Seth Evans, a Scarsdale High School English teacher, was selected to travel and volunteer in Kenya through a teaching fellowship in 2008. The experience, he said, broadened his cross-cultural awareness and gave him confidence that he was able to help those in need in a tangible way.
"When I started to do traveling and volunteer work, it made me feel much more of a sense of commitment to doing service work and much more capable of doing it," Evans said.
This year Evans is hoping to share a similar experience with a group of senior SHS students.
He is coordinating The Ghana Project, an effort that will culminate in a June trip to Mallam, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Accra, the capital of Ghana.
In 1957, the West African nation became the first on the continent to declare independence from European colonial powers.
Evans is working closely with The Ghana Club, which was founded by SHS senior Casey Russo and is in its first year as a student organization. The club's main objective is to raise malaria awareness and to help – through fund-raising and volunteer efforts – to lower the risk of contracting malaria in Ghana, especially for children.
UNICEF reports that from 2003-2007, only 55% of Ghanaian children ages five and under slept under mosquito netting.
Russo, who is also an officer for SHS's Autism Speaks club, said that despite the fact that there is no school-mandated requirement, "our school definitely stresses the importance of community service work…it's definitely a part of the culture."
In December, the Ghana Club held a silent auction dinner at Hitchcock Presbyterian Church and raised $5,500 to use toward purchasing mosquito nets to bring to Mallam. Russo said that each mosquito net costs $11 and the group will purchase about 200 nets.
The group also is working on creating financial aid packages for students interested in going on the trip who can't afford the entire $2,200 cost, she said.
Evans and Russo expect 8 to 12 students to attend the nine-day trip. Though there are 16 spots available, Evans expressed concern that students and parents may be hesitant to commit to a trip to Africa.
Brett Perl, a SHS senior and northeast coordinator of Stand Now, a national youth anti-genocide organization, said "it could be that they feel like Africa is a dangerous place to be."
While Evans said that "it's entirely appropriate" that parents express concern about their children's safety on a trip to Africa, Ghana is generally regarded as one of the most economically and political stable nations on the continent.
For all travel abroad, the U.S. Department of State "urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security" and offers the most up-to-date safety information by calling 1-888-407-4747.
The Ghanaian Consulate in Washington D.C. advised in April 2009 that armed robberies are on the rise in parts of Ghana, although criminals are most often targeting homes owned by wealthy expatriates.
But apprehensions about safety aren't stopping Perl and Russo from volunteering in Mallam.
Russo said that her parents have expressed concerns for her health and safety on the trip, but they also know how passionate and driven she is about her volunteerism.
Russo said, "I know that I and a lot of the other kids going on the trip haven't experienced something real like this."
While much of Perl's human rights work involves letter-writing campaigns, petitions, and other paperwork, he is also excited to be directly working with Ghanaian children this summer.
"I've always been interested in human rights and I've been very passionate about doing community service, so I thought this was a great opportunity to do work hands-on."
The Ghana Project has also garnered support from the school district's Interdependence Insititute and the Afya Foundation, a Yonkers-based non-profit founded by SHS alumnus Danielle Butin. The Afya Foundation works to "support medical and surgical initiatives worldwide, with a primary focus on Africa," according to the organization's website.
So what are The Ghana Project's members anticipating on their trip to Accra this summer?
Perl said, "I'm hoping I can become even more energized than I am now. I'm looking forward to meeting people who are afflicted by the problems we only see in textbooks a lot of the time here in America."
"I'm definitely excited to meet firsthand the kids we are helping," said Russo.
"I imagine we're going to have some meaningful interactions and do some good work. I think we're all going to have our eyes opened," said Evans. "I hope that it will empower students to follow through on actions about the things that they think are important.
Patch will provide ongoing coverage of the Ghana Project's efforts and their upcoming trip on June 11.