Travel Diaries: Mission Trip to Yendi, Ghana

A few months ago I had the privilege of traveling to Yendi, Ghana in Western Africa with an amazing organization called Videre. Videre is a christian micro lending organization that equips local entrepreneurs with the skills and capital to start or grow their businesses in rural northern Ghana.

BACK STORY | After entering the working world as a freshly minted UT graduate, I realized that so many people aren’t as lucky as I am to have access to education and I knew the Lord was stirring my heart to use the specific gifts he had given me to help others. I went onto my church’s website to look at their missions page and I ended up finding a trip to Ghana, with the requirement that you must have a business background. I knew in this moment that God had such a plan for me to serve his people and it was only my job to seek out that plan. I prayed for about 8 months before I applied to go on this trip, and around April 2017, my application was approved.

PREPARING | You guys, I had to get so many shots. I was unaware of this until after I had paid my deposit. I think I got 6 shots in total in the months leading up to the trip. God bless my sweet co-workers and friends for putting up with my crankiness, my complaints, and my over-discussing of this process. I would say this is the most time consuming part of preparation as you can’t get them all done at once, and most doctors offices don’t offer all of the random/obscure shots you need. The trip got closer and I began packing my backpacking backpack and filled it with everything I thought I’d need: flashlight, my bible, so much tuna & Larabars, instant coffee, and my WHO certificate saying I officially received my yellow fever vaccine. I was SO excited for the journey ahead.

TRAVELING TO YENDI | FRIDAY – SUNDAY | If you’ve never heard of Yendi, Ghana, there’s pretty much good reason for that. It’s in the middle of nowhere and very hard to get to. It took over 48 hours, 3 flights, and one rickety truck ride through Northern Ghana to get to where we would be serving. If I thought I knew what sleep deprivation felt like, I was wrong. Man, I get tired just thinking about it. We took a flight from Dallas to London, then had a 5 hour layover that turned into an 11 hour layover.  After about 30 years sitting at Heathrow Airport, we finally boarded our flight from London to Accra, the capital of Ghana. We got to our hostel in Ghana around 2 a.m. due to our delay, but we had to wake up at 4 a.m. to catch our tiny airplane up to the northern region. The whole time leading up to the trip I was terrified of this little plane but my sleep deprived state was a blessing in disguise because I schlepped myself onto that airplane and slept soundly from takeoff to landing.

We landed in Tamale, the capital of the northern region, and then proceeded to attempt sitting through a 2 hour church service in a language we didn’t understand after 40 hours of no sleep. LOL. I stayed awake for most of it, but I know we all fell asleep at one point.

Yendi is about an hour outside of Tamale, so after church we made the journey to where we were serving. We stayed at the home of a local pastor who has partnered with Videre. He is in charge of several churches in the region, and works very closely with our organization on the ground in Ghana. Ironically, he was actually in the US when we were in Ghana, so I didn’t get to meet him. But he has a pretty cool house (that he literally built with his own two hands), so bless him for that.

OUR MISSION | MONDAY – THURSDAY | From Monday to Thursday, we were teaching a class for local entrepreneurs who have applied for micro loans. They have to pass a series of three classes before they get their loan, and we were there to teach the first class which was about basic business principles and biblical foundations of business.

Since it was summer, we were able to use classrooms at a nearby school.

There were 3 business coaches from Dallas that came on the trip, and we each had 3-5 people in our groups. My group was 3 amazing women, all of their babies, and my sweet translator, Salumi. None of my students spoke English, they all spoke the local language, Dagbani. Salumi was in college but was home for the summer and she spoke both English and Dagbani, so she was our translator.

There’s so many things that happened that I wasn’t expecting, but one of them was how basically every married woman of child bearing age is either pregnant, or currently has a baby or toddler. Since there’s not exactly a daycare center in rural Ghana, all of their babies were my students too. Teaching a topic I already love was even sweeter when I got to do it holding a baby in my arms.

(^This baby’s name is Nehemiah. He was scared of me until the last day, on which he still barely tolerated me. *sigh*) Every day when the coaches arrived to the school, all the women in my group (and their babies) were already there, ready to learn. It was refreshing to see how excited they were to be there, despite having to sacrifice a week of working and earning money to feed their families.

The class was structured to basically be a mock business planning competition, and my group knocked it out of the park. Despite not knowing how to read, write, or do math, we all worked together to create a business plan, marketing strategy, and budget and ended up winning the competition! I can’t express how proud I am of them. Despite me flying all that way to teach them what I know about business, they ended up teaching me so much more than I ever thought possible. It was so humbling to walk alongside these four hardworking business women this week.

THE VILLAGE | THURSDAY NIGHT |

During the training, we stayed in a very modern house with beds, running water, and electricity. However, after we wrapped up at the school on Thursday afternoon, it’s tradition on this trip for us to go stay in a remote village for the night. Let me tell you, they have neither running water, nor electricity, and certainly not comfy mattresses to sleep on. The drive to the village was on a carved out dirt path straight through the African bush. When we arrived, we were greeted by what must’ve been half the people in the village. The people in Ghana were just so gracious and hospitable wherever we went.

Arriving to the village was very shocking. Yes, I had already been in Ghana for about a week, but the overwhelming difference between this life and my own struck me when we arrived.

The other two women in our group and I were given what seemed like one of the nicest accommodation in the village. It was a brand new hut that apparently hadn’t even been lived in yet. We slept on REI pallets on the ground and it was not the best sleep I’ve ever gotten, but I was grateful to at least be in a clean, fresh little hut. The reality that this is the only life these people have ever known overwhelmed me. I know this whole trip changed me, but going to the village, experiencing life there, and interacting with the people really changed my perspective on my own life, and made my complaints about my 4th floor Brooklyn walk up seem utterly ridiculous.

For several hours after we woke up in the morning, we walked around the village talking to the villagers about Jesus, life, and how we could pray for them. We met a girl suffering from malaria, a woman who was just stung by a scorpion in her sleep, and a man who was dying. None of these people had access to proper healthcare, and I’m honestly still not sure what would’ve happened to us if one of us became sick or broke an ankle or anything. The level of comfort and care we are used to in the US is simply not what a majority of the world experiences, it’s just not. Experiencing life in Ghana, but at the same time realizing we are really all the same, was so important to me. We all smile when we’re happy, laugh when something’s funny (Ghanaians laugh ALL the time), we cry when we’re sad, we all bleed red blood, we’re all loved by the same Jesus and looking up at the same moon at night. Experiencing our differences only reminded me how we are all bound by our human experiences and we are way less different than it appears on the surface.

Leaving the village ended the missions portion of our trip. My hope is that the lives that we touched, the entrepreneurs who are now equipped with the capital and knowledge needed to run their businesses, and the people who have come to know Jesus from our trip will continue to be blessed. I ask that you keep the people of Yendi and Tamale in your prayers. They are truly amazing and I am so grateful to know them.

ABOUT VIDERE | I found out about this organization through my church in Texas, The Village Church. They are a wonderful organization with people working both in Dallas and on the ground in Ghana to teach classes to entrepreneurs and to distribute micro loans to help them grow their businesses. Running this organization in Ghana and from Dallas is a tremendous amount of work, and they rely on the continued support of donors to keep this organization running. To donate to this awesome org, please click here.

Due to ticket prices, it was cheaper to stay a few extra days and sightsee than to fly back immediately, and I’ll write another post about the sightseeing we did in southern Ghana in a few weeks. Thanks so much for reading this super long post, especially my friends who already have heard my talk non-stop about Ghana for the past year.

I love y’all!

Tori

P.S. Videre is currently back in Ghana right now for Phase II (I was on the Phase I trip) this week. Please please keep the team and the entrepreneurs they are working with in your prayers!

P.P.S. Thank you so much to Samantha Stevenson for being an awesome Africa roomie and for taking all of these AMAZING pictures!

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