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Students focus on women on trip to Ghana

students visit Ghana
Juhi Purswan '14
In Kumasi, Ghana, Nana Fosu-Randall shows Sam Ritholtz '14 and other Cornell students her family's old compound and explains the history of the Ashanti people.

To lay the groundwork for how Cornell students might work with Ghanaians – especially women – in the near future, eight students and a professor spent 10 days in Ghana over winter break, talking to women in more than eight locations about their concerns and hopes for their communities.

The students, who were affiliated with either Big Red Relief, a humanitarian group that promotes global issues on campus, or Cover Africa, which focuses on malaria prevention, traveled Jan. 9-19 with N'Dri Therese Assie-Lumumba, professor of Africana studies. They worked in conjunction with Voices of African Mothers (VAM), a nongovernmental organization that focuses on women’s education and empowerment as a route to African nation development. VAM, said Assie-Lumumba, works in various capacities with the United Nations.

The students visited sites where VAM works, including schools and cooperatives where women work together to gain economic autonomy. Students were able “to see people’s determination to lift themselves out of poverty with dignity,” said Assie-Lumumba. One of VAM’s goals, she said, is to foster conversations about national, global, social and political issues. “The Cornell students traveled with an open mind and were prepared to work in partnership with the Ghanaians in VAM’s programs,” she said. “They showed respect and eagerness to listen to the Ghanaians in different settings articulate their challenges, priorities, needs, achievements and hopes.”

“When the people spoke, sometimes they identified completely different issues [than the ones we asked about],” said Sam Ritholtz ’14, a member of Big Red Relief and a student ambassador for VAM at Cornell.

As the group traveled, Assie-Lumumba provided the students with historical and sociological context for many of the experiences they had with the women of Ghana, said Ritholtz. One woman indicated that one of the major issues is she, among others, “don’t even know the laws of their own country or their rights,” a major issue of development, Ritholtz said. However, the goal of this trip was “not to go there and save them,” he said, but to promote education and conversation and to learn, too.

Another primary goal on the trip was to identify the best locations for Cornell students to work in the future. Staying in one location hopefully will allow students to concentrate on one project, “probably either malaria prevention or general health education,” Ritholtz said.

Ritholtz will write up a report on the trip and pitch it to Cornell’s Center for Engaged Learning and Research, which funded this first trip. The aim is to plan a program for summer 2014 and to foster a strong mutual learning relationship between VAM and Cornell, added Assie-Lumumba.

Sarah Byrne ’15 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

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Joe Schwartz