Seeing myself for the first time

by Daniel Alexander

In 2010, Ruby Maddox, a student majoring in Public Policy in Urban Communities and Political Science, wanted to connect her major with an experience. In 2002, she started an organization called Gardening the Community, which engages youth in the process of growing food in the city and focuses on Urban Agriculture and leadership building. Knowing she wanted to go further in her impact on lives, in 2010, she started the blueprint for Leaders of the Free World. At the time of creating this organization, she had somewhat of an idea of what it would look like but found that after her experience in Ghana with Amizade, the full idea of what she wanted her new organization to become concrete.

Now, to avoid jumping the gun, why exactly did she choose Ghana out of all places and what lead her to choose Amizade out of the countless global educational programs that are available today? Upon deciding to venture to the tropical paradise of Ghana, Ruby was conflicted in how she would get funding. She explains that access to funding is very difficult to find and can be a main discouraging factor in why many do not travel as much as they’d like. With fundraising going awry, she decided that she would search for another international volunteer program via the great resource of Google. With much searching, she came across Amizade.

Amizade proved to be very user-friendly and had customized travel options that other programs failed to possess. With careful selection, she chose Individual placement, prepared, raised the money, and flew to Ghana, where little did she know she would leave come back as a different person.

Her initial response was of awe when she first stepped foot on African soil. While being there, she worked with urban farmers from Accra as well as interviewed them. Working alongside local Ghanaians she felt something she had never felt before and it was the feeling of being an individual and not a stereotype. She describes it as being a powerful experience to be around individuals who looked like her and who didn’t see her as “the other”. She felt a sense of inclusion that she had never experienced in America. Her daily life as a black woman in America was constantly filled with convincing others that she was supposed to be where she was. In Ghana, she attended meetings, ate delicious food, worked with the community being simply a person and not a “black person.” After this experience, she had a different perception of how she saw herself and how she perceived the world. She was ready to impact lives more with her newfound idea of self.

Coming back to the United States and having the new experience, she knew the direction she wanted to take with Leaders of the Free World. She wanted her community to experience and notice how we really internalize the way others perceive us and how being seen in a positive way, in the eyes of others, can empower us to be better and make a positive change in the world. Having done an individual placement with Amizade, she recommends this specific placement because it puts you at a place of exposure and vulnerability. “When we remove ourselves from our own historical context and comfort zone, at the end of the day we are faced with one person, ourselves.” That vulnerability lead to the creation of a new person that she didn’t know was there. “I was bolder and wanted to create an experience something like that for my students.” Before the trip, she noted that she was a bit timid and needed constant assurance about decisions. Upon arriving back to the United States with a new and revived way of thinking, she described herself as fearless and more empowered and that the individual that first arrived in Ghana would not have been able to carry out creating such an organization. She is grateful for the experience that Amizade presented to her and recommends that whoever is wanting to go on a trip with Amizade should simply just do it.

Learn more about Amizade programs in Ghana! Check out more information here.

* This post was written by Amizade’s Winter Intern Tammy Griffin with the support of Ruby Maddox.