Eric McAdamis - Combined Law & Human Rights in Ghana
My law school education in the United States made me appreciate the societal value of a robust legal system and raised my consciousness to the fact that most people in the world live without the same level of legal expectations that I am accustomed to. By the time I finished my degree I knew that I wanted to take a once in a lifetime opportunity to give something back to people in a less developed country where the concept of inherent human rights being inalienable has yet to become firmly established. Accordingly, I elected to take a gap year in order to travel and volunteer for the Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in Accra, Ghana before pursuing my Ph.D. in political science.
After many long hours of scouring the internet, I found Projects Abroad to be the most experienced and competent organization available to help volunteers bridge the cultural divide that is inherent in any overseas project. I knew there was no way to fully appreciate another culture or the problems it faces short of total cultural immersion. With Projects Abroad I was able to live with a local family and experience the day-to-day culture with the peace of mind that I had a support system in place should any problems arise.
Upon my arrival in Accra I was greeted kindly by a member of the Projects Abroad team who escorted me to my homestay. I could not have known then, but my escort’s light-hearted manner and jocular state of mind was to become characteristic of most everyone I encountered in Ghana. Having been to the third world before, worst case scenarios weighed heavily on my mind during the ride to the home of my host family. As one does not approach this sort of undertaking without a degree of trepidation, I guess it’s fair to say that I had landed in Ghana hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Relief immediately overwhelmed me the moment we arrived at a house with four walls and a roof!
Living arrangements squared away, it was time to get to work. I didn’t know quite what to expect at first, but I can now say that the best part of my time in Africa was without a doubt the opportunity to get hands on experience dealing with tangible human rights issues impacting the lives of people in Ghana. From my very first day at CHRI I was very aware that I was a very long way indeed from the ivory tower of law school back in the states! CHRI felt alive with activity and there was always a new client coming into the office with a fresh complaint of a human rights violation of one sort or another. Unlike most initial forays into professional environments in the industrialized world, volunteers with at least some legal education can expect to be interviewing clients and playing critical roles in open cases from the very outset at CHRI.
Perhaps the most interesting experience I had at work was traveling to the Lake Volta region of Ghana with CHRI to help produce a workshop on child trafficking and widowhood rights. All of the volunteers and permanent staff members at CHRI were an enthusiastic and adventuresome bunch that made great travel companions on a bus ride over rugged terrain that took what seemed like an eternity!
Addressing human rights issues in some areas of Ghana is particularly challenging as a result of insufficient decentralization of government and the lack of proper dissemination of information in the more remote areas of the county. I was therefore very pleased to see that so many people from all over the region showed up to learn about what rights they are entitled to. The highlight of this event was when we got the chance to go with police officers to a remote island village to actually interview children who were suspected of being trafficked to work in the local fishing industry. It was an ineffably moving and life-changing experience to be physically present in a remote village in Ghana where unconscionable acts are not reduced to mere lifeless ink on paper, but rather are manifest in real lives played out in a real-time environment.
Overall, I had an incredible experience in Ghana and I could not have asked for more from Projects Abroad and CHRI. I was made to feel safe and welcome from the time I stepped off the plane until the time I made my heart-wrenching farewells. As I reflect on my time in Ghana, I believe the people and the indelible images associated with my experiences at CHRI will forever serve to remind me of the amazing personal growth that volunteering abroad fostered in me. It was a meaningful and worthwhile opportunity that I would recommend unreservedly to anyone who has a passion for the universal and unalienable nature of human rights and aspires to be part of the realization of such a promise.