“Welcome to the Grid”

Rows and rows of lights greet me as I fly over New York City in the still-dark hours of the morning, excited to get back to my familiar routine, sad to leave my new found home. What’s striking from a few hundred feet is the order of a city this large, all arrayed in glowing amber lights, each street perfectly parallel and perpendicular to the next, forming a labyrinth of homes and businesses all shuttered up for the night. I somehow feel connected to them as I fly overhead on flight 67 from Accra to JFK, connected but distant at the same time. I was coming back to the good ole’ US of A, back to where electricity grows wild, food comes from the store and not from the farm, back to where I had a car and an apartment and a warm shower waiting for me. But it was a bitter sweet reunion as I was reintroduced to infrastructure, reintroduced to my cushy life complete with 100 brightly colored ties, 32 pairs of shoes, 5 suits, and 15 credit hours of classes and completely lacking what I had grown to love in Ghana, the people.

What do you miss when you’re away from home? What do you yearn for when the time to return to familiarity draws closer? I missed Reeses, driving, pizza, movies, a clean-pressed shirt, Saturday mornings and a host of other things. But now that I’ve been back home for over a week, I’m discovering what I miss most about Ghana. I miss the smiling kids, the devoted teachers, the grateful parents, the jungle drives, the drawn-out boat rides, Muftawu’s watchful eye, Davi’s ice-cold Cokes, and yes, even the occasional chicken and rice. I’ve said this before, and will continue to say until I die, Ghana changes you. It changes your values, your perception of the world, your motivation to improve yourself and what’s around you, and most importantly, the humanity you share with every person on earth no matter where they live. Forgive me for waxing philosophical and, dare I say, exposing my bleeding heart, but if you go your entire life without experiencing this kind of eye-opening encounter you really haven’t lived.

What I’ll remember most from Ghana is the happiness. Not the Truman Show staged happiness or the commission-based Nordstrom’s happiness, but a genuine glee for life. Every day was a blessing because of who I got to meet and work with along the way. But I’m not gone forever, in fact I’m already counting down to my return trip to the Gold Coast, and I’m hoping that while I’m back on the reservation I can do some good to make the lives of those I have grown to love that much better.

How you can help.

What you can look forward to.

-Bracelets are for sale at the Provo City Farmer’s Market and the BYU Bookstore for $10. Each one provides another child with an entire year of light! Wear your love, Buy a bracelet!

-Visit the EPI Facebook page and become our friends. It’s the best way to see what we are up to and the faces of the children you are helping.

-Put your money where your mouth/heart is and donate to the cause!

-Follow our Youtube channel and help us spread the word about Play for Power!

-Stay tuned for the “Stand-up for Ghana” event coming soon!

“It’s like a parade everyday!”

When I was in middle school I had dreams of becoming a comedian or an actor or have my very own Skippy peanut butter commercial. Alas, none of those dreams or backup dreams came about. They’re now just fuzzy memories of childhood fantasy and half-written acceptance speeches. But whenever I come to Ghana I feel a bit of what I was seeking for so many years ago as a future guest host of Saturday Night Live. Everyday, no matter where I go, I feel famous, not Jersey Shore famous but megastar, signing autographs, kissing babies, cutting ribbons, Mann’s Chinese Theatre, George Clooney famous.

No matter how large or small the villages we drive through are, I see children shout and point while their parents wave and smile. It seems like a novelty to see an Obruni, Brafuno, Yavu, or anyone else of a creamy complexion passing through their town. (I must state here that this is not the reason I come to Ghana, it might be a factor in my returning so often, but not the driving force.) But these drive-by greetings are nothing compared with the warm receptions we receive on the day of an installation. Compared to then, these frequent and fleeting encounters seem downright cold, and this last installation didn’t disappoint!

Every installation I’ve been to has been different and reflects the traditions of that area. The singing and dancing and drumming are similar but each has their own flavor. And Tuanikope proved that you are never too old to join in on the dancing, or that you necessarily have to be African to dance like one (or at least try to dance like one). This celebration was also different from the rest because we had friends from the Forever Young Foundation with us who were more than happy to join in with the installation and of course the dancing afterward.

The system at Tuanikope is merry-go-round number 21, meaning that over 4,000 students now have access to portable light, a better education, and brighter future. These students can read and do homework at night well after the sun goes down reinforcing what they’re taught at school while fostering in them a lifelong love of learning. High school, college, careers and families then follow, setting the foundation to a much greater impact over generations as parents grasp the importance of education and share that love with their children. And each year new students begin school meaning that there are that many more parents who can spread the love of learning and establish a lasting foundation to stabilize Ghana. This wide-angle view of the impact a simple merry-go-round can have is simply amazing and inspires me to try harder to make sure that foundation is set and strong.


“God Willing…”

This phrase has always confused me. More than a question of faith or religion, the saying’s fundamental meaning has eluded me for years. I first remember hearing it while living in Michigan talking with corn farmers. They would often use this expression when referring to the weather, as in “God willing, we’ll get some good rain this season” or “God willing, the frost wont set in early.” While these people were of varying and diverse faiths, the saying was something of a common thread in all my conversations while living there; and now that I’m so far away from that place and time it’s almost a happy coincidence that reminds me of just how similar we as people really are.  Here in Ghana though, this phrase can be heard in almost every conversation.

See you in the morning, God willing.

God willing, I’ll get into university next year.

Your car will be ready by, God willing, next week.

God willing, the fried rice is coming.

 But what separates Ghana’s use of this expression from that of Michigan is more than its frequency but the faith behind it. In Michigan it seemed more of a colloquialism, sort of like eh in Canada or ya’ll in the South. But here it is said with a smile of quiet reassurance that if perhaps it isn’t God’s will and the rain disappears and the fried rice isn’t coming, you don’t get into university next year and I don’t see you in the morning, things will be ok.

What makes one society more religious than another? There are many differences between the US and Ghana, language, food, history, climate, history. All these things add color to the culture but fail to explain the question of why faith is something shared in one place and kept private in another. What’s even more remarkable is not that faith is just a prominent facet of society in Ghana but that every religion is held with equal and shared respect and esteem. Where does this come from? It comes from nothing.

This religious faith and shared respect for divergent beliefs comes from having nothing else to cling to, no sure foundation against the sometimes tumultuous environment of a nation climbing out of first-world conditions. You aren’t always sure if you will see that person in the morning. You may never go to university, or even high school for that matter. These things are often out of your control, and with no tangible face to entrust your unsure future you turn to God, or Jesus, or Allah. You essentially relinquish possession of your future, your frustration, your fright, and your fear to someone who you believe is better equipped to deal with those things. While letting go of negative emotions may be liberating, even healthy, giving up on your future and feeling helpless are not.

Now this is not so much a religious discussion as it is a developmental topic. Human beings should be secure about the present and allowed to plan for the future with that same fervor. And those who have a vision of their own futures should reach out to those wandering in the mists of uncertainty, giving them something solid to hold on to until they can see theirs as well. I believe this is my duty as one who has been given everything, faith in the future and the comforts of the present. There is so much that can be done, so many opportunities to help someone feel comfortable enough in the present to have hope in the future. This is one of the things I will pack up and take home with me when it’s time to go, and this is the reason I come back to Ghana.