In March, a few of us began a journey in Western Africa in the country of Ghana as part of our Global Network program.
None of us could have realized the depth and extent to which it would affect us. It was life altering for us all.
On Monday, we learned about the great political divides that fractures a nation and leads to shocking extremes of wealth and poverty. The plight of the Northern Ghanaians was etched in our minds, and we noted that election cycle politics are not just cyclones that have derided our nation and sapped our enthusiasm; the same sentiment is alive and well in Ghana. We learned about a country formerly called Gold Coast as it has natural resources of gold and minerals that most would envy. Even with the discovery of oil, paucity of proper governance can further exacerbate the ills of a nation and such examples are abound.
On Tuesday, all of our lives were changed. We heard a lecture about NGO and social enterprise. We were presented with a case of a well-meaning social enterprise that started with two Americans and a Ghanaian, who aimed to take youth living on the streets and help them rehabilitate their lives. This was the perfect case study of how such a noble effort can go wrong when strategic mistakes are made in the governance structure, financial framework, leadership, vision, finance and so much more. It would be a great raw Yale case study.
That afternoon we went into Jamestown, a slum in Accra that was the hub of slave trading for years. We visited an NGO (Street Children Empowerment Foundation SCEF) that was transforming children’s lives in slums through education, training and empowerment. We witnessed remarkable volunteers from around the world battling heat that would decommission most, in conditions that would shock the conscious of all. Yet they are organized, resolute, determined and stirred our desire to do something beyond our own limited selves and lives.
Later on that day we visited a maternity hospital in Jamestown that has served that community for over a generation. We met a resolute, poised, experienced midwife who graciously and happily guided us through a tour with her strong connection with our very own midwife Amy Romano ‘15. We learned of a remarkably safe place for birth in the middle of a slum with great results. The highlight was meeting two young infants, one who was just 20 minutes old and the other about 2 days old. The pride and joy on the faces of those new mothers and families sealed the trip for us.
They have the same hopes and dreams for their newborns as our own loved ones had for us as we began our journey of life. That was contrasted with a deep sense of social injustice that given the circumstances, those two beautiful female infants would have a long struggle ahead. It highlighted to me the unfairness of a life shaped by something none of us control, and that’s the place of our birth and our parents. Birth, irrespective of locality, should always be an opportunity for access to all that makes us noble, conscious and constructive members of our communities and our world. However, in many places around the world, it serves as a sentence. The other sobering reminder was the somber plight and challenges faced by so many young girls and women in many parts of the world. The impression on us all was deep, heartfelt, and life changing.
On Wednesday we had dinner with the dean and the faculty at the University of Ghana, and learned about the financial system in Ghana. We then had a discussion on healthcare in Ghana, human resource management, and rounded it off with entrepreneurship in Ghana and social corporate responsibility. Along the way, some of us visited an incubator where young talents are being nurtured and given the medium to thrive and contribute.
Several days later, on Saturday we rode for over 3 hours and visited the Cape Coast Slave Castle, which was the largest trading and holding area for African slaves for the Atlantic trade. Words, nay rather pictures or videos, are inadequate to render our sentiments as we walked through cells, dungeons that held hundreds of prisoners in dark for months, conditions that would escape any proper description. Words such as disgusting, grotesque, unjust, unimaginable were among the few that reverberated in our minds. We also saw the door of no return where slaves would be led to the sea never to return again. Experiencing this in the footsteps of those who suffered such indignity at the hands of those who have stained the pages of history has changed us all permanently. We marched along side young Ghanaian students who were visiting on that day. The expressions on their faces as they marched on the very footsteps of their ancestors who suffered unimaginable horrors only made the experience even more palpable.
We realized that we may not all be able to do great things like abolishing slavery, yet we can do small things great. In some perverted way, slavery was a form of commerce and business that lacked all human nobility, morality or dignity. In such an extreme case of commerce, we were all reminded of our MBA discussions about state and society as well as social corporate responsibility. It was so clear that 8 weeks away from graduation, we will bear new tools and titles but with a heavy load of social and economic responsibility to shoulder.
We are so fortunate by the places of our birth, families, opportunities afforded us, and all the people that have helped us along the way to come together as Yale graduates in a few weeks. No matter what those circumstances, we were all very aware of the responsibilities that rest upon us to use the tools we have acquired and become true leaders that innovate, disrupt, comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable, and remember to never forget our sacred task of social responsibility and principled leadership. We will become part of the vehicle of responsible stewardship, and the visit to the Cape Coast highlighted that in all of our minds.
On a personal note, this trip was very emotional and life affirming. I was an hour away from the city and country that welcomed my father and me as a young 13-year-old refugee facing the most grim and uncertain of futures. How profoundly blessed and fortunate I am to return to an area that became a home away from home all those years ago with these remarkable, bright, capable, socially conscious, humble, giving, and above all, great human beings--my classmates and now lifelong friends. The irony of that journey, and how the arc of my own life has bent from those days of hopeless wonder to now a clear vision and hope has become an inescapable reflection and call for action. I am confident that with our new tools, bonds and collective resolve, we will forever be part of each other’s lives and will do all we can to minimize our footprint and maximize our imprint on the world around us. As MLK eloquently said a life without a cause worth dying for is not worth living.
Thank you Amy, Sara, Venkat, Raj, Sri, Roshan and Rakim for a week that will never be forgotten. Those memories and lessons will be with us all as we aim and struggle to help innovate, create, and make our world better, and its people more noble. We hope to transform a place and gender of birth from a sentence to an opportunity of access to all that makes us not just survive but thrive as enriched, socially conscious, and contributing members not just in our own communities but also as global citizens. Simply said, we will leave this world a better place than we found it, and along the way help turn those doors of no return into doors of opportunity and return.