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4-H Canada Blog

Why Going Global Service Learning?

This past July, ten 4-H youth ages 18-25 travelled to Ghana in our Going Global Service Learning pilot program for three weeks with our Program Director, Erin Smith and our Program Manager, Emily Brown. Below is their reflection on how these youth opened themselves up to new experiences, perspectives, languages, norms and surroundings and on why Going Global Service Learning is a relevant and impactful program.



Into the Unknown and New Ghanaian Experiences        

Volunteerism and service learning are key elements in the Canadian 4-H experience. Members from coast-to-coast actively engage in communities by identifying needs and finding meaningful ways to contribute. Throughout their service, they develop skills and learn about decision-making, organization and indeed – their community!

When we first arrived in Accra, we were greeted by a wall of heat and humidity, along with a crew of 4-H staff and volunteers holding hand-scratched name signs and welcoming smiles. A large green (yes it was actually 4-H green!) bus was waiting to take us on the journey of a lifetime.

The authenticity and integrity in the interactions and reflections of our ten delegates was inspiring. They shared skills and experiences through 4-H workshops and presentations they had prepared for schools and 4-H clubs throughout the Eastern Region of Ghana. They helped prepare meals made with fresh ingredients that simply don’t exist here in Canada. For some, cooking without refrigeration or electricity or learning how to shower efficiently with one bucket of water was challenging but they were committed to living in the moment and giving it a shot. The result developed into intercultural understanding of another part of the world, an appreciation of the things we take for granted back home and a deep respect for the people of Ghana.

Our first evening check-in started with a brave round of expressing nervousness, hesitation, exhaustion and apprehension despite overall excitement and enthusiasm. But as we settled into the environment, we began developing friendships, confidence and trust with each other and with our hosts.

These check-ins quickly shifted from clarifying the schedule into a support system where we openly shared “lightbulb moments” of personal reflection and growth. The room was always filled with laughter, mostly at ourselves and our awkward Canadianisms, usually related to dance or trying to master the Twi language.

Throughout our time in Ghana, our youth enthusiastically shared their skills, perspectives, ideas and passion for service learning to their new Ghanaian friends and mentors. Any anxieties, challenges or hesitations were always met with positive solutions, initiative, joy and that wonderful Canadian goofiness that makes us such open, fun-loving people.

We began to realize as the month progressed that this was the true impact of the program. This openness to “Learn To Do By Doing” in a new world was pure 4-H.

Understanding Food Security through a Ghanaian Diet

While embracing a local Ghanaian diet, our team learned significant lessons in food security. Staple dishes like Fufu and Banku were always served in large quantities and soon became too heavy on the digestive systems for some. We wondered why delicious and readily-available fruits and vegetables played such a small role in Ghanaian diets.

After consideration, we realized fruit just wasn’t filling enough after a day of laborious work. Also, Fufu and Banku did not require refrigeration as they were fermented and preserved with spices. On a larger scale, farmers often lacked access to solid storage, distribution and transportation systems, so perishable foods perished.

Relating it back to Canadian Food Security Issues and to 4-H in Canada

In addition to gaining a better understanding of food security in Ghana, our youth began evaluating our own food system and challenges in Canada. They presented these learnings in workshops on issues of food waste and agricultural education at a joint Youth Agricultural Symposium in Koforidua, Ghana.

Our members also proudly realized that 4-H clubs directly respond to unique Canadian food security challenges through service and community projects. We had healthy conversations about the many 4-H clubs participating in food-based service projects, donating their second harvest to food banks, participating in food drives and preparing healthy treats for seniors. We also discussed how 4-H’ers host booths at public fairs and give presentations to school kids about agriculture.

Service learning has long been integral to the 4-H experience and the opportunity to expand that engagement to a global context was an incredible opportunity.

So Why Going Global Service Learning?

Despite building a thorough orientation prior to travel, we were uncertain at first, how the adjustment to climate, culture, language and the changing routine of everyday life would impact the overall experience for our Going Global Service Learning delegates in Ghana.

But above all, we were excited for these youth to see a whole new part of the world and meet other leaders dedicated to the same 4-H movement but who face some very different challenges and struggles.

As we experienced this new adventure together pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones, we supported each other and we were our authentic selves. We witnessed first-hand how dedicated our 4-H’ers are to making genuine human connections with their peers in any context and that this program has the power to build the skills we value most; sincerity, confidence, trust, leadership, interest in the world around us and friendship at a local, national and international scale.