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Samantha Experiences Raw Africa
August 2008 | by Susan Miller


Samantha Kaplan, a senior at San Dieguito Academy and Del Mar resident, recently took a trip that was very different from most American teenagers' summer vacations.

Please tell us about your trip.

I went with a volunteer program, Projects Abroad, on a 2-week trip for high school students, focusing on care and community service. The program I chose was in southern Ghana , West Africa . The original purpose of the trip was to do construction work and paint as well as to help out at an orphanage within a small community. Instead, what I ended up doing during the second week was teaching French at the local school because they needed more teachers.

Why did you decide to take this trip?

I had done a similar trip to Ecuador last year but wanted to do something where I was more immersed into the local community and culture. I heard that Ghana was one of the safest, most peaceful areas in Africa , so I felt that there was no real danger in going. I've always been interested in third-world countries, humanitarian work and global issues.

How did your experience differ, if at all, from your expectations?

I went in with no expectations. Before I left, people were trying to scare me a little with stories of the dangers in going to Africa, like bugs and diseases, but I wanted to experience firsthand the rawness of being in the continent of Africa – its people, its food, and even the primitive living conditions.

Which memories from the trip stand out most for you?

There are many:

Kids who would come up to you, so welcoming and so friendly and they'd look at you with their big eyes and say, “What is your name?” and then they'd say, “Where are you from?” and “Where are you going?” They were so welcoming and naturally curious about where you were from and what your home is like. White people are so uncommon there, so they regarded us with almost celebrity stature and intense curiosity. The people felt so real, authentic and caring, opening their doors freely to strangers.

One disturbing memory I have is about their system of punishment based on caning (hitting with a stick). I started speaking to the teacher whom I saw caning a child, and I asked why they do that, and he told me it was part of their culture. In response, I told him that in America , this is taboo and even against the law. Partly because the Ghanaians idolize Americans, this teacher ended up pledging to me that he would never cane again. Every day, he would come up to me and proudly announce, “I'm not caning – you can ask the kids, ask the other teachers.” Although I have no way of knowing whether his new behavior would last, it felt like a step in the right direction.

How do you think the trip will influence you in the future?

I wanted to stay longer; I felt like two weeks wasn't enough. I'd like to go to Senegal and maybe Nigeria , when it settles down, and other countries in Africa . When I'm older, I'd like to do more humanitarian work, maybe on the political side. The way you can really fix things is not just by sending money, because that's like a band-aid, but by fixing the government and the way they take care of and provide for their people.



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