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Christopher Cannon poses beside a cannon.

Christopher Cannon: Student Report from 2019 Alternative Winter Break to Ghana

I had almost no idea of what to expect when preparing for the trip to Ghana. In the days leading up to the trip, I’m certain that just about every single emotion imaginable was going through my head: excitement, anxiety, confusion, maybe even a little bit of fear. I am not exactly what you would consider well-traveled. This trip is actually the only time I’ve been outside the United States! Despite all of this, I can safely say that this trip to Ghana was quite fulfilling.

Upon arriving in Accra (after someone at the airport commented on my Tennessee sweatshirt I wore on the flight), I was pleasantly surprised by how similar the city was to what I see normally in the States. The shopping mall we stopped at on the way to our residence reminded me a lot of the shopping malls back home and it was even decorated for Christmas! It took some time for us to arrive in Cape Coast after leaving Accra and during this time, I noticed something that continued for the entirety of the trip: just about everywhere I looked, whether we were in the bus, walking around a local market, touring a cultural site, or even in our residence, I saw Christian imagery. This included images of the Sacred Heart, churches of various denominations, images of the Blessed Mother, and so forth. My faith plays a large part in my life, so seeing images like this all over the place throughout the trip was definitely a highlight for me, and it comforted me to an extent.

After we got settled in and ate dinner for the first time as group, we got the chance to meet our guides, who provided us with some valuable cultural knowledge about the country that was a big help throughout the week. The next day, we had the chance to tour both a local school and a local university. These places interested me a lot. At the school, many students learned a great deal about topics such as construction and car maintenance and to aid this, the school had a multitude of shop instruments and other hands-on equipment. They even had an auto shop where students could get hands-on experience working on actual cars! The university there, which has a focus on engineering, also had several hands-on apparatuses to help instruct students and many of these even related to topics that my own engineering classes have covered.

Group of UT students clearing brush.

The day after that, we had our first workday of the service project, whereby we helped construct a wall that was to surround a building. Getting to not only lay brick and mortar myself, but also help mix the mortar was extremely interesting, as I have only had a few chances to handle construction projects such as this, but I never felt confused. The local workers did an excellent job instructing us on the process. Later that day we had the chance to make jewelry using local beads. I came away from this with a handmade rosary, a Catholic set of prayer beads, in the colors of the Ghanaian flag.

The following day, we traveled to a village, interacted with the children at a local school there, and even helped repaint one of the walls of one of the school buildings. Seeing all the children there so excited for our visit was extremely heartwarming and definitely helped make the trip worth it (They even made welcome signs for all of us!).

Christopher Cannon poses in front of sign with his name on it.

The next day was our final work day. While one of the activities we helped with here was somewhat familiar to me, actually getting to help lay down a sidewalk and seeing it take shape as we were going about our projects made me feel like we really got something accomplished that day. Our cultural activity after working, was to make a local form of art called Calabash, which has a unique visual style using a dried gourd-type vegetable; this was interesting to me.

With our work finished, the next day was a chance to see a pair of important historical castles that were a major part of the slave trade out of Africa many years ago. Seeing these historical spots was humbling and helped me to remember that the history that I am familiar with in the states extends far beyond our borders.

That same day, we returned to a local fashion school that we had visited earlier; on our first visit, we selected styles of outfits and had our measurements taken by the students, who then accompanied us to the nearby fabric store. We each selected fabric from an array of traditional African cloth. On our return trip, we picked up and paid a nominal price for the clothes, made specially for us. Everyone had their own distinct style to their outfits, so this was awesome!

The next day had us getting up rather early so that we could explore another area and see some of the local wildlife, with local birds being a focus. We even got to see some of the local foliage such as cocoa plants and rubber trees. We also took a hike through a rainforest, which involved a canopy walk, and getting to see crocodiles! On our final day, before we had to leave for Accra, we took a group trip to a local beach and just enjoyed the local climate. Sadly, however, our trip was at an end. After the long car ride from Cape Coast to Accra, we arrived at the airport and had to say goodbye to our wonderful guides as we came back stateside. I am actually very happy that I decided to go on this trip. It was nerve-wracking at first, yes, but it gave me an important perspective on what other parts of our world are like, and that just isn’t something I could possibly gain otherwise.