Maybe I can’t save the world. But I can try to make a difference somewhere. But how?

I researched several volunteer organizations, but most of them required a three-month to two-year commitment, which was not possible for me. After weeks of extensive research, I found Cross Cultural Solutions, a non-profit organization that places volunteers in different countries to gain new understanding through sharing ideas and working together toward a common goal. They offer programs from three weeks to six months in duration for those who want to help but can’t afford to take a lot of time away from their jobs.

My assignment was to work for the Red Cross of Ghana in Ho, Ghana, for a four-week period, educating youths about AIDS. Ho, a town of about 50,000, is approximately 100 miles northeast of Accra, where the majority are of the Ewe ethnic group, but usually speak English along with their native Ewe and other local languages.

Ghana is heavily aid-dependant and highly indebted to external creditors. Poverty and other economic pressures constitute major factors in the spread of HIV/AIDS. For example, high youth unemployment, limited job opportunities, and the rising cost of living are aspects of the poverty cycle that promote transactional sex and early sexual relations.

The economic cost of HIV/AIDS to employers in terms of care, absenteeism, and retraining is high and steadily rising. HIV/AIDS is expected to put severe stress on families, health care, and other sectors of the economy. Recent estimates indicate that the annual cost of treating an AIDS patient can be as high as 490,000 cedis-approximately $70 U.S.

When the average family household income is only 175,000 cedis per month-$25 U.S. dollars-it is difficult to receive adequate health care, especially for those infected with AIDS or malaria.

My work for the Red Cross became more rewarding each day. Between working on AIDS awareness materials and designing a youth center, my days were busy and fulfilling.

My supervisor discovered that my background was in architecture. The youth center he envisioned would be for vocational training for youths aged 14 to 18. The idea was for a center where youths could live and receive proper training for future skills, such as basket weaving for girls and wood carving for boys.

I began by sharpening my eraserless #2 pencil. I had an old ruler for a scale and some copier paper for my floor-plan designs. My designs became difficult at times, due to the absence of the ADA guidelines and building codes we use in the United States. The freedom of design was more difficult than I ever anticipated. I had been used to following guidelines and rules for life safety and compliance. I had no such guidelines in Ghana.

The floor plans for the Red Cross youth center were finished in two weeks.

Now, raising the funds to build this facility was my next challenge.

By the end of my assignment in Ghana, I had made great friends, who were my family for four weeks. I plan on traveling back to Ghana within the next year to see my friends and the completed youth center.


Jennifer Bushnell ’97 is an architect in Seattle.