“At its best, travel should challenge our preconceptions and most cherished views, cause us to rethink our assumptions, shake us a bit and make us broader minded and more understanding.” — Arthur Frommer
Before we ported in Ghana on Thursday, our Global Studies professor assigned us an adage to analyze during our four-day travel weekend. Our assignment was to explore the meaningful interaction with the people and the culture of Ghana and to record our social, nonverbal and internal observations that directly related to our assigned proverb. It is now Sunday, and we leave Ghana in just a few hours to head down to Cape Town, South Africa, I am sitting in the MV World Odyssey’s library and I began arranging my notes and my observations from the past few days to begin my assignment. As I was typing away, I thought to myself that my Global Studies professor has read hundreds of these over the years and he will read four hundred more over the next couple days, and I believe that for this assignment to be effective for anyone else, I would share it with all of you.
My proverb for this specific assignment is, “The human being is more valuable than gold.” Now, although I analyzed this proverb specifically for the cultural experience that I had in Ghana, I truly believe that this adage is not only significant here in the city of Tema, but also in every single country, every state back in the United States and on every single continent in the world. I, along with many of the people I surround myself with, grew up in a household that taught and demonstrated that family and friends are the upmost significant piece of life, and that being kind, humble and compassionate towards every individual that I come in contact with is a principle more meaningful than any amount of money and superior to any material item imaginable.
During my time in Ghana, I had the opportunity to travel to the City of Refuge, an organization that takes in children who have been abandoned, orphaned and trafficked and given a home, a greater education, friends and a family. These children have spent the majority of their young lives being physically labored to make money for companies, families that they were sold to and slave masters, by participating in harsh, dangerous labor and daunting domestic labor all while being torn from their families and being deprived of education in sake of their hours of labor. The City of Refuge demonstrates that a human is more valuable than gold by rescuing these children out of their lives spent being used to make money and taking in and supporting single mothers, and providing them with education, life-skills to build a future and showing them unconditional love to enrich their own outlook on their personal worth. In the culture Ghana, this proverb expresses that the human being, despite having the physical capability to be an economic benefit, is not solitarily a financial provider. The modern Ghanaian culture is striving every single day towards empowering women to be more than domestic housewives, training men to be educated and become more than laboring hands and teaching children that having dreams, morals, values and an undying desire for knowledge is the key to personal fulfillment.
For some people reading this, this is hard to relate to and I understand that. One can read about other cultures in school and be informed on global issues by social media but understanding these aspects simply cannot be done until you have immersed yourself in their life, in their home. Back home, understanding that a human is more appreciated than gold is slightly more complicated. In our everyday lives we are not seeing young boys forcibly participating in harsh physical labor, we do not see thirteen-year-old girls not receiving education so that they can be trained to run a household and we do not see children being used as a primary income provider. Does it happen? Somewhere and discretely, yes, and America is falling victim to the global sex trafficking issue, but these concerns are not as recurrent back home. Instead, our society is creating a belief in college students that a bachelor’s degree is not going to get them a salary-paying job until they are thirty, and that graduate school is fundamentally required to succeed. Art and social science degrees are being discouraged, because apparently if your degree does not deliver a career in business, medicine or technology, then it is inadequate. Our society is telling college students that our future is directly dependable on our collegiate studies rather than supporting the learning opportunities and educational, professional and personal knowledge that these four years of undergraduate degrees provide. If the human being is more valuable than gold, society should break the stigma that degrees are the only pathway to success. Continue to educate elementary students in every category of education, encourage high schoolers to pursue a higher education and reassure college students to choose a prospective career that they are passionate about and inform them on steps to take to reach their goals. The end goal is not about the amount of money you will make in your lifetime, but to have access to education, to continuously expand your knowledge and build a gratifying life for yourself.
All in all, despite where you are or who you are, you need other people. I have always believed that I have always believed that I am independent enough to never actually need another person, but that will never be true. I need my family, because they always have been and always will be my entire heart and soul. I need my friends to bring me pure happiness and humble me when life spins out of control and I need strangers, such as these gracious people in Ghana, to allow me to put everything into perspective and to drive myself to deepen my understanding of surface-level topics. The Ghanaian children of the City of Refuge need people to support them as they transition into a new lifestyle, they need people to show them unconditional love and they need people like us, here at Semester at Sea, to come in, hear their stories and spread it with the entire world. Take the time to broaden your mind and your limits, to be someone’s invitation to better things and strive to be more compassionate and love more, because the human being is more valuable than gold.