance. But I do think I would fit the profile of an optimizer. I have difficulty relishing that I led a relatively successful study abroad course without then mulling over how it could have been better, or how I can make it better next time. There are two parts (at least) to this "betterment". There is better for the students educational experience and there is better in terms of providing service to people with disabilities in Ghana.

I will post later about the educational piece, but today I will give you my top three thoughts on how to better our service work for people with disabilities in Ghana.

1) See Less, Do More - While I loved being able to see something new everyday in Ghana, I think that our limited stints at most of the centers we visited resulted in our inability to accomplish anything sustainable or meaningful. In most cases we were seen as just another group of Westerners coming through for a tour. For this next trip I plan conduct service-learning projects at 2-3 sites; preferably with at least one of those sites being for adults with disabilities. Projects will be identified ahead of time, hopefully in conjunction and collaboration with in-country partners, and the students will spend the spring semester working on teams to prepare for project execution. During the trip, students will still get a variety of experiences but most of their work will be focused on one project at one center.

2) Clearly Establish Goals and Responsibilities- While there is something to be said for flexibility and adaptability, it can also be frustrating to have certain expectations for an experience and not have those expectations met when you have traveled half way around the world. In any relationship, it is important to have common goals and a clear outline of who will do what. In preparation for next year's trip, I would like to develop service-learning agreements with each of our partner sites. These agreements would list the common goal for the students visit (e.g. establishing a computer training program for adults with physical disabilities) and the responsibilities of the in-country director and their staff, the program director (me) and the students. This agreement could include monetary payments to the facility (because the expect a donation whether they ask for it or not)and service work other than training (because they might want you to also paint a building). If there is work that will need to be done by the program director before your visit (like making sure the site is wired for electricity) or after the visit (record client progress in attaining jobs at 3 months and 9 months) then this could be put in the agreement as well. This document will have no legal standing, but can serve to clarify goals, expectations, and responsibilities in a way that is more tangible than a conversation, an e-mail, or a handshake.

3) Get to the Higher-Ups: My students were quick to point out that changes were needed in Ghana and that these changes were going to need to come from higher up. In this case, higher up could either mean the government or people in positions of power such as tribal chiefs, university professors/graduates (people with high levels of education), church leaders, or wealthy businessmen. If we want any of our programs to have credibility or sustainability we will need to find people of prominence to partner with and continue to support our programs throughout the entire year. This will take time, but I will need to consider this in planning for the next trip.

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